If you haven’t been following the soap opera that is the Grizzlies offseason so far, you clearly have been living under a rock. If you have been living under a rock, two things: One: Welcome back to civilization. Two: A quick recap:
Lionel Hollins took over as coach about four years ago. Since then, the team has consistently gotten better, winning the franchise’s first playoff game in history, first playoff series in history and just a few weeks ago, advanced to its first Western Conference Finals in franchise history, where they lost to a flat out amazing San Antonio Spurs team. Under his tenure however, the team finally struck a chord with the City of Memphis and fans fell in love with the blue collar, “grit & grind”, scrappy underdog identity crafted by Hollins and his staff.
Hollins had been hired by previous Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley, who sold the team last fall to tech billionaire Robert Pera. Pera installed Jason Levien as CEO, who in turn has overseen this miracle season and brought in a different front office and mindset. Hollins contract is set to expire on June 30, and despite earlier indications that the team would resign him right after the season was over, Hollins has instead been granted permission to explore opportunities with other teams, presumably over “philosophical differences.”
Now, there are many people who don’t need to read this post — because they have a clear concept of what the team should do. But for others, a quick case for why the team should resign Lionel Hollins like yesterday.
Don’t mess with a good thing. Really, I could stop right there. The winningest coach in franchise history (196-155) just guided the winningest team in franchise history (56-26) to the first Western Conference Finals in franchise history. Sure, getting swept by San Antonio hurt, but it’s freakin’ San Antonio! There’s no shame in losing to a team that executed as flawlessly as the Spurs did in that series. If you keep Hollins, there’s no guarantee the Grizz will get back to the WCF — just ask OKC. But if you have a winning formula, why would you tinker with it?
Winning culture. Except for the three year playoff run that started with Hubieball — and an 0-12 playoff record to show for it — the Grizzlies, both in Vancouver and Memphis, had been an NBA stepchild, seemingly doomed to be a permanent bottom feeder. This was only compounded in Memphis, which already had the image of being a permanent bottom feeder. But it’s not just that the Grizzlies are winning — it’s HOW they’re winning, how they’ve established this culture: by rolling up their sleeves, ignoring the sob story and going to work. Turns out, that old fashioned hard work wasn’t just the recipe for success for the franchise . . .
The City LOVES this team and this coach. And the reason why, is because Lionel Hollins — himself repeatedly passed over for head coaching gigs with this very team — took a group of castoffs, misfits & bargain bin players and molded them into a tough, hard-working team reflective of the city it plays in. Grizzlies fans look at this team and this coach and see themselves — taking on the luckier teams with the bigger stars and grinding them into the ground. Not only that, he’s plugged into the community, and has shown his love for Memphis. When the ongoing conversation about attracting stars to Memphis is that no one would want to come, Lionel Hollins has loudly professed his love for Memphis. You do that, and the people of Memphis will embraced you.
The players LOVE this coach. I could write more, but watch this video instead.
Continuity. Let’s rundown the list: Hubie. Fratello. Barone. Iavaroni. Before Lionel Hollins became head coach, the longest tenure of any head coach in franchise history was two years. Often, the team changed coaches in mid-season. It’s no coincidence that once you put a good coach in place and let him work for a few years, the team stabilizes and begins to hit its stride. In fact, often the teams with the greatest success over the past several years are the ones with the longest tenured coaches. San Antonio has Gregg Popovich. The Utah Jazz was a steady playoff team for nearly 20 years with Jerry Sloan at the helm. Doc Rivers in Boston. Scott Brooks in OKC. Phil Jackson in both Chicago & L.A. Not to say that Hollins is a flawless coach, or that there will never be a time when he would need to be replaced. But coming off the best season in franchise history with still more room to grow, now is NOT the time.
Last but not least . . .
Lionel Hollins wants to be here. Sure he’s said things that probably didn’t warm the cockles of the front office’s heart. But he’s a basketball coach, not a master negotiator. You could argue that he’s given up a ton of negotiation leverage already. Statements like, “Make me a fair offer and I’ll sign tomorrow,” and “I don’t want to coach another team” don’t reek of someone who is in this purely for the money. He’s been building something here, he loves his players, he loves the city, and he wants a fair paycheck to continue.
Nothing has ever really been simple or straightforward about this franchise, not even the process of bringing it to Memphis. Since then, it almost always seems like the team has deliberately chosen the harder more difficult road. Lately, the team has been succeeding in spite of that, but this choice is fairly easy. Sometimes, the best move is no move at all.
Lionel Hollins built this version of the Grizzlies on the concept of taking the high percentage shot. In this case, that shot is to bring an immediate end to the drama and bring Lionel Hollins back to Beale for next season.