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If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
Maya Angelou

Change is here. It isn’t down the road. It isn’t around the corner. It’s here and has been for a while.

I remember when I was in grade school. This is remarkable considering my current age but that is not important right now.

What I remember is the Headmaster at my grade school had a paddle with holes drilled into it.

I know this for the obvious reason that the Headmaster introduced it to me in a rather painful way after I did something I wasn’t supposed to do. I don’t recall what I did but I am sure I deserved it. I don’t know why the headmaster drilled holes in the paddle (although I do have my suspicions) but I do remember the holes and never wanting to do whatever it was I did to get introduced to them again.

You don’t hear about kids being paddled in school anymore much less Headmaster’s drilling holes in the paddle. Those days are gone.

Some people wish the old ways were still around but just about everyone realizes that they aren’t coming back.  What was accepted in my youth as the way things are done has changed in today’s society and is simply unacceptable now. Not just in school but all over the place.

The landscape for NBA coaches is going through a similar transition and anyone unable to accept this is being swept aside. This is why Memphis’ Front Office is allowing teams to interview Lionel Hollins after the team’s most successful season ever. The landscape is changing and Hollins is trying to hold onto the past.

Right now no fewer than 9 teams are looking for new coaches or just hired coaches after firing the coach from the previous season. Now it doesn’t come as a big surprise that teams like Charlotte fired their coach. Bad teams fire coaches all the time. Perhaps that is why those teams remain bad. I’m not talking about the expected coaching changes.

This year some big name and largely successful coaches are under the front office’s microscope. What in the past used to guarantee a coach another season at the helm is no longer enough.

George Karl is rumored to be on the hot seat in Denver after winning the NBA’s Coach of the Year award. Vinny Del Negro coached the Clippers to back to back playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history, won more games than any Clippers coach in a single season and had the Clippers in the conference semi-finals last season and he has already been released. New Jersey is looking for another head coach after firing Avery Johnson the month after winning the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month award. The Nets fired Johnson’s replacement P. J. Carlisimo after leading the team into the playoffs. Larry Drew took a completely remodeled team in Atlanta back to the playoffs and was not renewed for his efforts.

Now Memphis joins the list with their decision to allow Coach Lionel Hollins to interview elsewhere. He may return to Memphis. The team hasn’t completely ruled out his being their coach next season.

But the message has been sent. The old ways are not the way things are being done anymore.

Hollins went on the airways Monday to defend the way things were. He said he wants to keep coaching in Memphis. He doesn’t want to coach somewhere else. Memphis is his home. Things are going well. Don’t change what isn’t broken.

He doesn’t get it. Things have already changed and they aren’t going back to the way things used to be.

Hollins said that when Hubie Brown coached Jerry West never interfered with the team. He doesn’t want the front office (or President Obama for that matter) interfering with his practices either. Hollins said that he doesn’t want to have a say in the players the front office brings in and he doesn’t want the front office having a say in how he coaches the team either. The front office’s job is to get the players. It’s the coach’s job to teach them how to play as a team and who to play in a game.

That sounds reasonable. The Front Office gets the players and the Head Coach coaches them. Coaches don’t have a say about roster moves and Front Office types don’t have a say in the way the Coach plays those players.

The problem is that it’s not reasonable. Not any more at least. It probably wasn’t true back when Hubie Brown was coaching the Grizzlies. He accused Jerry West of sending spies into practice after all.

The days when Front Offices let the coach do his job without involvement is over. Nowadays the front office is intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of the team from player acquisition to rotation analysis. Owners spend hundreds of millions of dollars to own a team. They want results from these investments.

In the old days, owners had the final say over the GM. GMs had the final say over players and coaches. Coaches had final say on who plays. Players didn’t have a lot of say.

Now it is all jumbled up. Rumor is that Vinny Del Negro was let go because Chris Paul wanted a change or he wouldn’t resign with the Clippers. George Karl is supposed to be in trouble in Denver because a new GM is coming to town (sound familiar?). There is no hierarchical approach to who is in charge.

