Pros and Cons of Lionel Hollins as Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach
According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers intend to talk to former Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins about filling their vacancy later this week. L.A. has already talked to Mike Dunleavy Sr. and Byron Scott, both of whom have previously been affiliated with the Purple and Gold, about the job, and is expected to sit down soon with Los Angeles Clippers assistant Alvin Gentry, per The Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner.
Hollins, who was a champion and an All-Star with the Portland Trail Blazers in the late 1970s, could be the third coach—fourth, if you include Bernie Bickerstaff's brief interregnum in 2012—hired by the Lakers since Phil Jackson called it quits after the 2010-11 season.
The Kansas native and Arizona State product has enjoyed his fair share of success as a head coach, having last been seen stalking the sidelines during the 2013 Western Conference Finals. But is he the right person to take the Lakers back to the promised land?
To figure that out, let's have a look at what Hollins brings to the table, good and bad.
Pro: He's a Known Quantity
By all accounts, the Lakers want a seasoned NBA coach—not an up-and-coming assistant, a collegiate heavyweight or even a soon-to-be-retired former player—to lead them out of the 27-55 mess into which the 2013-14 season devolved.
To that end, Hollins is the best candidate on the market this side of Jeff Van Gundy. Memphis' winning percentage improved each year during what was Hollins' third go-round with the Grizzlies franchise. They went from 13-26 during the second half of the 2008-09 season to the right side of an epic eight-over-one playoff upset in 2011 to four wins away from the NBA Finals last spring.
In essence, Hollins was responsible for helping the Grizz pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the Pau Gasol trade. The Lakers could certainly use a coach of that rebuilding repute, and not just because the personal connections between the people and the organizations herein would be poetic.
Chances are, the Lakers are going to stink to some extent next season. Their roster currently consists of a 40-year-old Steve Nash, a recovering Kobe Bryant and Robert Sacre. Even if the Lakers nail the No. 7 pick, they'll need to hit some home runs in free agency this summer just to ensure the club can compete on the fringes of the ever-improving Western Conference.
As such, the Lakers will need someone who knows a thing or two about molding a team with a strong identity over time. Hollins, with his track record as progenitor of the "Grit-n-Grind" Grizzlies, fits that description quite snugly.
Con: ...But He Doesn't Really Know the Lakers
If Hollins had any significant ties to the Lakers, he'd probably be a shoo-in for this gig. Instead, he'll have to contend with Byron Scott and Mike Dunleavy, both of whom are intimately familiar with the NBA's glamor franchise.
Scott was a key cog in the machinery of the famed "Showtime" Lakers. He played with Kobe Bryant during the Black Mamba's rookie year. Most recently, Scott has served as an analyst on the Lakers' local TV network.
Scott's prior experience as a coach, however uneven, doesn't hurt, either. He led the New Jersey Nets to the NBA Finals in two of his first three seasons at the helm and guided Chris Paul's New Orleans Hornets to 56 wins and the cusp of the Western Conference Finals in 2007-08.
As for Dunleavy, he supplanted Pat Riley in L.A. in 1990, led the Lakers to the Finals in 1991 and left the team in 1992, after Magic Johnson's stunning retirement brought the franchise to its knees. Dunleavy's subsequent stints with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers weren't particularly successful, though he did lead the Blazers to within one late-game meltdown of the Finals in 2000, the year after he was named the league's top coach.
Neither Scott nor Dunleavy can claim any memorable coaching fame as recently as Hollins can. But the Lakers know them both well and might be hesitant to seek help outside of their existing circle, given how badly they've been burned by external hires of late (i.e. Rudy Tomjanovich, Mike Brown, Mike D'Antoni) and what's currently at stake for the franchise's fragile future.
Con: He's Butted Heads with Higher-Ups
Hollins' history of conflict with front-office types might deter the Lakers to some extent as well. He reportedly clashed with Grizzlies management last season, most notably in a confrontation with executive John Hollinger during one of the team's practices.
Hollins didn't do himself any favors, either, when he publicly criticized the team's decision to trade Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors.
"When you have champagne taste, you can't be on a beer budget," Hollins said in January 2013, per The Oklahoman's John Rohde. "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."
Of course, Hollins won't have to worry about the Lakers shying away such expenditures—not with their TV-fueled budget and historical mandate to win forever. Nor do his issues with Memphis' power players seem so disconcerting in light of the chaos that's erupted between owner Robert Pera and some of his underlings in recent weeks.
