Now that George Karl has been let go in Denver, it appears he’s popped up on the Memphis Grizzlies radar. Not surprising, given that he and Stu Lash worked together in Denver and have a good relationship. Also not surprising: That Lionel Hollins has popped up on the Denver Nuggets radar.
Is this a good thing? For the record, I have tremendous respect for George Karl, and if you’re going to let Lionel Hollins go, Karl is one of the few name-brand coaches that could quell an uprising in the Grizzlies’ fan base. I’ve read some tweets and such that Karl’s coaching style isn’t made for the current Grizzlies roster. Hogwash. Coaches coach, and great coaches — of which, George Karl is one — adapt their style to their personnel. Do you think that Denver would play any slower than they do now if Lionel Hollins is coaching? I think George Karl would do just fine in Memphis.
But I do think that swapping Hollins for Karl would amount to a lateral move, akin to changing coaches just for the sake of changing coaches. Karl’s Nuggets made the playoffs the past nine years. Bounced in the first round eight of those times. In four years, Lionel Hollins has already made the Western Conference Finals as many times as Karl did in Denver. With no disrespect at all to George Karl, I don’t see a clear upgrade in coaching at this point. I have a hunch that George Karl would say the same thing.
I also can’t imagine him commanding a smaller salary than Lionel Hollins. I would also be mindful of Karl’s health. He’s beaten cancer twice already, but it’s conceivable that health concerns could put him on the shelf sometime in the next few years.
And as for these mysterious “philosophical differences” (presumably over advanced analytics) bottom line, I can’t imagine Karl being any more okay with John Hollinger looking over his shoulder than Lionel Hollins would be. Karl would almost certainly be more diplomatic than Hollins, less likely to say something incendiary, as evidenced by this clip recorded right after the Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony (and Chauncey Billups, which many say hurt the team more):
Now, all of that said . . .
From the Front Office standpoint, reaching out to George Karl is brilliant for obvious and not so obvious reasons. The team gets even more leverage in negotiating with Lionel Hollins. They’ve freed him to talk to other teams. And now they have an arguably better option in the mix. Let’s not forget that in a not-so-previous life, Jason Levien was a sports agent, and no doubt his savvy is showing up in this affair. He is positioned to go after and get pretty much exactly what he wants for the franchise — even if only he and a select few know exactly what that is. He can’t be faulted for that. Hollins understands this is how the game is played.
And yet, I return to something I posted about earlier this week: Why mess with a good thing? There will come a time when the team must reload with new players and a new coach. Coming off the best season in franchise history doesn’t seem like that time. After all, the last time the city came off three consecutive trips to the playoffs, the team went right back into the tank, and the love affair was over. If this team can be a playoff team and title contender for at least 2-3 more years as currently constructed, let the fans and city build on that bond before the inevitable rebuild.
To me, that means keeping Lionel Hollins.