Ideal NBA Coaching Fit for Lionel Hollins

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2014

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 27:  Head coach Lionel Hollins of the Memphis Grizzlies reacts in the first half while taking on the San Antonio Spurs during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the FedExForum on May 27, 2013 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After a year away from the bench, former Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins is feeling the itch to return. At the moment, it looks like he'll have the opportunity.

The question is where—and in what capacity.

Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears reports that a number of teams have interest in Hollins as either a head coach or associate head coach (which is a fancy title for lead assistant):

Each of the potential gigs has its merits. They all have their uncertainties, too. In a business where coaches last only so long as they're seasonably fashionable, each position certainly comes with a high degree of risk that it will be temporary.

Beyond generalities, there will be plenty for Hollins and these clubs alike to think about in the coming weeks. When the interviews and negotiations are all wrapped up, chances are one of these situations works out.

But which?

Los Angeles Lakers

Fox Sports reports that the organization is planning to interview Hollins, adding him to a list that includes the likes of Mike Dunleavy and Byron Scott. And, according to Spears, Hollins' ears are wide open:

No surprise there. The Lakers job is easily the most attractive, at least from a long-term standpoint. Once general manager Mitch Kupchak has the opportunity to put his newfound cap flexibility to good use, this roster should once again take title-worthy shape.

In the meantime, this club just wants to remain competitive, to keep Kobe Bryant happy and to placate Lakers fans after a couple of empty seasons.

The attractive thing about Hollins is his playoff pedigree and ability to instill a defensive identity. The Lakers pretty much expect the playoff part and are badly in need of the defense part. After Mike D'Antoni steered this defense into the ground like he was mining for crude, this team's fate depends in large part on a philosophical adjustment.

Setting aside someone like Jeff Van Gundy, Hollins may rank as the best defense-first option on the market.

On the other hand, Hollins has "temporary" written all over him in this particular context. It's hard to see the Lakers penciling him in as the coach of the future, namely because Hollins had plenty of opportunities to take his Grizzlies all the way—and always came up short.

So while he has playoff pedigree, it's yet to be proven he has championship pedigree. That doesn't sound like the long-term partner Los Angeles needs right now.

Cleveland Cavaliers

MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 01:  Mike Brown the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers gives instructions to Kyrie Irving #2  during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum on March 1, 2014 in Memphis, Tennessee.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowl
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Cavs are a mess. They fired general manager Chris Grant midseason. They waited to give head coach Mike Brown the bad news until season's end (after just one year on the job). Rumors persist that Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters don't get along.

And, by the way, the roster has undergone more shuffling than a deck of cards at the Bellagio.

Yes, coaching the Cavaliers means you get to coach a young stud in Irving. It also means you inherit this summer's first-overall draft pick. Who knows—maybe Anthony Bennett will even amount to something before long.

There are perks here.

But not nearly enough of them. The Cavs may remain in some stage of rebuilding for the foreseeable future. To whatever extent Cleveland can avoid protracted growing pains, it will likely be because the team opts to trade some of its younger assets for a veteran or two. At that point, there's no telling what will happen. 

There's a fairly decent chance Hollins winds up with this job, namely because Cleveland's other options at the moment—Tyronn Lue, Adrian Griffin—don't have Hollins' experience. The exception is Alvin Gentry, who had a nice run with the Phoenix Suns. But Gentry has other suitors as well, so don't be at all surprised if Hollins gets stuck in Cleveland.

Utah Jazz

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Forget Utah's woeful regular-season record for a moment. There's a lot of promising young talent on this team, and it could be just a year or two from threatening a playoff appearance. Hollins' playoff experience could be invaluable to taking this team to that next level.

More importantly, he worked with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis. That would translate nicely into grooming Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors for similar exploits. Hollins isn't afraid of an old-school, inside-out offense, and that's a direction that makes some sense for Utah. The Jazz bigs are arguably the team's best asset at the moment. Someone needs to make better use of them.