Then again, the Lakers' brass hasn't exactly been dysfunction-free of late, what with the relationships between some of the Buss siblings being as shaky as they are. The last thing the Lakers need in this most uncertain of times is someone else to rock the boat.
Pro: Disciplined, Demanding and Defense-Oriented
What the Lakers do need, though, is a coach who can instill a measure of discipline, particularly on the defensive end, off of which the team can thrive.
Hollins was instrumental in turning the Grizzlies into a defensive powerhouse during his four-and-a-half-year tenure as head coach in the River City. According to NBA.com, Memphis ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency every season between 2010 and 2013 and kept that streak going this season under Dave Joerger, thanks to many of the same principles and players on which and whom Hollins leaned.
To that end, Hollins could be something of a miracle worker in L.A. The Lakers' defensive slide has been nothing if not pronounced: from sixth in Phil Jackson's final season, to 13th in Mike Brown's first, to 19th during the chaos of the 2012-13 campaign to 28th in Mike D'Antoni's first (and last) full year on the job.
D'Antoni was frequently criticized for his (perceived) lack of commitment to coaching his players up on defense, particularly after he told T.J. Simers, then of The Los Angeles Times that they'd worked for "a half-hour" on that end of the floor (via USA Today's Adi Joseph).
The Lakers should have no such concerns with Hollins. He's been known to drill his players extensively and pay special attention to their defensive performance. He expects toughness and energy from his team and demands crisp execution and communication on the defensive end.
All of which was lacking in LaLa Land this past season, but should be abundantly evident with a coach like Hollins in charge.
Con: Not a Great Offensive Tactician
On the other hand, L.A.'s offense would probably be more "Slowtime" than "Showtime" on Hollins' watch. The Grizzlies ranked at or near the bottom of the NBA in pace toward the end of Hollins' tenure, checking in at 29th with a sluggish 91.15 possessions per game in 2012-13, per NBA.com.
And it's not as though Memphis lit up the league with what few possessions it mustered. The Grizzlies never finished higher than 16th in points per possession under Hollins and regularly ranked among the least efficient shooting squads in basketball.
Granted, that's not all Hollins' fault. There's only so much a coach can do with the personnel he's given, and Hollins wasn't exactly handed a full deck of offensive weapons.
Still, Memphis' limited offense, ostensibly orchestrated by Hollins, had everything to do with the team's swift demise at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in last year's Western Conference Finals. The Lakers' next coach must be someone who can fashion no worse than a half-decent offense, one that maximizes what abilities Bryant has left.
"We have a player on our team right now who’s proven in this league offensively who can score. That certainly is a consideration," Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said during a recent conference call with reporters, via The Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan. "We have to make sure that whoever we hire as a coach can really get the most productivity out of him, whether it’s scoring the ball or playmaking or the threat that he may score. That’s probably of primary importance right now."
If that's the case, Hollins' questionable capacity for offensive creativity might be his downfall in L.A.'s extensive coaching search.
Pro: He Prefers the Low Post, and so Does Kobe
Then again, Hollins' offensive preferences could work to his advantage.
The Grizzlies' slow pace was largely the product of their personnel. Their two best players—Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph—were both big men who fared best as low-post threats in half-court sets. Hence, it was in the Grizzlies' best interests not to run, but rather to run their offense carefully and methodically.
After nearly two years in D'Antoni's uptempo, three point-centric offense, the Lakers might be ready to revert to an offensive style that, while not as entertaining as the Buss family would hope, could be plenty effective, particularly in light of the players L.A. has on hand.
If the Lakers want their next offense to be one that prominently features the Black Mamba, one akin to Hollins' Memphis schemes could be right up their alley.
"Over the years, his game has changed from really a game where he's pretty wild and athletic and at times out of control … in the early part of his career," Kupchak added. "In the last seven or eight years, he’s become more deliberate and of course he’s gotten a little bit older.
"I think you’ll see a lot of him posting up. I think you’ll see the ball in his hands making plays. I think Kobe knows where on the court he'll be most effective."
As should Hollins. Perhaps Pau Gasol, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, will be intrigued by the possibility of playing for the same man who turned his younger brother into an All-Star. After all of the grief between Gasol and D'Antoni over the latter's offensive preferences, the Lakers couldn't do much worse.
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