The Memphis Grizzlies have officially split with former head coach Lionel Hollins.
The breakup note has been delivered, separating the franchise and its most successful coach ever.
Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal broke the news Monday: "Hollins’ contract is scheduled to expire June 30 but the Griz have decided to go in a different direction because of 'philosophical differences,' according to sources close to Griz management."
Despite Hollins’ immense success with the Grizzlies, however, the move isn’t much of a surprise, as the 59-year-old Hollins showed significant contempt for Memphis' philosophical shift toward advanced analytics.
The Grizzlies' next move is to find a suitable coach who also has a shared passion for numbers-driven team management. That man wasn’t Hollins.
There was the interview with Tillery on Sports56WHBQ radio in January, when Hollins revealed he wasn’t fully on board with the advanced statistics focus of new Grizzlies owner Robert Pera:
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.
Then there was the recent report by Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski involving an incident between Hollins and new front-office member and analytics lead man John Hollinger:
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.
Neither of these anecdotes reveals a harmony between Hollins and ownership. Hollins is tough-minded, and he didn’t seem ready to relinquish certain controls. If Hollins earned a report card from this past season, it’d certainly read mostly A’s, but with low marks for behavior.
Hollins took over the team in a 2008-09 season that saw Memphis finish at 24-58 and undoubtedly did a supreme job for the franchise over the years. The Grizzlies got better each season, culminating with this season’s 56-win campaign that reached the Western Conference Finals.
Still, a difference in philosophy is a major hurdle to overcome on the management side of things.
The Grizzlies are going to chase a head coach who is a proven winner and also has the ability to take the franchise even further. More than that, though, the team will want a guy who is fully committed to further developing the team’s advanced analytics approach.
The subject of whether or not the Grizzlies are willing to pay top dollar for their choice of head coach has been speculated upon from both sides. It’s a crucial precondition in the hiring process if the Grizzlies are seeking a big-name coach such as George Karl.
Bill Reiter of FoxSports.com writes:
[T]he source close to Karl told FOX Sports that Memphis could be an unlikely fit because the team seems unwilling to pay a premium for a premium coach. The Clippers and owner Donald Sterling, however, are ready to pony up big dollars for the right candidate, the source said.
But a person familiar with Memphis’ thinking refuted that notion.
“That’s not true,” the source said, stressing that Memphis recognizes the unique position the organization is in. The Grizzlies are coming off of a Western Conference finals appearance and returning a team they see as having a window right now to win an NBA championship. “They’ll absolutely pay a premium for the right person,” the source said.
The following coaches are potential candidates.
Why he’s the right fit: This past season’s Coach of the Year would bring a highly regarded offensive mindset for a Grizzlies team coming off its most successful season in history because of its defense and interior play. Karl's Nuggets averaged a league-high 106.1 points this past season via a signature transition game and the best interior scoring in the league.
The hope would be that Karl could pair an existing tough defense with an enhanced offense.
Why it’s not a fit: If the Grizzlies are seeking to overcome the postseason hump on their way to a title, Karl isn’t exactly the best remedy. In his tenure with the Nuggets, despite five 50-win seasons and nine playoff appearances, Karl only moved out of the first round once, ending in a conference finals loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008-09.
As an established coach, it's also curious whether or not Karl would adapt to the new analytics-led process. The Clippers are also said to be interested in Karl, and it may seem to him a better fit.
Why he’s the right fit: A culture is difficult to establish, and retaining current assistant coach Joeger is one way to maintain a franchise’s identity. Joeger is credited with the Grizzlies’ defensive schemes. Joeger is known to have an esteem for advanced statistics, which lines him up well with Memphis ownership.
Why it’s not a fit: Joeger won five championships before the age of 35, in the International Basketball Association, Continental Basketball Association and D-League. But his lack of NBA head coaching experience would be a tough sell in replacing a proven winner like Hollins.
Why he’s the right fit: A switch to McMillan provides a similar style of player accountability and gritty style of play that could bring similar results with less attitude. McMillan brings immediate credibility to the position, as he was previously successful with the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle SuperSonics.
Why it’s not a fit: If the Grizzlies are built around defense, McMillan might not be the best fit to carry that tradition. Calling him "the most misunderstood coach available," Detroit Free Press columnist Dan Feldman argued many have simply been fooled by McMillan's slow-paced style of play.
Though McMillan may come off looking good by the more conventional measure of points allowed per game, McMillan's teams have generally ranked poorly in the more telling points allowed per possession category.
Why he’s the right fit: It has been reported that Gentry is among the candidates in discussion with the Grizzlies, which is natural considering he is one of the more experienced candidates out there. You may, or may not, remember that Gentry took the Phoenix Suns to the Western Conference Finals in 2010 before the team was stripped of its talent.
Gentry is a veteran player's coach with the likely ability to manage the personality of the Grizzlies. He also seems to be a coach willing to execute the system given to him.
Why it’s not a fit: The biggest reason Gentry may not be the right fit is that his high-scoring style of coaching isn't a fit with the current Grizzlies roster. Memphis isn’t looking to recreate its system, and bringing in Gentry would be a tough sell to current personnel. He also hasn't won anything of late, and that may be a tough PR sell to fans who just tasted the franchise’s best season.
The Suns were 13-28 when they fired Gentry in January, and 12-29 without him.