The Memphis Grizzlies announced yesterday that Lionel Hollins will not be back as the team’s head coach despite setting a franchise record for victories (56) and the Grizzlies’ first ever trip to the Western Conference Finals.
Whether it was philosophical differences or a beef over contract negotiations, the two sides just couldn’t settle into a future together leaving Hollins as one of many coaches looking for work this summer with a handful of destinations prepared to bring him in. Right now, he can go to playoff ready teams in Denver, Los Angeles and Brooklyn, but wherever he lands, Hollins brings the experience and the reputation to lead a team to greatness.
The announcement undoubtedly comes as somewhat of a surprise to his former players, who said at season’s end that they full expected the coach to be back. What other shakeups the Memphis brass has in mind is going to prove interesting and could be equally unpredictable.
New owner Robert Pera didn’t hesitate to make waves the moment he arrived in Memphis, bringing in a team of statistic analysts for management positions and trading Rudy Gay away to Toronto for pieces that could help the team get under the salary cap. Somehow, Hollins adjusted to life without his top scorer and turned the Grizzlies into an even grittier defensive side that was difficult for everyone but San Antonio to break down, but that wasn’t enough to save his job.
No matter what happens, Hollins will land on his feet. After what the Grizzlies did this postseason, he is a commodity, young and respected enough to be the kind of name that a superstar player asks for when his team is in search of a new coach.
Whoever comes in after Hollins faces a tough challenge. No matter who it is, he’ll have to earn the respect of his new players who were pretty loyal to their former boss and believed in what he was doing. Changing the program now is bound to upset at least a few of them, but there are a few candidates who could command the respect quickly enough to keep the franchise from missing a beat.
George Karl- After being let go by the Nuggets over a contract dispute, one of the most consistent coaches over the last decade of NBA basketball is available in Karl. He is a good fit for the Grizzlies thanks to the power they can offer around the basket. Karl’s Nuggets team led the league in points in the paint this season and fast break points. Memphis was one of the weaker offensive teams, but if they can absorb Karl’s philosophy while hanging on to the defensive identity they had under Hollins, the Grizzlies could make a run at a title at some point over the next two years. The one hang up will be Karl’s postseason history, having only guided the Nuggets past the first round once in nine trips, but with this team’s experience, it’s very possible that could be overcome.
Nate MacMillan-If management wants to guarantee the team keeps its defensive pedigree then they can bring in a coach known for his team’s ability to defend. One candidate that fits that bill is former Portland Trail Blazers coach MacMillan who has been out of work for over a year. At one point, he was a candidate for Coach of the Year with Portland, but he was eventually let go as ownership wanted to see the team identity go in a different direction. MacMillan has been to the postseason and coached stars with big egos before, so he would fit practically fit every criteria the Memphis brass could come up with.
Jerry Sloan-This is a bit pie in the sky, but Sloan could be tempted back into coaching with Memphis thanks to certain positions being filled by players similar to the ones he built success with in Utah. There he had Karl Malone and John Stockton, a tremendous pick and roll tandem. The Jazz usually had strong rebounding big men to go along with it and in Memphis, he would have a good point guard in Mike Conley who can play defense, a strong power forward in Zach Randolph who can rebound and a great pick and roll/pop partner for Conley in Marc Gasol. It’s a small market, something he has experience in and could be the best opportunity to come back that Sloan has seen yet. Whether or not he’s interested, well that’s another matter.
Byron Scott-After failing to please in Cleveland, Scott is available again. He is young enough that he could relate to the players and is the kind of guy that would earn their respect quickly. He had good stops in New Jersey and New Orleans where he coached winning teams and he could probably do the same in Memphis where he inherits a winner, but how it would all work out in the long term is unpredictable and his pedigree isn’t nearly as attractive as a coach like Karl or Sloan.
P.J. Carlesimo-Taking the Nets to the brink of the second round after inheriting a team in disarray at the beginning of the season shows that Carlesimo is ready to take on a full time coaching gig somewhere. He’s got a good balanced approach to the game and showed that he can do well with a big man at his disposal having helped Brook Lopez have one of the most productive seasons of his career. He could definitely succeed with Memphis, but I’m not sure he’s high profile enough to ease concerns within the fan base over whether or not the team can repeat what it did this year. Naturally, fans are going to want to believe that the franchise is parting ways with its most successful coach ever to upgrade, but that is going to be difficult unless the right candidate is chosen.