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Lionel Hollins sends O.J. Mayo to the bench

Nov 26, 2010, 1:11 PM EDT

O.J. Mayo

Forming and maintaining a rotation is a delicate process for any head coach, and there are myriad factors that need to be considered, evaluated, and balanced. It’s in no way a simple process, as even the subtlest of shuffles can give an entirely new feel to a team’s offensive or defensive flow.

In theory, that would make a team’s head coach — the person whose job is predicated on being more intimately familiar with team personnel than anyone else — enlightened enough to make such intensive decisions. In practice though, coaches are as likely to flub as anyone else. Though they arrive at their decisions armed with more available data than most (even if they choose to ignore it), they sometimes decide to make rotational adjustments by way of painfully obvious follies. Lionel Hollins is guilty of one such a mistake, as according to Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Hollins has decided to move standout shooting guard O.J. Mayo to the bench in favor of rookie Xavier Henry:

Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins shuffled his lineup for a second straight game. This time, discipline had nothing to do with it. Hollins said his decision Wednesday to take guard O.J. Mayo out of the starting lineup is designed to give the team’s struggling bench scoring punch. Rookie Xavier Henry will start at shooting guard for the foreseeable future, although Hollins insisted the change isn’t permanent. “It’s difficult when you make these kinds of decisions because everybody reads more into it than they should,” Hollins said. “I had a long talk with O.J. He’s fine and he’ll do well.”

Coming off the bench will allow Mayo to be featured more on offense, according to Hollins. Mayo won’t have to compete for shots with Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay or a more aggressive Mike Conley. Still, the move comes as Mayo is averaging a career-low 13.6 points on 39-percent shooting. Mayo acknowledged that the situation makes him unhappy because of his competitive nature. But the third-year guard said he’s prepared to put the team first. “I just want it to be a winning decision,” Mayo said. “I don’t think anybody would be happy. I’m uncomfortable. But I’m a basketball player. I’m a professional. If it’s what’s best for the team, honestly, I’m definitely all for it. The team and winning are the priorities. I can put my feelings aside for what’s best for the team.”

The Grizzlies have the 22nd-ranked offense in the league, and though Mayo has struggled this season, his rough times seem to be more of a temporary slump than a serious regression. Mayo needs to work his way out of these problems, but I’m not sure that assigning him to bench duty is good strategy or management to achieve that end. He’s a crucial part of the core the Grizzlies have assembled and are more or less locked into, which means that the Grizz should probably focus on better understanding how Mayo, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol can work together effectively.

Moving Mayo to the bench doesn’t necessarily preclude that from happening, but it’s certainly a roundabout way of shaping the current Grizz into a more competitive team.

On the bright side, Xavier Henry is an interesting prospect that could use further refinement, and throwing him into the mix as a starter could be something of a trial by fire. Still, is Memphis really in a position where they should risk alienating Mayo, much less bench one of their more talented two-way players? Hollins insisted that “everybody reads more into it than they should,” but Mayo doesn’t sound the part of a good soldier following every order with a salute. Mayo doesn’t seem to be the type for insolence, but the way to restoring his scoring proficiency probably isn’t through trying his patience. A happy scoring guard is a productive scoring guard, after all. Mayo may be neither at present, but Hollins seems to be attempting to solve both problems with one entirely foolish swoop.

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