Now I know this wasn’t the way it used to be in Memphis. Lionel had a unique situation. Hollins was hired by Michael Heisley, the former Grizzlies owner, directly. Chris Wallace, the former GM, didn’t appear to have the power to fire Hollins or question what he was doing because Heisley had not given Wallace that power. Heisley didn’t micromanage either. He hired people to do jobs and he let them do their jobs. It was old school with a slight twist. Obviously, Hollins liked his special relationship.

That is no longer the situation in Memphis. Hollins wasn’t hired by the team’s owner and Wallace is no longer the GM. The old rules no longer apply.

The Grizzlies are owned by tech pioneer Robert Pera who is shaking the world quite literally with the way he is doing business. The Grizzlies CEO (GM with a fancier title) Jason Levien is a part-owner of the team as well CEO.

Levien has every right in the world to do things the way he sees fit and if that means sending someone to interact with a practice or make a suggestion, even a strong suggestion, about who should be playing he has that right. He is not just Hollins boss which should be enough of a reason right there but Levien has an ownership stake in the team.

Maybe Hollins thought that since that was the way it used to be that he could force it to remain that way forever. If he felt that way he was wrong. This brings us back to the opening quote which says “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude about it.”

Hollins can’t change what’s happened to the ownership and front office. He needs to change his attitude about it if he truly wants to remain coach of the Grizzlies.

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2 Responses to Times are Changing

  1. Lee Eric SmithNo Gravatar says:

    As always, well thought out, well written, Chip. And I would in general agree that a change in attitude would be beneficial.

    Yet, I would argue that the most important things have NOT changed and will never change. Five guys suit up and play against five other guys. The object is still to put the ball in the basket more often than the other guys.

    We will still take extremely talented & extremely young men — some barely out of high school — and give them more money than they’ve ever seen in their lifetimes. We will still ask them to know how to act, how to resist the temptations to spend stupidly and to avoid the traps of promiscuity when you can literally pick any woman they want.

    We will ask these young men — many of whom have been THE star of their teams earlier, and were treated as such — to not act entitled, to buy into a team concept.

    And let’s be frank: We will expect these young black men to behave responsibly when many of them may have never had a father or father figure to show them how to do so.

    These are the things that so far CAN’T show up in any advanced analytics. These are the people skills that John Hollinger can’t account for. These also happen to be the biggest parts of a coach’s job, even though most fans only care about the 2 1/2 hours we see from section 202 or on SportSouth.

    Lionel Hollins isn’t the first coach in franchise history. Won’t be the last. I’m certain he’s not the only coach that can connect with these players. But for all his quirks and ill-advised public statements, he has coached his team to win through adversity, roster upheaval, sudden trades, airplane fights, ownership changes and more. Much as Phil Jackson has earned the right to do things “his way” because of his success, I think Lionel Hollins has, too.

    Finally, I get the concept of using advanced analytics. But blurring the lines between Front Office and Coach seems a recipe for disaster — even if management decides that Coach Joerger is their guy.

    Let’s say analytics says you should put Player X on the court with Marc Gasol. If you put Player X in the game when you have a 15 point lead, and a few plays later the lead is down to 7, in part because of Player X’s play, do you leave him in? As a coach, if you see the momentum shifting, do you snatch Player X after two bad plays to keep the momentum from swinging? What if you have to worry about the front office second guessing your decisions?

    Unless you’re going to just go the Gregg Popovich/Pat Riley route and obliterate the line between coaching and basketball operations (and even Riley eventually handed the keys over to Erik Spoelstra), I still think it’s best to let the front office get the players and let your coach (my choice: Lionel Hollins) coach them.

    As for the holes in the paddle: More holes, less wind resistance. Less wind resistance, greater impact. But I’m guessing that some part of you (probably your backside) already knew that. Ouch. I feel your pain.

  2. Chip CrainNo Gravatar says:

    I believe the holes were more of an emotional detergent than an actual physical one. They look more terrifying but I doubt the end result was actually that much more painful.

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