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Why Lionel Hollins Would Thrive as Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach

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Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2014

Searching for the Los Angeles Lakers' next head coach is a lot like swimming in a puddle: The pool is shallow, the water hazy and you're liable to swallow some kind of gummy, bitter-tasting sludge.

For the Lakers, the coaching well is only near-depthless. They still have some options of respectable candidates who can have an immediate impact, one of whom is Lionel Hollins, the unemployed head honcho one year removed from leading the Memphis Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals.

The link between both parties at the moment is in its early stages. Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski brings word that the Lakers plan on setting up a face-to-face meeting sometime in the near future. This comes nearly a month after Hollins himself expressed interest in the position:

No matter how long it took for the wheels to start turning, the important thing is that they're in motion, even if only slightly. The Lakers have long been in search of their next tenured coach, someone who can be more than a stopgap or placeholder. 

Hollins—especially when compared to everyone else the Lakers have shown interest in—can be that someone.

 

Short, Underwhelming List

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 13:  Los Angeles Clippers Head Coach Mike Dunleavy calls for a foul from the sideline during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on December 13, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly
Harry How/Getty Images

Fred Hoiberg of Iowa State isn't walking through that door.

Sorry, had to.

Pilfering the college ranks of one prized sideline-meandering stud appeared like a legitimate option early on. But then John Calipari made it clear he wasn't leaving Kentucky. Kevin Ollie leveraged NBA interest into a new contract with UConn. Hoiberg was given a raise long before the Association's coaching tornado could sweep him up.

Thin on options at the collegiate level, the Lakers have focused their attentions on more established NBA honchos. 

Mike Dunleavy has already sat down with the club, per Wojnarowski. Though his resume is steeped in 16-plus seasons of head-coaching experience, his lifetime 46.1 winning percentage isn't going to incite much confidence in Lakers fans—or super-hungry, super-impatient superstar Kobe Bryant, for that matter. 

"He's not a fate-changer," Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley writes of Dunleavy. "Whatever a team was before his arrival is what it will be after he's gone—if not even a tad worse for the experience."

Although Dunleavy did coach the Lakers to the NBA Finals in 1991, his success was brief and viewed as inconsequential. He's only made it past the second round four times in his career.

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 10:  Head coach Byron Scott of the Cleveland Cavaliers calls out the play late in the game against the Detroit Pistons at The Quicken Loans Arena on April 10, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agr
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Of everyone the Lakers have been attached to, aside from HollinsByron Scott is easily the most appealing, which says very little considering he's more than a decade removed from the then-New Jersey Nets' glory days and possesses a lower winning percentage than Dunleavy (44.4).

Scott is valued for his ties to Bryant more than anything.

Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding says the Lakers are looking for a coach who can coexist with the Black Mamba and make the most out of whatever convocation they field immediately. Scott played with Bryant during the latter's rookie season, and his work in New Jersey, while forever ago, highlighted his ability to guide veterans and balance egos.

This is the extent of the Lakers' options right now. They don't run deeper. Perhaps they branch off to assistants looking for their first head-coaching opportunity, and even to long shots like Tom Thibodeau, but they don't get better and more realistic. 

Unless you count Hollins, that is.

 

The "D" Word

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 21: Lionel Hollins of the Memphis Grizzlies listens to Tony Allen #9 while playing the San Antonio Spurs in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 21, 2013 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Tex
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Defense has become a forgotten concept in Lakerland

Mike Brown was brought in to sustain the defensive fortitude that the Zen Master, Phil Jackson, built. He did no such thing. And D'Antoni, as you probably know, is lauded for his defensive acumen the way a compulsive liar is for his or her honesty.

The Grizzlies became a defensive powerhouse under Hollins. During his four full seasons running the show—though he was with the team much longer—the Grizzlies improved their defensive standing by leaps and bounds every year.

Defensive Evolution, Lionel Hollins Style
SeasonDef. Rank
2009-1019
2010-119
2011-127
2012-132
Basketball-Reference.

Limiting the opposition's point totals is more important than ever for the Lakers, who ranked 28th in defensive efficiency through 2013-14 and haven't cracked the top 10 since Jackson was around. They have only three players under contract next season, yet you already know this isn't a team that will be built to win games on offense.

Steve Nash's career continues to hang in the balance, and Bryant appeared in only six games this past season. Neither of them are guaranteed to return to their offensive roots. In many ways, they never will, even if they're healthy.

