MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Tony Barone Sr. will finish the season as the Memphis Grizzlies' coach, then return to the front office as director of player personnel. Barone agreed to replace Mike Fratello on Thursday a couple hours after Jerry West, the team's president of basketball operations, fired the franchise's winningest coach. West said Barone has an extensive basketball background even though he has never been a head coach in the NBA. "When he leaves here as a coach, he is going to go back to the front office and his position where he is, and he will have a better feel going forward what we need as a team," West said Friday at a news conference. West said he talked with owner Michael Heisley on Wednesday, then watched the Grizzlies play without enthusiasm and lose for the 11th time in 12 games to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Grizzlies are an NBA-worst 6-24, and the return of All-Star center Pau Gasol from a broken foot that kept him out of the first 22 games didn't help. Barone put the Grizzlies through a practice Friday. "We'll see if that's the change that we needed to have around here," Gasol said. "Only with games ... and results and seeing us playing on the court is going to tell us if that's what we needed or if it wasn't the change that needed to be made and if it's something else." The team also drafted Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry as the first steps toward a younger, cheaper team that can be built to win playoff games instead of just reaching the postseason. The Grizzlies traded veteran Shane Battier and let center Lorenzen Wright leave as a free agent. But Fratello was criticized heavily for sticking with his deliberate style. "Our players simply had lost confidence," West said, adding that he expects players to be able to look in the mirror each night and know they played their best. West said the team needed a change in personality and said he expects Barone to employ a much more aggressive and simpler style. "It was a trust factor, and I don't think there's any question there was a lot of unrest in our locker room," he said.
Barone was an assistant coach for the Grizzlies under Hubie Brown from 2002 to 2004. He was head coach at Texas A&M from 1991 to 1998 and at Creighton from 1985 to 1991. The Chicago native, who played at Duke, will make his head coaching debut Saturday night at home against Toronto. Barone said he wasn't looking to be a head coach. "Jerry asked me to do it, and I'm going to do it," he said. Among his changes, Gay will play as many minutes as he can handle, and Barone wants the Grizzlies scoring on easier baskets. This hasn't been an easy season for the Grizzlies. The owner thought he had the team sold to a group headed by Brian Davis and Christian Laettner, but last week Heisley said he doubts they can come up with the money to purchase the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have been limited in player moves because Heisley does not want to pay the luxury tax. And West also criticized the "brutal" schedule the Grizzlies have played so far with 11 back-to-back games. "In my years in the NBA, this is the single worst schedule I have ever seen a team have to endure. The worst," he said. They also have had their share of injuries starting with Gasol. The 7-footer hopes to increase his playing time as he eases his way back from his broken foot, but Lowry broke his wrist last month and had to have a screw inserted for healing.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)