Over the weekend, it started to become increasingly evident that Lionel Hollins is likely out at Memphis Grizzlies coach, and today we’re seeing more and more evidence as to why he’s been given permission to speak with other teams.
From what is being reported, it seems like this current situation is the most intense example yet of “old school” coaches and coaching philosophy clashing with new school, analytics-driven front office management.
Since the analytics-driven new ownership group of Robert Pera took over control of the franchise this season, there’s been dramatic conflict between management and Hollins. Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien has given vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger significant latitude in constructing the roster and a philosophy.
Management wants a coach willing to buy into the analytic movement, using those mechanisms to make roster, lineup and system decisions. Hollins has resented what he considers undue interference by management, and has stood by his track record and success in maintaining productivity with a roster of diverse and difficult personalities.
During the Grizzlies’ playoff run, tensions turned to a confrontation when Hollins exploded during a practice session upon finding Hollinger had walked onto the practice court and engaged forward Austin Daye during a shooting drill, multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports.
With the team watching – and with a motive to show his players that he was completely in charge on the floor, sources said – Hollins loudly questioned Hollinger about what he was doing, and why he believed it was appropriate for a management official to intrude on what’s considered sacred territory for a coach and team, sources said.
I can 100% see how this would absolutely infuriate Hollins. To say that the practice court is “sacred territory” for a coach might actually be an understatement. And when we’re talking about this particular case, where Hollins already feels like he’s being squeezed by management personalities who don’t know the game, that time on the practice floor becomes his most valued sanctuary.
I am a fan of NBA teams adopting a more analytics-driven approach (I was really pleased when my Sixers hired Darly Morey student Sam Hinkie as their new GM a few weeks ago), but I also believe that for teams to be successful, there must be some sort of balance between the two sides. In Philly, Hinkie has said several times that he is not solely reliant on the analytics and realizes the importance that scouting, psychology and basketball feel have in the decision-making process.
This does not appear to be the case in Memphis. Without knowing more specifics of the incident beyond what is being reported, on the surface I find it to be an outrageous act of arrogance and/or outright antagonism for Hollinger to A) Have walked on to Hollins’ court mid-practice and B) To engage with Daye in a basketball drill when he was not asked to by the coaching staff. I don’t care if Hollinger was just rebounding for Daye and nothing more, this was official practice time in the coaching staff’s work space. It is wildly inappropriate behavior on Hollinger’s part.
It sounds to me like Hollins would be much better off finding himself a brand new environment. He will never be a hotter commodity than he is right now – he’ll get paid and will escape an environment where he clearly does not fit.
[By the way, the craziest example of this type of thing that I ever witnessed first hand was at a Sixers practice back when Larry Brown was coaching the team. At the end of a practice, Brown was addressing the team as they huddled around him. As he was talking to his guys, Stephen A. Smith, then a full-time basketball writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer - clad in a three-piece suit, trenchcoat and sunglasses (even though the practice was in the morning, indoors on a beautiful sunny day) - took it upon himself to start shooting around at the other end of the court while Brown was talking! The look Brown gave him was withering, and I'm assuming it was handled once the media left the building.]
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