Lionel Hollins has done marvelous work to bring the Memphis Grizzlies where they are, but he still must show the Grizzlies can take the next step if he wants an extension. According to The Commercial Appeal, Hollins and the Grizzlies have "limited discussions" about an extension.
The fact that these talks only are in the early stages is sensible.
First, the possibility that Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley will complete the sale of the team to the group led by Robert Pera is becoming very real. The sale is expected to be completed at the end of the month.
Additionally, Ubiquiti Networks, which Pera owns and of whose stock performance he draws his income, has seen its stock start to stabilize after dropping sharply in May and again in August. After the stock fell to $7.88 per share on Aug. 14, it climbed to $12.13 on Aug. 29. Since then, the company's stocks have remained in the $12 to $13 range.
Pera also has picked up minority owners, such as former NBA All-Star and Memphis native Penny Hardaway and AutoZone founder J.R. Hyde, to help assure the stability of the bid and the commitment of the ownership to the community.
Next, Hollins, who is in the last year of his contract, has yet to show that he can make this tough squad a championship contender.
For the last two years, the Grizzlies have been essentially the same kind of team; an intense defending, low-scoring, hard-working collective. The Grizzlies have managed to outscore opponents by a modest margin through a combination of inside scoring and transition offense.
The "Grindhouse," an apt nickname for the team that embodies Memphis' blue-collar ethic, feeds off turnovers, having led the NBA in steals and turnovers forced the last two years.
Three-point shooting and free-throw shooting have stood as impediments to the team's success. The Grizz were 25th in three-point field-goal percentage last season and 27th in 2011-12. They were 13th in free-throw percentage last season after placing 23rd in 2011-12.
Despite the jump in the rankings in free-throw percentage, Hollins correctly stated in the above Commercial Appeal article that the team still needs to improve at the charity stripe. Only three of the seven players who took 10 or more free-throw attempts in the playoffs made better than 75 percent.
That brings up the bigger issue for the man entering his fourth full season as a head coach. Although Hollins is leading this small-market team through what looks to be its first period as a contender for the conference title, he needs to drive the bunch to be more than a dark horse.
In the last two years, the Grizzlies showed little more than promise. In 2011, Zach Randolph led the team to its first playoff series victory as Memphis upended the San Antonio Spurs. The following series against the Oklahoma City Thunder saw Randolph and company fight through seven games before bowing out.
That was seen as a success because Memphis accomplished something that was unprecedented in franchise history. The Grizz had never even won a playoff game before then.
Last season, the expectations were higher heading into the playoffs after the Grizzlies had a franchise-record winning percentage and gained homecourt for the first time in the playoffs. Then, Hollins and his team disappointed fans by falling in seven games to the Los Angeles Clippers.
This was the result of a wide array of mishaps. Hollins was outcoached by an inferior coach, Vinny Del Negro. The six-year member of the Grizzlies organization made a few tactical errors, such as switching the game plan in Game 1 and pushing the pace too hard throughout the series.
Also, the Grizzlies turned the ball over too much, O.J. Mayo was ineffective most of the series, Marc Gasol was rusty during the first four games of the series, and the team wasn't always on key defensively.
Someone who has such a strong coaching pedigree shouldn't have so many things go wrong in the playoffs. When the time calls for a discipline-oriented coach to to lead his team to the next level, he must see it through, not watch it scratch through incongruity.
To bring the Grizzlies deep in the playoffs, Hollins needs to maximize the team's strengths. The stars, Randolph, Gasol and Rudy Gay, need to be effective. Tony Allen needs to be able to set a strong tone on defense.
At the same time, Hollins needs to bring out scoring from role players. Memphis fell flat last season in part because it didn't have support scoring and L.A. did.
The Grizzlies can compete with the Thunder, Lakers and Spurs in the playoffs despite a lack of superstars. Hollins needs to ensure that everything is right for his balanced squad to beat these superstar-led teams.
When Pera takes over as owner, as he is presumed to, he'll have to make his own assessment of Hollins. Pera's vision for the team is difficult to discern, especially considering how private a person he is. Whatever his vision is, a championship should be part of it.
Hollins still has to show himself to be a championship-level coach. Enough evaluating needs to be done in order to know whether he's the coach who can bring the Grizzlies to a title.
Before Hollins is awarded with a new deal, that determination must be made.
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