Contract talks between the Memphis Grizzlies and coach Lionel Hollins have hit an impasse, and according to Adrian Wojnarowski's Yahoo! Sports report, the old-school coach clashed during the playoffs with John Hollinger, the man behind the Grizzlies' forward-thinking analytics movement.
Clearly, communications have been strained for quite some time. Per Wojnarowski's report:
During the Grizzlies' playoff run, tensions turned to a confrontation when Hollins exploded during a practice session upon finding Hollinger had walked onto the practice court and engaged forward Austin Daye during a shooting drill, multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports.
With the team watching—and with a motive to show his players that he was completely in charge on the floor, sources said—Hollins loudly questioned Hollinger about what he was doing, and why he believed it was appropriate for a management official to intrude on what's considered sacred territory for a coach and team, sources said.
The incident in the postseason was hardly the first between Hollins and Hollinger. Their contentious history goes back to Hollinger's days as a member of the media.
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins in 2011 berated Hollinger in a postgame media session in Portland. Now Hollinger is in front office. #awkward— Jason Quick (@jwquick) December 14, 2012
And the coach didn't exactly get off on the right foot when the Grizzlies hired Hollinger as the team's vice president of basketball operations last December.
Lionel Hollins going on anti-stats/analytics ramage weeks after Hollinger/Levien/Lash front office takeover is...interesting.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) January 11, 2013
While rumors swirled before the trade deadline that the Grizzlies were looking to unload Rudy Gay, a favorite of Hollins', the coach spoke out against the move directly, even threatening to leave the team at the end of the season. According to Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News, Hollins said, "If they break up the team and get rid of everybody, I’ll coach them until the season’s over. Then I’ll make a decision about what I’m going to do."
In a radio interview with Sports 56 WHBQ in Memphis back in January, Hollins said:
We get hung up on statistics a little too much, and I think that's a bad trait all over the league that's taken place. And the media has done 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. Just the analyzing, I see it every time listening to talk show radio. You've got guys spouting off stat after stat after stat. The bottom line is going out and contributing to your team for winning.
Hollins hated the Gay trade, largely because he subscribed to a handful of old-school notions that overvalued the swingman's purported skills as a "shot creator." Already dismissive of the team's analytical bent, he constantly bristled at the way management prized numbers over his own instincts on how to construct a team.
Well, when the dust had settled on the season, the Grizzlies had been a better team on both ends without Gay, which probably made Hollins feel even more defensive about his outdated beliefs.
Fighting against the influx of new ideas is always a losing battle, especially when those ideas are good and have been proven to work. Hollins is either afraid of the analytics movement or embarrassed by his failure to understand it.
To be fair, there's plenty of value in Hollins' 15 combined years of experience in the league as a player and coach. He clearly has a grip on the nuances of the game and has proven that he can develop talent by overseeing Mike Conley's growth into the upper echelon of the league's point guards.
Was Hollins wrong to call out Hollinger?
That said, the Gay trade proved Hollins wrong in a very public way, and it's as sad as it is telling that he lashed out at his boss in embarrassment.
By attacking Hollinger out of some misguided distaste for new thinking, Hollins proved that he's definitely not the right coach for the Grizzlies as they head into the future. What Hollins should really be concerned about is the fact that more and more teams are embracing analytics like the Grizzlies have.
If he keeps up his stubbornness in the face of mounting evidence that much of what he believes to be true about basketball is wrong, he might not be the right fit with any team.
John Hollinger isn't the enemy—he's just a guy who had a few more thoughtful (and ultimately useful) ideas about roster construction than Hollins did. By shooting the messenger, Hollins not only ensured he wouldn't be back with Memphis, but he may also have ensured that he won't ever work for any of the league's brightest franchises.