Hollins also might be able to make the most out of a team that seriously struggles to score the ball. The Jazz ranked second to last this season in points scored, averaging just 95 per game. It's hard to win games like that.

But if Utah's defense even began to approximate Hollins' creation in Memphis, that might change in relatively short order.

Minnesota Timberwolves

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - April 16: Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves looks on against the Utah Jazz during the game on April 16, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
David Sherman/Getty Images

If there were any guarantee whatsoever that Kevin Love were remaining with the Timberwolves, this would be an intriguing position. Unfortunately, all signs point the other way.

Minnesota has neither the personnel nor the wherewithal to become a defensively-minded team. 

It also doesn't seem like there's been much progress in discussions between the two sides. According to the Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda, president of basketball operations Flip Saunders interviewed Hollins around the beginning of May. As of May 18, Zgoda claims Saunders "has proceeded no further" with Hollins.

That doesn't necessarily mean a deal's off, but make what you will of there being no signs to the contrary.

Maybe both sides realized this wasn't the best fit. It probably isn't. Minnesota needs someone who's willing to be awfully patient with whatever happens next. If you're Hollins, you'd probably like slightly more assurance about what the roster will look like, who your best player will be—"minor details" like that.

Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors

DENVER, CO - APRIL 9: Kevin McHale of the Houston Rockets directs his team during the game against the Denver Nuggets on April 9, 2014 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/o
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Here's where things get interesting. 

The Rockets and Warriors both have head coaches who aren't going anywhere in Kevin McHale and Steve Kerr, respectively. Both clubs are on the verge of contending, and both clubs could use someone pitching in some defensive wisdom.

Golden State's defense came a long way under Mark Jackson, but there's something to be said for keeping a good thing going. Moreover, Kerr could use someone with head-coaching experience at his side:

That's not a knock on Kerr's inexperience. It's just a reality on a team that's already proven itself playoff-ready in each of the last two seasons. Hollins' background would give Kerr a wealth of wisdom on which to rely.

While Houston doesn't need the experience element as badly, it could certainly use the defensive focus. Houston gave up 103.1 points per game this season, a mark that was 23rd leaguewide. 

Incidentally, Hollins played the last of his 10 NBA seasons with the Rockets.

The big question is whether Hollins would be interested in accepting an associate head coaching position. Much depends on how much he wants to be the one calling all the shots. But the decision may also depend to some degree on stability on job security.

You can assume Kerr isn't going anywhere soon. The same may be true for McHale. Knowing that he'd likely be able to stay put for the next two to three years could be a compelling consideration, especially given the long-term uncertainty associated with roles in Los Angeles or Cleveland.

One advantage to working with either Golden State or Houston is that they're both winners. If Hollins could spend a couple of years with a successful team, it might open some head coaching doors down the road. There's nothing like a deep postseason run or two when it comes to resume building.

Best Fit?

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 20: Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks at his introductory press conference on May 20, 2014 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Let's call it a tie. If being the top dog is important to Hollins, the Jazz are probably his best bet. He's more likely to keep the job than he would be in either Los Angeles or Cleveland. He'd have a young roster to build in the image of those Grizzlies. He could mold the Jazz according to a culture of his choosing.

There's a lot to like about what Hollins could do in Utah.

But if he's willing to take on a little less responsibility, the Warriors job is a can't-miss situation. The team is ready to win now, and it's building a coaching regime that's there to stay.

Importantly, you could also imagine strong chemistry between Kerr and Hollins. They're both professionals with their eyes on the bottom line. They reason to strike a complementary balance, with Hollins almost serving as a defensive coordinator of sorts.

Hollins was well-liked by his players in Memphis, and that could be a factor, too. Remember, the Warriors weren't at all happy about Jackson getting fired. Having an assistant who could help solicit buy-in from the troops could do worlds for Kerr's perceived legitimacy.

Wherever Hollins goes, he'll do some good things. He has a proven track record, and he's only 60 years old. His best contributions may very well be yet to come.


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