There's a lot to like about Lionel Hollins as a coach.
He led the Memphis Grizzlies to the best record in franchise history in the 2012-13 season, he got them all the way to the Western Conference Finals - which, given the current state of the conference, is no small feat - and he is often credited with the development of guys like Tony Allen, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph. And, as a footnote that most of us at Golden State of Mind would probably rather forget, Hollins' Grizzlies beat the Warriors nine consecutive times before he was fired after last season (the last time the Warriors beat Hollins was on November 3, 2010 when Randolph wasn't playing).
Hollins has proven to be a more than capable coach, one who simply owned the Warriors after turning Conley and Gasol into All-Star caliber players, and won by doing things his way in an era when NBA basketball was trending in the opposite direction.
The Warriors, I'm told, are certainly intrigued by the thought of Lionel Hollins but its unclear if he'll get an interview. Same w/ D'Antoni— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) May 8, 2014
However, the reason I was surprised at the notion of Hollins being a candidate to replace Mark Jackson as head coach of the Warriors had nothing to do with what he accomplished but the highly-publicized way in which things ended in Memphis: after the Grizzlies hired John Hollinger away from ESPN and traded Rudy Gay, Hollins was (and has remained) publicly critical of the front office's decision specifically and analytics in general.
Given the drama surrounding Jackson's dismissal, that just doesn't sound like a situation the Warriors would want to involve themselves with.
So in the quest for some additional insight on Hollins as the Warriors consider him as their next head coach, I contacted Tom Lorenzo who currently writes for SB Nation's Nets Daily but previously wrote for Straight Outta Vancouver (now Grizzly Bear Blues) while Hollins was coaching the Grizzlies.
Q&A about Lionel Hollins' tenure with the Memphis Grizzlies
GSoM: Does it surprise you at all that Hollins is getting consideration as a head coach again given how things turned out in Memphis?
Tom Lorenzo: No, it really doesn't surprise me. Hollins is a talented coach, and despite how things ended in Memphis, he was the most successful head coach in the history of the Grizzlies franchise, as the only one to not only win a series but coach them to the Western Conference Finals.
The reason, essentially, why he was let go in Memphis is because the team got a new management group during the tail-end of his tenure, and as we know it's often that a new owner, coupled with a new President of Basketball Operation, often leads to a team wanting to "go in a different direction" and "bring in their own guy," which was ultimately Dave Joerger. It wasn't necessarily a knock on Hollins as coach, just a difference in vision between a coach and the front office -- which, sounds all too familiar these days, no? Hollins got plenty of consideration this summer from teams like Brooklyn and Denver, so it doesn't surprise me.
GSoM: The biggest concern as a Warriors fan is that Hollins was fired by the Gizzlies after very public "dramatic conflict" with management over their analytically-driven decision-making. Since the Warriors are a team that does incorporate analytics into their decision making and coming off a situation in which there was a coach-front office dispute...that seems like a major red flag.
If you were leading a franchise looking for a coach, would you see this as a concern or am I oversimplifying that story somehow?
TL: Yeah, I get that argument, but Hollins is an old school coach who gave the Grizzlies their current identity -- they would not be the Grit and Grind Grizzlies as we know them to be today if it weren't for Hollins. He had a very good relationship with many of his players, and turned around the careers of Tony Allen and Zach Randolph, while developing Marc Gasol and Mike Conley into All-Star level players. Sure, he didn't use analytics all that much, but at the end of the day the results speak for themselves. Again, I get the knock, especially in this new age analytical NBA that we're talking about, but his general disdain for analytics didn't keep him from transforming the Grizzlies franchise into what we now know it to be today.
GSoM: Dan Feldman of NBC's Pro Basketball Talk once wrote that "...most of Hollins’ principles match analytically produced strategy." Are there specific examples where you think that's true?
TL: I think the O.J. Mayo situation might be an example of that. The team drafted Mayo to be the future, but as we now have learned, and what Hollins had seemed to figure out before the rest of us -- if we want to give him credit for that -- was that Mayo wasn't the point guard that Mayo thought himself to be, nor was he the team's future at shooting guard. Hollins moved him to the bench, where he was better suited, and pushed Tony Allen into the starting lineup. The defense improved greatly, and that decision was a tough one to make because on paper we were all sold as Mayo being the future of the franchise and Allen being a net-negative. Turned out, Hollins made the right decision. Mayo is well on his way out of the league, sadly, while Allen has been an anchor for this team. How analytical was the decision? That's a good question, but in the end it was about the net-positive of favoring the defense as a whole (starting a guy whose ceiling is 7/4/3 over one whose ceiling is 18/3/5).
GSoM: Hindsight is 20/20, but since this sort of turned into - at least symbolically - Hollins vs. John Hollinger, are you happy with the direction Memphis has chosen to go in?
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TL: Well, yeah, I guess the general consensus among Grizzlies fans is that they are happy with Dave Joerger, but I personally don't see that as a knock on Hollins. I, more so, see that as a team realizing that their future coach, who is a fantastic head coach and a rising star in the NBA, was ready to take the reins. At some point, they looked at the future and they did not want to lose Joerger, who would have gotten a head coaching gig somewhere. He really is one of the bright young minds in the NBA. Think of it in these terms: It became similar to moving on from Monta Ellis in order to "make room" for Stephen Curry to blossom; it's not as if Ellis isn't a very good basketball player, it was more so that the Warriors needed to pass the torch to Curry at some point (if I understand that situation correctly). It was time for him to go, really, but that's not a knock on his coaching abilities.
5. GSoM: There was also some talk about how Hollins can hold grudges against players and put them in the dog house for long periods. Was there a specific instance that stands out in your memory? How did it turn out in the long run?
TL: I think that's a little overblown. The two main examples that people point to are O.J. Mayo and Hasheem Thabeet. Sure, they fell out of favor with Hollins and he wasn't able to develop them, as high draft picks, and naturally fans were upset. I get that. But, the counterargument is that both have "played" elsewhere and neither has succeeded. So, was it a product of Hollins not wanting to develop them and stunting their growth or is it just that they aren't very good basketball players? I tend to think the latter, especially since we have seen much from either since they moved on -- Mayo had some moments in Dallas, but Rick Carlisle was not a fan of his either; Thabeet is the last man off the bench for Scotty Brooks in OKC. So, there were grudges held, sure, but Mayo and Thabeet were equally as guilty, in my opinion, because neither worked hard enough at times -- especially Thabeet -- and now we can call them what they are: draft busts.
6. GSoM: Although that situation ended badly in Memphis, how would you summarize Hollins' strengths that Warriors fans could get excited about?
TL: Hollins is a very good defensive coach. There is a lot of talk about how the system was mostly built by Dave Joerger, which there is some truth to that, but at the end of the day it all falls on the head coach. And while Joerger helped, it was Hollins' team to coach and his system to run. Hollins is a very good defensive-minded coach, period. Also, his players respect him. He had some run-ins with a few guys, like Mayo, but overall, he turned Zach Randolph around, found a place to make Tony Allen succeed and developed Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. They all, at least outwardly, stood by Hollins and his decision. Is he perfect? No. But he motivates, he gets to the basics of things, which is coaching old school basketball, and he led the Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals, in beating a better Oklahoma City Thunder team and a better Los Angeles Clippers team -- he also coached them to an upset as an eight seed over the San Antonio Spurs. Meaning, he can coach big games and big moments.
For more on Warriors coaching candidates, check out our storystream.