Job security in the NBA is at an all-time low, especially at the head coach position. This season alone, the turnover rates have been astronomical, and even quasi-successful coaches have found themselves in the hot seat as the offseason approaches and teams attempt to retool their rosters and reshuffle their coaching staffs for the upcoming season.
At a glance, the current crop of unemployed coaches clamoring to fill vacancies is like an island of misfit toys. There’s Byron Scott and Lawrence Frank, whose winning percentages both hover around an unremarkable .45 percent mark. There’s Nate McMillan, who doesn’t fare much better with a .51 winning percentage during his 12 seasons as a coach. Then there’s the brothers Van Gundy, neither of whom seems particularly interested in coaching anymore. Jeff, for the past few years, has settled comfortably into the broadcast booth over at ABC, while Stan (aka “The Master of Panic”) seems to be still reeling from the Dwight Howard saga that cost him his last job in Orlando.
In other words, there isn’t exactly a hotbed of talent, which is why the Grizzlies brass would be wise to do everything in their power to re-sign Lionel Hollins to a long-term contract extension. His resume speaks for itself, and after a three-hour exit interview with Grizzlies owner Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien last Thursday, Hollins seemed confident that the two parties would be able to come to terms on a deal that would keep him in Memphis for the foreseeable future.
Hollins has stated publicly on at least two separate occasions this past week that he’d prefer to stay on as the Grizzlies head coach. On Monday, he spoke with Memphis radio station Sports 56 WHBQ to reiterate that fact: “I believe in Memphis. I love Memphis. I never had any intention of going anywhere.”
But that didn’t stop the Grizzlies from unexpectedly announcing that they were allowing him to explore other options. Hollins’ contract expires at the end of this month, and the Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets are rumored to be interested in acquiring him.
From a fan’s perspective, it’s hard to imagine how it could have come to this, but rumors of a widening rift between Hollins and team executives have been circulating the entire season. Things were exacerbated recently by reports of a verbal confrontation between Hollins and Grizzlies VP John Hollinger. Hollins allegedly yelled at Hollinger during a recent practice session after he (Hollinger) waltzed onto the court, without permission, to speak with little-used reserve forward Austin Daye. Team practices are traditionally the coach’s domain, and it’s likely Hollins took it as a sign of disrespect and yet another example of management’s ongoing interference in coaching-related matters.
It’s certainly possible that some of this has been blown out of proportion in the media. After all, Hollins claims that he and Hollinger had a laugh about the alleged incident after practice, but tensions have been mounting ever since the Grizzlies hired Hollinger as Vice President of Basketball Operations in December. Hollinger, the former ESPN wunderkind and analytics guru, is the brains behind the celebrated player efficiency rating (PER), a complex formula designed to measure a player’s overall statistical value.
Together with general manager Chris Wallace, they comprise a front office duo that isn’t afraid to make bold moves that go against conventional wisdom or popular opinion. It was Wallace who infamously traded away Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers and got next to nothing in return, aside from the drafts rights to Gasol’s younger brother, Marc; however, the emergence of the younger Gasol as a perennial All-Star candidate, defensive stalwart and franchise cornerstone in a league bereft of old-school centers is threatening to make Wallace look like a genius for his foresight.
Along with team owner Robert Pera, the precocious 34-year-old billionaire entrepreneur who purchased the Grizzlies for a reported $350 million last summer, the team executives have adopted what can only be described as a Moneyball approach to management.