Lionel Hollins may have an uncertain future as of now, but he is not a victim.
The Memphis Grizzlies coach, whose contract expires June 30 after leading the franchise to its best all-time record and its first conference finals, might be the hottest chase of the offseason.
Hollins texted Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports after being swept by the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday: "I hope things get worked out quickly. I love our team and the possibilities.”
A day later at exit interviews, Hollins reiterated that same sentiment, according to a Commercial Appeal story: “Hopefully, I’ll be here. I think they understand that I want to be back” and added he’d return if presented a “fair offer.”
Hollins also knows he has the leverage, as stated in the article:
But this is a business. This is my first opportunity as a head coach. And having the first opportunity come the way it did, financially, it wasn’t in a normal situation. I’m in a situation where I wanted to establish myself as an NBA coaching commodity. I believe I have with the group of players that we’ve had. There’s other people interested, which makes it very, very nice.
Memphis needs the leadership of Hollins more than he needs a roster that can be matched elsewhere.
Apparently though, those conversations will only take place if Hollins doesn’t re-sign with Memphis.
The power share seems to belong to Grizzlies owner Robert Pera. The golden rule is that “he who owns the gold makes the rules,” and the billionaire owner is controlling dollars.
If Pera believes the team’s success is built off its roster more than its coach, he may opt to chase a head coach that does not clash with his style.
If you remember, Hollins spelled out in a Jan. 11 interview with Ronald Tillery of Sports56WHBQ that he wasn’t overly convinced about the advanced statistics approach of Pera’s ownership:
We get hung up on statistics a little bit too much. And I think that's a bad trait that all over the league is taking place and the media always does it because it's easy to go to the stats to make a point or to build up a player or tear down a player. And just to analyze. Every day that I listen to talk shows on the radio you've got guys spouting off stat after stat, after stat. The bottom line is go out and contribute to your team to winning.
The statement wasn't conscious of feelings. John Hollinger, ESPN's analytics master, had just recently been hired to become part of the Grizzlies' front office.
Then ruffled sentiments were expressed again when the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay, the closest thing to a franchise cornerstone, in February.
John Rohde of The Oklahoman wrote on Feb. 1:
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins explaining why the Grizzlies traded away five players, including leading scorer Rudy Gay: “When you have champagne taste, you can't be on a beer budget. It's a small market and I understand the economics of being in a small market. I've been with the Grizzlies for 11 years in Memphis. Rudy Gay has been a big part of our success. I've known him as a kid as a rookie coming in. He's a big part of my success as a coach here and I feel I was a big part of his success and I wish him the best as he moves forward into the second chapter of his career.”
Those two tidbits within in a month’s time created a buzz that Hollins wasn’t on the same page as Pera’s ownership. Hollins, who was far from political in those comments, reversed and made a calming statement to reporters on Feb. 8:
"There's been a lot of negativity around our team, and me and my feelings about the trade and my feelings about management," Hollins said, according to The Associated Press. "Most of it is as far from the truth as it can be."
Like the attitude or not, Hollins has led the Grizzlies to their success. Memphis was 29-16 prior to trading Gay and 27-10 after the trade before pushing the franchise to its furthest mark in the postseason.
Nope, Hollins isn’t always amiable, at least in public, and he showed that again late in the team’s Game 4 loss to the San Antonio Spurs when he got in the face of Jerryd Bayless:
While Hollins may not be the desired mold, there's no arguing that Hollins has been a winning fit for a roster that has been squeezed of its talent.
He has helped build this team as much, or more, than advanced statistics. Developing Mike Conley's game doesn't happen from a keyboard, and he has increased the interior production of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph into the best frontcourt in the league.
Hollins became coach in Memphis for the latter part of the 2008-09 season, a team that finished 24-58. Each year the team has progressed to its best point now.
Additionally, the market for head coaches isn’t sparkling with names any bigger than Hollins—outside the conjecture of a Phil Jackson return—and the Grizzlies may need to up the ante on the reported $2.3 million that Hollins earned this season.
If the Clippers and Nets are truly calling—both of which are markets that can bring in top-tier talent—then Hollins certainly is in a fine situation whether the Grizzlies bring him back or not.
But ownership may decide that allowing Hollins to walk is in everyone's best interest.
Question marks surround which direction the Grizzlies will go next as Tony Allen is a free agent, Zach Randolph turns 32 and the team desperately needs perimeter shooting.
Hollins was already installed as coach when Pera and CEO Jason Levien took over the team, and they may want a coach to be fully on board.
Hollins can be a great coach and still not fit in with ownership’s plans.
But that won’t make him the victim; Hollins has plenty of bargaining chips in every scenario, and he doesn’t need the Grizzlies.