(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The Memphis Grizzlies organization didn’t gain any fans with the public charade and eventual firing of head coach Lionel Hollins.
Head Coach Lionel Hollins led the Memphis Grizzlies to 56 wins, despite losing leading scorer Rudy Gay on January 31st. Since the trade, the Grizzlies went 27-11 (5th in the West). In the postseason, Memphis took care of the Clippers and Thunder in six and five games, respectively. After bowing out to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals in four games, the Grizzlies brass has given Hollins his walking papers — two weeks after permitting him to speak to other teams.
Something isn’t right in Memphis.
The Grizzlies made the Western Conference Finals for the first time in team history on the shoulders of forward Zach Randolph and Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. The team has a great young point guard in Mike Conley, a defensive stopper in Tony Allen and an effective group of reserves. The Grizzlies finished better than some anticipated without Gay. Talk of re-signing head coach Lionel Hollins should have been at the top of the Grizzlies to-do list. Right?
Wrong. Dead wrong.
The relationship between Hollins and the Grizzlies brass began to unravel in December when the team hired former ESPN analyst and contributor John Hollinger as their new Vice President of Basketball Operations. Hollinger was brought in to primarily orchestrate the Grizzlies movement towards analytics.
As an extension of the Player Efficiency Rating, Hollinger also developed a simpler formula that quantifies how impressive a player’s individual performance is in a given game. The Hollinger Game Score formula is:
“Points + (FGM x 0.4) + (FGA x -0.7) + ((FTA-FTM) x -0.4) + (OREB x 0.7) + (DREB x 0.3) + STL + (AST x 0.7) + (BLK x 0.7) + (PF x -0.4) – TO”
The entire modern box score of the player is needed for calculation — including offensive and defensive rebounding, steals, blocks and turnovers — so the Hollinger Game Score can only be applied to games played since the 1978 season.
Subscribers to this latest trend will factor it into playing time for current players. For a coach with an old school approach like Hollins, it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
When the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay, Hollins agonized over how management valued numbers over coaching instincts. By the end of the season, the Grizzlies were better at both ends of the floor — casting the die for Hollins tenure in Memphis. During the Grizzlies playoff run, there was an uneven view of the team despite their postseason success. There was little, if any mention of Hollins coming back next season to coach the Grizzlies to their fourth straight playoff appearance. The tension between Hollins and management came into greater focus as the playoffs progressed.
The deconstruction of Lionel Hollins as head coach was under way.
Tension between coach and management spilled onto the practice floor during the Grizzlies playoff run. In the middle of a practice session, Hollinger took the liberty to engage reserve Austin Daye during a shooting drill. Everyone knows practice time is the coaches domain — team owners don’t venture onto the court or field during these sessions. These are periods of teaching — the primary reason the man was hired. With nothing left but his dignity as a coach, Hollins tore into Hollinger about what he was doing and why he believed it was appropriate to intrude on what is considered holy ground between coach and team.
Hollinger used the moment to try and upstage Hollins in front of his players. It was Hollins who berated him after a loss in Portland back in 2011 while he was still at ESPN.
Hollins is one of five coaches fired by teams who reached the playoffs this season. Of those teams, it was Hollins’ Grizzlies who advanced the deepest in the postseason. While other teams were interviewing prospective replacements, Hollins twisted in the wind like a giveaway t-shirt fired from an air cannon.
The Grizzlies organization called once-stalled negotiations between them and Hollins a struggle in “philosophical differences” and have decided not to offer Hollins a new deal.
Firing George Karl makes more sense than him being named NBA Coach of the Year. Karl’s Denver Nuggets were bounced in the first round by the Golden State Warriors — coached by the man who should’ve been named COY in Mark Jackson. P.J. Carlesimo was an interim guy in Brooklyn and it’s natural for the Nets to want to bring in someone with a name. Jason Kidd has surfaced as their top candidate. Ditto the Los Angeles Clippers — who felt firing Vinny Del Negro brings them a step closer to keeping Chris Paul. Atlanta and Milwaukee are moving in a new direction. Larry Drew made the jump from the Hawks to the young Bucks. While Atlanta hired former San Antonio Spurs Mike Budenholzer.
Then there is Hollins — who took a team teetering between the next level and mediocrity and put them on the doorstep of the NBA Finals. Hollins is the only coach who got through to Zach Randolph. Whatever Hollins used to bring the once troubled Randolph’s career into focus needs to be bottled and sold. He and center Marc Gasol were his own vision of former teammates Maurice Lucas and Bill Walton. It’s safe to say Hollins saw a little of the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers in his 2013 Memphis Grizzlies.
The relationship between coach and player is what becomes lost in situations like this. The bond between player and coach has been severed. I don’t know the relationship between Hollins and his players, I’ll guess things were good. Even the shoving of guard Jerryd Bayless in the Spurs series drew little ink. Grumblings about Hollins future came from the upper management long before Memphis was eliminated. I can’t see any player on the Grizzlies roster on board with what has gone down. Hollins is currently one of the leading candidates for the head coaching job with the Los Angeles Clippers. I’m sure there are other suitors in contact with his agent.
If you notice the Grizzlies begin to take a step backwards, players begin to demand trades, start defections during free agency and the suddenly proud Grizzlies fan base fizzles down to almost nothing, thank John Hollinger.
Because according to John Hollinger numbers never lie.