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Lionel Hollins turned down opportunity to be an assistant coach with Pistons

Dec 1, 2013, 10:30 PM EDT

San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Three Getty Images

Lionel Hollins led the Memphis Grizzlies to a franchise-best 56 wins and a trip to the Western Conference Finals last year. His reward for that accomplishment? Not having his contract renewed by Grizzlies management, and becoming unemployed once the season was finished.

There were a variety of reasons that the franchise chose to part ways with Hollins, but two stood out above all else.

The team wasn’t happy that Hollins would publicly give his opinion on personnel matters when it was contrary to the direction the franchise chose to go — like after the team traded Rudy Gay in the middle of the season, for example.

The other issue was Hollins having an aversion to taking advanced statistics as gospel, in terms of the front office telling him what to do with his lineups and sets based on what the numbers and the extensive video research may have shown.

These differences made it impossible for Hollins to return to Memphis, despite the fact that his way, though obstinate at times, had proven to be successful. He did have at least one offer to return to the sidelines this season as an assistant coach elsewhere, but chose instead to hold out for another shot at becoming an NBA head coach.

From Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com:

“I believe I’ve established myself as a head coach and I’d like another opportunity to show that [my success] wasn’t a fluke,” Hollins said. “I feel like I’ve proven I can take a young team and develop it, then sustain what I’ve done by what I did in the last five years in Memphis.” …

Over the summer, Hollins said he had an opportunity to join Maurice Cheeks’ staff with the Detroit Pistons as an assistant coach but declined.

“I had done it [serve as an assistant coach] for a long time before I was given the opportunity to be a head coach,” Hollins said. “But my thought process was, ‘I’ve established myself as a head coach. I’d like to stay in that state at the moment.’ But if it didn’t work out, yeah, I’d go back and be an assistant coach. I’d go to college and be a head coach there, if I had the opportunity. But my thought process is to be a professional head coach.”

It’s going to be very interesting to see if Hollins gets that opportunity anytime soon, considering that the league has seemed to embrace younger coaches with lesser experience who can be molded into the franchise’s way of doing things.

Hollins is more than qualified, but has strong ideas of how winning is accomplished. He would seem to be best-suited to leading a more veteran roster while working for a trusting front office that is as hands-off as possible, but it’s unclear just when that that specific chance might present itself.

  1. jaerba - Dec 1, 2013 at 11:32 PM

    Pistons really should’ve hired him over Cheeks.

    Cheeks’ development record with young guards really isn’t very good, and the Pistons front court would’ve been perfect for Hollins to work with.

    • spursareold - Dec 2, 2013 at 12:15 PM

      The Piston’s front court would be a disaster for any coach to work with.

  2. maracineanu16 - Dec 2, 2013 at 2:56 AM

    He deserves to be a head-coach, becoming an assistant is not an option for such a good coach

  3. patsfan92 - Dec 2, 2013 at 9:32 AM

    he led a team to the conf finals and they offer him an assistant job when they know he’s better than the head coach? i would tell detroit to piss off and lose my number

  4. spursareold - Dec 2, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    Hollin’s major flaw is that he scoffs advanced stats. It’s the way the league is going. The NBA is even footing the bill for that SportsVUE camera system in each arena.

    I’m sure that there were MLB managers who lost their gigs when Sabremetrics/advanced stats/Moneyball became the standard practice in baseball, too. You gotta roll with the changes, or get rolled.

    • fanofevilempire - Dec 2, 2013 at 12:29 PM

      how is that advance scouting working for Memphis at present time.
      maybe coaching what your eye ball is seeing on the ball field over
      rules the scouting tape, the front office sent you.

  5. mogogo1 - Dec 2, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    He probably figures he’s got a good shot at Kidd’s job any day now. And signing up to help Cheeks extend his disappointing coaching career by a few more games doesn’t sound all that fun.

  6. henryd3rd - Dec 2, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    Hollins has paid his dues and I agree with him that it would be better to sit and wait and see what opportunities surface before make a bad decision. Memphis management wanted a yes man on their bench and Hollins wasn’t their first choice. By the way have the Grizzlies improved since that change was made?

    • spursareold - Dec 2, 2013 at 12:13 PM

      Memphis wasn’t looking for a “yes man”. Their whole organizational culture changed with the hiring of John Hollinger in their front office. They’ve gone “all in” on using advanced stats to fill out their roster. Hollins doesn’t believe in them, and has been pretty public about it.

      You want your front office and your coaching staff on the same page, not in discord.

    • spursareold - Dec 2, 2013 at 12:27 PM

      Rudy Gay was one of Hollins’ favorite players. He was average, efficiency wise, on offense. He was average defensively. Yet, Hollins would play him down the stretch in games when they were trying to hold a lead. Hollins was pissed when they traded him, yet their best two playoff runs were a) when he was injured in 2011 and b) after he was traded. You would think that when Lionel realized that Gay “wasn’t all that”, he might at least have an open mind about the advanced stats, but that didn’t happen. The penny didn’t drop into the slot.

      • lhollins14 - Dec 5, 2013 at 6:22 AM

        spursareold- I’m not sure where you’re getting your information, but I can assure you that it is incorrect. Hollins NEVER said he was against analytics, but that he felt a balance was needed. All of that was based on a direct question asked by a reporter, not something he was offering up as commentary.

        In the situation with Rudy Gay, he wanted the opportunity to have his full complement of starters (Gasol, Randolph, Conley, Allen, Gay) which he’d never had healthy for previous playoff appearances for the 2013 playoffs. Then the team trades Gay (all while the team was in the midst of record winning season) after giving both Gay and Hollins assurances in private that he was safe. He didn’t value Gay more than any of the other players on the team. He held them all to the same standard and demanded the sacrifice of individual statistical success for the greater good of the team. You can’t succeed as a coach (in any sport) without that type of buy-in from your veteran players….and he got it.

        As for him being obstinate…when I read reports of him not being a team player and a company guy, it really bothers me. Is he brutally honest and does he have strong opinions, absolutely. He’s been in the NBA as a player (10 years) and as an assistant or head coach (20+ years) and has NEVER had issues communicating or supporting the direction of his F/O. For anyone to suggest otherwise is completely false and untrue. If the Grizzlies had an issue with him expressing his opinion publically maybe they should’ve communicated that sooner rather than later. He’s all about God, family, the team concept, sacrifice, perseverance, creating a bond with the fan base and and giving back to the community. Most NBA organizations would be happy to have someone with his record of success and professionalism apart of their team!

  7. telldatruth - Dec 2, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    Cheeks blows!!! Should have hired Hollins

  8. ahollins05 - Dec 2, 2013 at 4:26 PM

    Hollins never said he was against advanced stats. Please tell me where you are getting that from.

  9. kujo37daggs - Jan 19, 2014 at 10:21 PM

    My dream is to see Larry Sanders at Center next to Anthony Davis (after Eric Gordon is traded) with Hollins as HC. It’s such a beautiful thought.

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