Running up and down the floor with ease is no longer an option for either veteran. The days of spearheading fast-paced, explosive offensive attacks are over. That's why D'Antoni quickly became a poor fit for this club. You could add all the youth and athleticism in the world to these Lakers, and they're still going to have $30-plus million committed to Bryant and Nash next season.

Hollins makes sense for a team housing Nash and Kobe.
Hollins makes sense for a team housing Nash and Kobe.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Aging, physically decaying cores need to play within pace-governing systems. Hollins can install one. It's exactly what he did in Memphis.

The Grizzlies never ranked higher than 10th in possessions used per 48 minutes during Hollins' four full seasons at the helm. In 2012-13, his last year, they finished dead last, playing at torpid speeds rivaled only by three-toed sloths.

Boring? Most definitely.

Effective? It can be.

Buttressed by a strong defensive attack, the Grizzlies were able to grind their way to a Western Conference Finals berth in 2013. If the Lakers chase the right free agents—say, Luol Deng—and give Hollins the defensive talent he needs to implement top-notch prevention, they instantly go from lottery-dwelling horror to legitimate Western Conference foe.

 

A Good Fit

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 25:  Head coach Lionel Hollins of the Memphis Grizzlies reacts in the first half while taking on the San Antonio Spurs during Game Three of the Western Conference Finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the FedExForum on May 25, 2013 in Memph
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Detractors will immediately point to Hollins' offense. 

It's boring. Stupid. Outdated. Ineffective.

Some will even point to his dismissal from the Grizzlies.

What kind of coach doesn't get a new contract after winning 56 regular-season games and earning a Western Conference Finals berth? Something must have been wrong.

All those inquiries must be overlooked. They're not enough to cut Hollins down in this case.

There's most definitely room for improvement within his offense. It's predictable and brimming with too much high-low action that encourages mid-range jumpers. But the Grizzlies also ranked in the top half of offensive efficiency during Hollins' first full season. Later years saw them devalue the presence of dangerous shooters too, so their coach wasn't given much to work with. 

As for the shady end to his tenure in Memphis, it was just that—shady.

While Hollins can be hardheaded and clashed with Grizzlies management, the franchise hasn't been handling off-court decisions well over the last year. Dave Joerger hasn't been treated any better, and public perception is at an all-time low.

Everything that went wrong cannot be on Hollins. Ken Berger of CBS Sports even felt the Grizzlies would be smart to bring him back next season when it looked like Joerger was on his way out:

Nobody knows. But the one thing we do know is that the core of the roster, under contract for next season, would welcome Hollins back with open arms. And unless Pera is planning to trade everybody, tear the roster down to the studs and start over, why wouldn't he at least consider it?

Why couldn't the Grizzlies do something that makes sense for once?

That brings us to another pivotal point in this process: team morale.

Hollins was able to forge bonds with Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Zach Randolph. Those four would absolutely back his return, hence the "open arms" reference. The Lakers need a coach like this, one who can connect with his players on a more profound level, who can gain their trust.

Those Grizzlies of the last half-decade would have followed Hollins into hell if he asked. Not since Jackson have the Lakers had someone, anyone, who can create that sense of camaraderie.

Brown sure didn't. Magic Mike did just the opposite. He was constantly at odds with Pau Gasol. Dwight Howard didn't like him. Bryant had "no interest" in playing for him next season, according to Sporting News' Sean Deveney.

Putting an end to this incredibly destructive, franchise-tarnishing coaching merry-go-round needs to be a top priority. Dunleavy isn't going to command respect. Scott won't stand on firm ground either. Neither one of them will appeal to star free agents.

What the Lakers need is a leader who can juggle the demands of Bryant while teaching the younger, impressionable basketball minds poised to arrive via the draft and free agency. 

What they need—based off their other options—is Hollins

And they need him soon.

Other teams have already come calling. Berger cites the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers—two teams in transition like the Lakers—among the most interested. So the time to wait isn't now.

Not when other teams want him.

Not when the alternatives are underwhelming at best.

"There are a lot of young coaches, a lot of older coaches: it’s very competitive," general manager Mitch Kupchak told Lakers.com's Mike Trudell. "Despite the glamour and the compensation, it is a difficult job."

A difficult job that Hollins, who just so happens to be swimming in Los Angeles' coaching puddle, is more than equipped to handle.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise attributed. Salary information via ShamSports.

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