Any Highlander fans in the group? Other than the guy in the duster with rather unique facial hair skulking in the shadows of the back of the room, of course. Well, if there are, then you’ll recognize the title immediately. What does it mean though?
Since the news broke that the Memphis Grizzlies were not going to retain Lionel Hollins, many fans (and media members) have voiced their disapproval and outrage about that decision. I’ve heard all manner of things about how the front office knew back in February they weren’t going to keep him, so they just prolonged the inevitable in waiting to make it official so that they could “shame him” and make him lose out on other jobs. I’ve heard allegations that it was based on race. I’ve seen several people decry the new front office’s lack of experience and credentials in making this important decision. And, I’ve heard plenty of people say that Jason Levien’s ego demanded that Hollins bow down and kiss his butt in order for him to keep his job.
I’m no insider and only a marginally qualified expert, but I have met Levien and John Hollinger and talked with each of them, and I think all of that is ridiculous conjecture, if not outright garbage. This is especially true when it comes from people who haven’t been following this team day after day, and are only popping in from afar to take a quick peek at the situation before commenting on it.
Here is my local (and hopefully informed) view on the Hollins/front office dynamic:
I don’t believe that the front office was 100% sure that they weren’t going to retain Hollins as recently as last week. I believe that they were willing to give it another go with him as head coach — provided that he was willing to play by their rules and according to their vision for the team going forward. That does not have to mean that he would be a “yes man” (which many will probably remember was a charge levied against him when Michael Heisley originally named him the coach), but that he would be more flexible and open to input from the guys in the front office. That’s why they didn’t immediately say he wouldn’t be retained, why they continued to talk with him, why they didn’t allow other teams to have contact him initially, and even why Levien invited him to go play golf. Again — that’s just what I believe occurred.
From Hollins’ perspective, he felt that (a) he deserved a raise based on his performance and accomplishments; (b) that he could get that raise from the Nets or Clippers if Memphis balked at it; (c) that his track record afforded him the leeway to voice his opinion about the front office’s moves (and interference in his view) to the media; and (d) that he should continue to have the autonomy he had under Heisley and Chris Wallace to do things his way going forward. Obviously, only the first part turned out to be an accurate assessment on his part.
This has been a case of both sides wanting to be the boss — and there can only be one boss. For better or for worse, that boss is Jason Levien. If that isn’t clear to everyone by now, I’d have to think that a person had their head in the sand (or perhaps firmly up their own hindquarters) not to recognize that. I don’t feel that the front office dealt with Lionel Hollins in bad faith or with any ill intent. Therefore, I don’t believe that they have “shamed” him in any way despite the fact that he is not returning as coach. The two sides had a disagreement revolving around personalities and the way that the team would be run in the future. Because of that, one side had to leave. Now, everyone knows who is in charge — and whose vision they will be following from now on.
A divided organization would be much worse in the eyes of free agents than a team willing to allow someone of Hollins’ status walk after a successful season (in my opinion anyways). If a front office pursues a player and then the coach won’t play him, what message does that send to the rest of the league? That’s the public perception that we should be most concerned about, after all.
That doesn’t mean that Levien and John Hollinger will be waltzing into the locker room at halftime to demand that the new coach play Ed Davis or Jon Leuer more the rest of the game. But, it does indicate that the new coach will be on board with the players that the front office feels are best suited to help them win games. Again, this all goes back to the “Moneyball” idea that advanced statistics and analytics can provide a team with a method for identifying advantages that mere observation might not otherwise indicate. Does that sound like the kind of approach that Hollins was likely to be willing to accept as part of his new contract? Yeah…I didn’t think so either.
You see, it was always about the direction this team has been heading since Robert Pera became the majority owner of this franchise. By making Jason Levien CEO, and bringing Stu Lash and then John Hollinger in, the move towards the “Moneyball” method was clear. So, beyond the team making the NBA Finals, whoever the coach would be beyond this season would have to be someone who was on board with that plan. Lionel Hollins was not, even after multiple discussions with the front office about it, so now he’s interviewing for positions with other organizations. It’s as simple as that.
At least, that’s my opinion on how it all shook out. Y’all are free to hold onto your own beliefs if they make you feel better, of course. I tend to like mine since it places responsibility (because nobody is truly at fault or to blame) on everyone involved, rather than trying to paint one party or the other as the lone scapegoat. New school met old school one more time — and they couldn’t co-exist once again. There can be only one, after all…