Disheartened Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had trouble sleeping after David Fizdale was fired

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra (right) said David Fizdale, fired Monday by Memphis, will step back from coaching this season.

CLEVELAND – Erik Spoelstra was distraught when hearing his friend, and former assistant, David Fizdale was fired by the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday. So much so that the Heat coach had a tough time sleeping.

“I had a tough time wrapping my mind around it and a tough time even sleeping last night, thinking about it,” Spoelstra said Tuesday following the Heat’s shootaround prior to tonight’s game against the Cavaliers.

“You think as a young assistant going over there, moving cities to a new organization that’s transitioning, that you think it would be about the long game. And to have patience, and to be able to work through that transition, to be able to create something new. And that takes time in this league. And that’s what was so disheartening about it.

“Yes, they were going through a tough stretch right now, but this league is uncomfortable. It is. It is when you lose and you get challenged as an organization, when you’re going through those stretches. But, on the other side of those stretches oftentimes are the greatest benefits, when you’re able to get through that adversity together.”

With four assistant coaches, Spoelstra has one opening but he said Fizdale, 43, will not be re-joining the Heat, where he was an assistant from 2008-2016.

“”He’s not doing that right now,” he said. “He’s going to take some time, as well he should. Since something like this happens so suddenly and shockingly, I think the best thing to do is to step back, which is what his plan is, and really disengage and then contemplate his next move. He’s a head coach. I would love to have him at least join him as a consultant or somebody to break some bread and share some wine, but that’s not going to happen right now.”

Fizdale will collect the $5 million owed to him this season and next by the Grizzlies.

Fizdale joined the Heat in 2008 after five years as an assistant with the Warriors and Hawks. He was in Miami for eight years, the last two as an assistant head coach. Fizdale heavily was involved in game preparation and player development.

“Great basketball mind,” said Udonis Haslem, who played for the Heat during Fizdale’s entire tenure.

“Can relate to him. One of those coaches that can calm me down and get to me no matter the situation. We just spoke the same language, spoke the same lingo. We just really could relate. Great passion for the game.”

Spoelstra and Haslem both reached out to Fizdale on Monday. Haslem said the was “shocked” by the news.

“Couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I don’t think it was right. He took them to the playoffs last year. Obviously, they’ve had some injuries so they struggled, it’s not easy to play without your full roster. We know that first hand. We’ve been through that. I felt like he should have got a little bit more commitment from the organization. A little more patience.”

Fizdale was 50-51 in just more than one season in Memphis. The Grizzlies lost in the first round of the 2017 playoffs and have dropped to 7-12 this year after having lost eight straight.

The tipping point, though, was his deteriorating relationship with center Marc Gasol, who Fizdale benched for the fourth quarter of a loss to Brooklyn on Sunday. Memphis GM Chris Wallace acknowledged to local reporters there was tension between Fizdale and Gasol but said the decision was more about the way the team was performing.

The support for Fizdale was heard all over the NBA, not just from the Heat.

“I think David Fizdale is one of the best coaches in the league,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s a brilliant guy, he’s got an edge to him, he’s tough, he’s smart. Their whole team is injured, Mike Conley is out. Like, this is what happens, you lose when your best players are out and when your whole team is wiped out. It caught me off guard.”

Cavalier coach Tyronn Lue, on Monday, vouched for Fizdale as a person and a coach.

“To pick up and move his family there, leave a good situation in Miami, where they were winning. … He was a part of those championships,” Lue said. “And then when you have an opportunity, I thought he did a great job. A lot of guys thought he did a great job. For this to happen to him, to a good person, to his family, it’s not right. I feel for him, but he did a helluva job.”

Fizdale took the high road in his statement issured early Tuesday that read:

“I would like to thank the Memphis Grizzlies organization for allowing me the opportunity to lead this proud franchise and represent the city of Memphis,” he wrote.

After thanking the ownership group and team officials he continued.  “It was a great honor and experience to serve as your Head Coach and be part of the Memphis community. The city of Memphis is a special place and embodies a spirit that is second to none. I wish the organization and the players the best moving forward and hope they bring the fans the championship they so richly deserve.”

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