Twitter went nuts a few hours ago when news broke that Lionel Hollins was granted permission to speak with other teams about their coaching vacancies. This was a complete 180° turnaround from their previous stance, which made it seem likely that Hollins would not be allowed to speak to other teams until his contract expired at the end of the month.
So…what brought about this change of heart?
According to Adrian Wojnarowski (Yahoo! Sports), talks broke down last night, leaving the two sides far apart on issues. Various reports stated that they did not discuss money or years on a new contract, nor did they talk about the roster and personnel moves. So, what does that leave then?
As far as I can tell, all that remains is the philosophy for building a championship team.
We know that CEO Jason Levien and GM John Hollinger are proponents of using advanced statistical analysis to determine which players are best suited to making this organization a consistent force in the NBA. Given Memphis’s status as one of the smallest markets in the league, the front office knows they need every edge they can get in determining which players will fit into their system without being cost prohibitive. Advanced statistical analysis tells us things about these players that we would not otherwise have known. That was one of the biggest reasons for the trade that sent Rudy Gay to Toronto — his efficiency did not match his contract.
Of course, we also know what Lionel Hollins’ reaction to that trade was. He was very vociferous and adamant in his opinion about it. His diatribe about “champagne taste vs. a beer budget” was a nice follow-up to his remarks earlier in the seasons about not having much use for “Moneyball”-style statistics and openly questioning how many championships the Oakland A’s had won. He also complained about no longer having a backup center after Marreese Speights was sent to Cleveland along with Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby in a salary dump designed to get the Grizzlies well below the luxury tax prior to next season.
I think it is safe to say that these two sides don’t really see eye-to-eye on how to construct a team. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either, since organizations need a variety of viewpoints to help keep everything in perspective. However, there is a big difference between voicing a difference of opinion and openly questioning your front office to the media.
All of that being said, let’s not write the Lionel Hollins in Memphis obituary just yet. As Sam Amick pointed out on Twitter, these two sides are in something of a trial separation right now. They’re going to “talk to other people” and put out some feelers to see what is out there. What’s interesting is that this really boils down to both sides trying to see which one of them is bluffing.
Lionel Hollins has overseen this team’s rise from cellar dweller to playing in the Western Conference Finals. As much as anyone else, he can claim responsibility for the Grit and Grind mentality this team has adopted, since it is a direct reflection of his personality during his playing days. He went from being perceived as a low-cost stop-gap to being seen as one of the best coaches in the league by many. This is his leverage in this negotiation.
The new front office, headed by former agent Jason Levien and highlighted by former ESPN stats guru John Hollinger, has their own leverage though, in the form of lead assistant coach, Dave Joerger. Joerger is the architect of the Grizzlies’ defense, has been with the organization for six years, and has some impressive credentials of his own, having won titles in the CBA as a head coach. His name has been bandied about for potential head coaching vacancies the last few seasons, and many find it surprising that he hasn’t been hired away already.
So, what will happen now?
I think what is most likely to happen is that Hollins will find out that his options aren’t quite as grand as they might seem. With the Suns, Bobcats, and Bucks all hiring coaches already, that leaves the Clippers, Nets, Pistons, and Sixers as the remaining openings. Reportedly, the Nets have yet to even express any interest in Hollins, which means that Mikhail Prokhorov’s checkbook is no longer the big leverage it seemed a couple of days ago. The Clippers…well, Donald Sterling has never been known for throwing money around, so that’s not a destination with overwhelming appeal either in terms of a contract. That leaves the Pistons and Sixers — both of which have talent, but some big question marks on their rosters, as well. Suddenly, Memphis looks better and better.
In the end, the Grizzlies’ front office is still holding the best cards in this game. They have a worthy successor already in place in Joerger, as well as the probability that Hollins won’t be able to command as large of a contract as previously assumed. So, if he is willing to stay and accept the way that they intend to run this franchise moving forward, then I believe they would welcome him back. After all, he’s the most successful coach in Grizzlies’ history and the team just went to the Western Conference Finals. However, there is a case to be made that it is simply time for the two parties to part ways. We’ve seen that happen in Memphis before with coaches like Mike Fratello — a successful coach who ultimately wore out his welcome. I don’t know that there is only one “right answer” to this issue.
Hollins deserves a raise. He also deserves credit for what he has done with this team. Yet, the front office also deserves to run the team as they see fit — because it is their team. Whether Hollins is retained or the reins are given over to Joerger, it doesn’t have to be a “your side vs. my side” issue. There is plenty of room for debate all of the way around. Just have to keep our fingers crossed that it all works out in the end for Memphis.