Sunday, April 28, 2013

By Any Means Necessary

We spend so much time talking about the University of Memphis basketball coach that we seldom talk about    our professional team. It might have something to do with the fact that Coach Lionel Hollins is doing such a first rate job. There seems to be an element that wants to undermine how much of this teams success is due to the leadership skills exhibited by the coach. Hubie Brown is one who is jealous of the teams rise. Before now the team had only experienced limited success under him. Even with all of Michael Heisley's money. This team didn't turn around until Lionel Hollins took the helm. Coach Hollins should be a leading candidate for "Coach of the Year" Based on what he has done already.

I  think there have been forces behind the scene to cause dissension among the team. I was afraid certain developments as of late would affect the chemistry of the team. But obviously it didn't. The fact  that it hasn't is a testament to Hollins' coaching. Though little attention is paid to the pedigree of our coach. He is not leading with blind ambition. He is not trying to lead his players anywhere he hasn't been himself. He played point guard on a Portland Trailblazers team much like the one he is coaching now.

I hope the new owners know what they have in Coach Hollins, and don't let history repeat  itself. I know money is tight but by all means don't cut corners in that area. Lionel .Hollins doesn't have a love affair with the camera. Like Memphis fans expect. But this is the NBA. Pay the coach enough so he doesn't have to worry with that. There isn't a weekly radio or t.v show. I don't know of a restaurant that bares his name either.  He is the glue that holds this unconventional team together. The Grizzlies don't have a Lebron James or a Kevin Durant.. But they do have arguably the best front court in  the NBA in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Coupled with the most tenacious defense in the league. Coached by one of the best coaches in the league. Even if we don't win the championship. That's a combination that's hard to beat. We need to keep him by any means necessary..


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Blogger Common said...

You can see the press conference now, can’t you? The way this could evolve?

Grizzlies president Jason Levien sitting behind the lectern, looking thoughtful and pained.

“We really like Lionel,” he’ll say. “We wish we could have worked it out. But he has chosen to pursue other opportunities and we respect that. We really do. That’s the unfortunate thing about sports sometimes. You go in different directions. We wish Lionel nothing but the best and we reaffirm our commitment to building on what Lionel has accomplished and blah blah blah.”

OK, he wouldn’t say blah blah blah. But everything else seems possible. A bunch of Memphis media types were kicking it around over dinner before Game 2 of the series. A fair number predicted this was how Hollins’ run in Memphis will end. So it seemed wise to take this advantage of this pause between games 2 and 3 of the Western Conference semifinals to emphasize that no matter what happens in the rest of the series, Robert Pera and Levien should do everything within reason to make sure that theoretical press conference never takes place.

Hollins deserves a new contract as coach of the Grizzlies. He deserves the chance to continue the fine work he has done over the last four-plus years.

And, no, none of this is inconsistent with the criticism of Hollins that you sometimes read in this space. That’s part of the deal. Hollins’ decision to sit Tony Allen at critical moments of critical games is mind-boggling.

But you know how Allen’s supporters say you have to take the bad with the good because the good so clearly outweighs the bad?

Same thing here.

With Hollins, the good overwhelmingly outweighs the bad.

Or maybe you forgot what it was like when Hollins got the job in Memphis. The Grizzlies were off to a nifty 11-30 start after two straight 22-60 years.

“When I got here, there were no fans in the stands, there was apathy in the fan base, nobody wanted to come, and nobody was talking about the Grizzlies on any level,” Hollins said Thursday, which is absolutely true.

My friend and radio colleague Gary Parrish walked into the Flying Saucer one night that season and tried to give away two $200 tickets to a game that was about to begin. The Flying Saucer is a couple of hundred yards from FedExForum. Nobody wanted to get up off their bar stool.

But then the Grizzlies got better. Indeed, under Hollins they have gotten better every single year. From 24 wins to 40, then from 40 wins to 46 and the playoffs.

Last year, the Grizzlies won home-court advantage in the playoffs for the first time. This season, they won a franchise-record 56 games.

I guess you can think all that would have happened no matter who was coaching the Grizzlies, but you’d be disagreeing with Marc Gasol.


6:34 AM  
Blogger Common said...

“I’ve said it before, I don’t picture myself without Coach because we’ve been through so much together,” Gasol said. “I know wouldn’t be the same player without Coach. I like his mentality, his approach to the game.”

Again, this does not mean that Hollins is infallible. He runs through backup point guards as fast as the Rendezvous runs through napkins. He was wrong about the Rudy Gay trade. He’s one of the more stubborn men I’ve ever met.

But you don’t think that stubbornness helps him deal with players like Zach Randolph and Allen? You don’t think it helped unlocked the promise of Mike Conley when everyone else in the city wanted Conley dealt? You don’t think it came in handy when Gay went down with an injury two years ago or when Randolph went down with an injury last year? Hollins was just stubborn enough to believe the Grizzlies could win anyway. Sure enough, they did.

For all that, I wouldn’t think Hollins should get a new contract if he couldn’t work with the new management group. The Houston Rockets ditched Rick Adelman two years ago for that same reason. As a coach, you have to be able to work with the larger organization. That’s part of the job.

For a time this season, it appeared Hollins was going out of his way to alienate Levien and others. He criticized the use of advanced analytics. He publicly took issue with the Gay trade.

“When you have champagne tastes, you can’t be on a beer budget,” he said, giving fuel to all those who were accusing the Grizzlies of being cheap.

But then a wonderful thing happened. Hollins rose to the moment once again. He gathered the media around him before a game and explained that he would not allow the Gay trade to be used as an excuse.

“I have always prided myself on coming to work every day and giving everything I have,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to do.”

Since then, the Grizzlies have been on a remarkable roll. A roll that could land them — it’s not even far-fetched, at this point — in the NBA Finals. Hollins made all the necessary adjustments in guiding the Grizzlies to four straight wins over the Clippers. His blunt, just-go-play mantra may not be great for reporters, but it’s clearly been embraced by his team.

Someone suggested to me the other day that Levien should have taken advantage of the break in games this week to reach a new agreement with Hollins. That’s silliness. Hollins, Levien and the players all have bigger things on their plate. Now is not the time to be dickering over incentive clauses.

Hollins has said he wants to be back. He told me Thursday that the Grizzlies have assured him they want him back. Levien has gotten a lot of things right since he’s been in Memphis. I suspect he’ll get this one right too.

Hollins deserves to be back as coach of the Grizzlies. He deserves to be part of the excitement he helped bring to this town. Speaking of which, I asked him Thursday if he ever imagined this moment, back when he first got the job.

“I did,” he said “I envisioned even bigger things. I believed we were going to win championships at some point.

“I still do.”

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