As Grizzlies fans bemoan the lack of depth at point guard, many of us look back at the summer of 2011. That was the year that the Grizzlies Front Office traded Greivis Vasquez to New Orleans, where he has flourished and is now one of the league leaders in assists. These days, especially after the deepest playoff run in team history, it doesn’t hurt so much because I can’t think of a single person who would have a problem with Quincy Pondexter. Likewise, we wanted to keep Shane Battier, although I don’t think anyone would begrudge him signing and winning a championship with the Miami Heat.
This post isn’t about those guys. It’s not even about players. It’s about two key losses that are still resounding in the halls of FedExForum: Damon Stoudamire & Johnny Davis. And if you look a little closer, you’ll understand why, despite Hollins wanting a fairly quick settlement on a new contract, he also wants to make sure his coaching staff is taken care of also.
A Team Within A Team
In covering the Grizzlies since their arrival in 2001, scanning through Ron Tillery’s archive can give you a better picture of how Hollins came to the team and how he related to his coaching staff.
And ESPN.com’s Grantland checked in did the same earlier this season.)
Or, if you don’t feel like reading all that: Hollins respected and trusted his staff, including Stoudamire & Davis, and they reciprocated. They became a tight-knit group, and when Hollins extended his deal, he wanted to see them taken care of as well.
The Long Hot Summer of 2011
After the Thunder ended the Grizzlies season in the Western Semis, nobody knew for sure if we’d be seeing NBA basketball later that year. It was the lockout, and it threatened a lot of livelihoods. No players, no games. No games, no money to pay coaches. No money to pay coaches, and coaches need to look for work elsewhere.
Add this in: Mike Heisley was a tough, maybe even difficult negotiator. Remember the “rookie bonus scandal of 2011” involving Greivis Vasquez and Xavier Henry?
Hollins’ coaching staff was among the lowest paid in 2011. And after what was the best season in franchise history up to that point, Lionel Hollins lobbied Heisley to pay his assistants a bigger playoff bonus than their contracts dictated — you know, the proverbial “attaboy” to show your appreciation for a job well done. Heisley refused.
By that time, Damon Stoudamire had already joined Josh Pastner at the University of Memphis. My hunch is that he’d already seen the writing on the wall — that if he wanted to be appropriately compensated and advance his coaching career, he had to move on.
Damon Stoudamire: Player Development
For every fan who complains about how player development has seemingly floundered under Head Coach Lionel Hollins — how guys like Tony Wroten, Ed Davis and Josh Selby haven’t grown as much as we hoped — dig up some news stories from May 2011, when Stoudamire left the Grizzlies staff to join Josh Pastner at the University of Memphis. Here’s a quote from the Commercial Appeal:
Of course, 2011 was the year of the lockout. Things got off to a late start that year, but when it got settled, Hollins and Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace spoke at a press conference to address how they would fill the vacancies left by Stoudamire and Davis. As Chris Herrington at Beyond the Arc reported in December 2011 (emphasis mine):
In praising Stoudamire, Hollins noted that in addition to his work in practices and games, Stoudamire had been invaluable in helping manage the personalities on the team and in dealing with players and their families and associates as people. This is an element of running a team — remember Bill Simmons’ Isaiah Thomas-credited mantra, “The secret of basketball is that it isn’t about basketball” — that we probably don’t put enough emphasis on. As Hollins joked, to be a good coach, “You need a counseling degree, a psychology degree, a dad degree.”
In covering the Grizzlies this season, I can testify: When Lionel Hollins talks about players like Ed Davis and Tony Wroten, he doesn’t complain about their lack of talent. He talks about maturity, about drive, about professionalism and the relative lack thereof from those players. And as gruff & tough as he can be with the press, you have to imagine that an in-practice tongue lashing from him can be downright blistering, especially if the recipient isn’t mature enough to handle it.
I don’t think that coach is necessarily bad at player development, but I think that even he would say that Damon Stoudamire was better at it than he was — and the Grizzlies bench lost something when he went away.
Offense: Johnny Davis
Given how much the roster changed between the 2010-11 season and the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, let alone the growth of players like Tony Allen, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, there’s really no way to know exactly what impact Davis’ absence had on the franchise.
But here’s what we do know: Lionel Hollins and Johnny Davis were longtime teammates, friends and comrades. They won a championship together in Portland in 1977. One could argue that as overlooked as Hollins had been up until joining the Grizzlies as Head Coach, Johnny Davis may have been the no-brainer hire once Marc Iavaroni left. After all, Johnny Davis had been an NBA head coach twice before, in Orlando and Philadelphia.
(Fascinating side note: As overlooked as these coaching losses are now, the Grizzlies came thisclose to losing defensive architect Dave Joerger to Kevin McHale and the Houston Rockets.)
Without a contract in hand, Johnny Davis did what was expected: He took an offer to join Dwayne Casey’s staff in Toronto. In a Q&A with Raptors.com, he talked about his time in Memphis and what they’d built . . . and you even get to imagine the coaching staff’s approach to developing O.J. Mayo:
“From a playing standpoint, there were a few things that (O.J.) needed to work on. He had to become a better mid-range shooter off the dribble. Defensively, he needed to learn how to get better. How to play the angles. How to create situations for himself from an offensive standpoint and also how to pass the ball effectively and not where a guy had to reach for it and those sorts of things. So we spent a lot of time developing his individual game and by the time we got to the playoffs he was really a pivotal player for us and played well. But he wasn’t a hard guy to coach. He was very easy to coach, he showed up early and he stayed late working on his game to improve.”
As specifically, with regard to offensive philosophy, he had this to say:
“There’s a big difference between a uniform group of guys and a true team. From an offensive standpoint, when everybody feels like they have a part of the offense, it lends itself that ‘I am a part of this team’. So when they have an opportunity to do what it is they do best and you put them in a position to do what they do best, now they become much more reliable, enthusiastic and a part of it because they see where their part of it is.”
Davis was considered a calming influence on the Grizzlies bench, and you can see how Davis’ personality and style would balance Hollins’ no-BS style. It might have even prevented the Hollins-Bayless blowup in Game 4 against the Spurs.
The good news? With Dwayne Casey’s status unsettled, Johnny Davis could be available again as of midnight tonight (June 1). If I’m Lionel Hollins, I’m squawking at Levien & Co. to bring back a guy that never should have left in the first place — and PAY HIM.
A Test For The New Front Office
We’ve been wondering exactly how the new front office would handle business, particularly with John Hollinger seeming to bring a new statistical analysis to the team. There’s no doubt that analytics will play an increasing role in how the team pursues trades, drafts players and signs free agents.
The obvious question these days is how the team will negotiate with Lionel Hollins, the undisputed most successful coach in franchise history. Will they lowball him on a contract amount? Will they offer him a short-term or long-term deal? Will they let him test the waters, and risk losing a coach adored by players and fans? Do they think they can attract a bigger name?
Less obvious is this: Assuming they choose to keep Hollins, will they give him the leeway to hire and offer competitive pay to his assistants? Even if Johnny Davis were not to return, coaches are like players in that the better ones command a higher salary. If the new Grizzlies front office chooses to build on a reputation of being cheap when it comes to coaches’ salaries, it will be difficult to attract the kind of coaches who can best develop players like Tony Wroten and Ed Davis; coaches who can help maximize the offensive talents of the roster so that the team doesn’t have to climb out of a double-digit hole for most of the game.
It’s understood that as the smallest market in the NBA, The Grizzlies must spend wisely. Based on what they’ve shown so far, I’m optimistic that Jason Levien & Co. will recognize that relative to player contracts, spending a little bit more on great assistant coaches is a wise investment.