The Memphis Grizzlies announced (via the team website) that Lionel Hollins would not be returning for the 2013-14 campaign, opting not to extend his contract when it expires on June 30 and immediately terminating his relationship with the organization as of Monday.
Jason Levien—the Grizzlies' CEO and managing partner who took over as a primary basketball decision-maker shortly after Robert Pera agreed to buy the team at the start of the 2012-13 campaign—didn’t list to any explicit reasoning for this split in the press release.
Instead, Levien vaguely stated (as per the team website): “After a thorough internal process, which included conversations with Lionel and his representatives, we decided as an organization to move in a different direction.”
However, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski says that there were “major philosophical differences” between Hollins and the tandem of Levien and his VP of basketball operations, John Hollinger.
Levien apparently wants to clean house and employ an analytics-based strategy to build this franchise into a contender.
Hollinger was allegedly encroaching onto the head coach’s territory by speaking with players in practice, disrupting the atmosphere of control the head coach had attempted to cultivate throughout the campaign and into the postseason.
After the blowup that reportedly ensued, this split seemed almost inevitable.
Once the Grizzlies were eliminated from the playoffs upon being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, it all but sealed the coach’s fate.
Regardless, none of that reasoning makes this decision to cut ties with Hollins any less insane.
Hollins is the winningest coach in franchise history, leading the downtrodden organization to an impressive 196-155 record during his latest tenure with the team.
The Arizona State product has been part of the club since the Vancouver days, going 18-42 back in 1999-2000 as an interim coach. He had another stint in 2004, going just 0-4 before being replaced by Mike Fratello.
His loyalty finally earned him a shot to drop the interim title midway through the 2008-09 season, and he made the most of it, shaking off a rocky start to lead the Grizzlies to three-straight playoff appearances beginning in 2011.
The 59-year-old presided over a squad that lost its leading scorer in a pre-trade deadline deal and lost a number of solid rotation players in a move designed purely to shed cap space in late-January.
Dexter Pittman was the only notable acquisition the team made despite holding a 35-18 record at the deadline itself. He ended up logging 28 total minutes—including playoffs—for Memphis.
Despite all that, Hollins guided the Griz to the No. 5 seed in the competitive Western Conference and kept his players focused—especially on the defensive end.
His system helped center Marc Gasol win Defensive Player of the Year honors, while the big man also earned All-NBA Second Team and—along with Tony Allen and Mike Conley Jr.— All-Defensive Team accolades.
Come the playoffs, the Griz had their vengeance on the Los Angeles Clippers, the team that eliminated them last year in the first round after seven hard-fought games.
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They would go on to knock out the Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder in five games before falling to the eventual West-winning Spurs in the conference finals.
For those strong efforts in the face of overwhelming odds, Hollins is now on the unemployment line.
While he’s not projected to stay there long—as a number of high-profile organizations have head-coaching vacancies—it was a foolish move for Memphis to let such a proven and successful coach go.