The Public Shaming of Lionel Hollins

(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.

6 Responses to “The Public Shaming of Lionel Hollins”

  1. Temple3 says:

    I peeped Rudy Gay’s metrics awhile back and they didn’t suggest he’d be on that team for long. I hadn’t realized Hollinger was there until recently. Gay was a decent player, but the jury was definitely out on whether or not he should have been the franchise player.

    Also, to be honest about this season, it was a throw away for Memphis. Gay was traded. The series against the Clippers didn’t tell them anything they didn’t know. We all know they shouldn’t have blown a 24-point 4th quarter lead in 2012. Similarly, the OKC series told them nothing about themselves because Westbrook didn’t play. Perhaps only the San Antonio series was truly indicative of the limitations of this roster without Gay. The Grizzlies were swept largely because they missed a ton of 2 foot shots.

    Hollins had a nice roster…but not an exceptional roster. The team needs another scorer to replace Gay…and another scorer, too. Memphis doesn’t have a big or wing player to anchor their 2nd unit offense. I thought it would be Dorrell Arthur, but he’s not consistent enough and hasn’t nailed the post-season thing down yet either.

    I don’t know who they’ll bring in, but I think Hollins was able to get a strong defensive commitment from his team — and Hollinger’s numbers may not work unless the next coach can do the same thing — at a minimum. Hollins will be fine. He’s in demand and highly qualified.

  2. Andy says:

    As a grizzlies fan, who thought he was in the loop, this situation is extremely confusing. On one hand, this team went to the conference finals for the first time, and had the best season to date. On the other hand, the Rudy Gay trade was made in spite of what Hollins wanted. He undoubtedly coached that team to the finals, but it’s very hard to say how much the analytics came into play. I can only have faith in the organization now, and hope thu are one, two or even three steps ahead of what I’m thinking. I don’t think George Karl is a good choice, joerger could be the long shot?? Most interesting scenario would be Hollins in la for sure.

  3. Clarence says:

    Great article! I hope he comes to the Sixers.

  4. Jay says:

    Many of the players had personal rifts with coach Hollins (Tony Allen, Zach Randolph, Jerryd Bayless, etc). In particular, the relationship between Zach and Hollins was especially stringent because Lionel openly favored the trading of Zach over Rudy. Also the majority of the team favors Dave Joeger over Hollins because of his tactical prowess and calm demeanor. Add all these factors in with Lionel’s inability/refusal to develop young talent (Ed Davis and Tony Wroten) and Lionel’s frank, public criticism of the new front office it becomes clear that it was in the Franchise’s best interest to let Lionel go.

  5. Keith says:

    John Hollinger is one of his bosses. no one in a normal job can berate their bosses. He openly dismissed analytics. He wanted Zach gone for maybe, the most inefficient player in the NBA Rudy Gay. Would not develop young players which is a must in a small market. Also if you pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a team and your coach openly contradicts the people you put in place he has to go. Old school coaches don’t work anymore.

  6. J says:

    Old school coaches don’t cut it????? Soo the western conference finals had two old school coaches, the eastern conference had one. (Vogel) the bulls Knicks and celtics all had old school coaches. The nuggets grizzlies had old school coaches too. That’s what 80 to 90 percent of the teams having old school coaches? The grizzlies are a bunch of idiots they shouldn’t have traded anybody, and they would have been in the nba finals. There is a reason they invited Rudy gay to team USA. He might be an inconsistent scorer, but he is a great defender and capable of playing and guarding multiple positions. Oh by the way when a 6’9 guy can play three positions you keep him but it doesn’t matter because if this isn’t about analytics this is about Hollinger hating Hollins