Lionel Hollins will be coaching the Brooklyn Nets in the 2014-15 season, not Jason Kidd. That's still a bit baffling, considering Kidd was hired as the face of the franchise in 2013, the placeholder for a team with no marketable assets, beyond two soldiers of fortune who still bleed Celtic green. Think of it this way; Kidd, the team's head coach, was on many of the Nets' marketing materials because of the uncertainty of what the future held for the player personnel. Kidd, however, was hired as an attempt to build the Brooklyn fan base, be the constant they need, the recognizable name. And yet, now, he's in Milwaukee -- seriously, that happened -- and Lionel Hollins is calling the shots in Brooklyn. One year later.
Without going into the why and how this all happened, since we've had that discussion numerous times on this site over the last week-plus, rather I'm going to use this space to talk a bit about Lionel Hollins and what I know about him.
Some pretext, quickly. I spent two-plus years covering the Lionel Hollins-led Memphis Grizzlies teams for SB Nation prior to joining NetsDaily -- it was then Straight Outta Vancouver, it is now Grizzly Bear Blues. So, I've seen a lot of Grizzlies basketball over the years. More, I imagine, than most people outside the city of Memphis, state of Tennessee. However, I'm not going to tell you what Hollins is going to do with the Nets, he'll tell you that himself -- or, more likely, show you -- but I can tell you what he did with the Grizzlies when he was running the team, discuss his system, his style and why this whole thing just might work in Brooklyn.
First, who is Lionel Hollins?
Video: Nets Introduce Lionel Hollins
The short if it is, Hollins spent four-plus seasons as the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies (2008-13), and for the part of two seasons he was named the interim coach of the then Vancouver Grizzlies (1999-00) and later the Memphis Grizzlies (2004). He is arguably the greatest coach in Grizzlies' history, as the only head coach to not only take the team to the Western Conference Finals (2012-13) but to have simply won a Playoff game. He helped developed the Grit-n-Grind identity that the Grizzlies carry with them today. Yes, Tony Allen coined it, but Hollins "freed" Allen, which was an important turning point for a franchise who had no identity, where Hollins made the important decision to start Allen over a once-cornerstone player in O.J. Mayo -- more on this later.
Secondly, what can we surmise about Hollins' plans for the Nets, based on what he did with the Grizzlies and, well, as a player?
The Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph-led Grizzlies were and are the Grit-n-Grind. Meaning, there's nothing pretty, nothing smooth about them. It's getting most out of the players, it's a toughness that, well, the Brooklyn Nets just don't really have, to be honest. It's "blue collar" basketball, and while the Nets have some fight, they aren't the Grit-n-Grind. Which, is something Hollins alluded to in his introductory press conference, where he said that he's like to see the Nets push the pace more -- hey, Jason Kidd said that, too! Is it in the Nets' best interest to push pace? Will it work? Is Hollins the guy to coach that team?
Again, we hear a lot about Hollins coaching the Grizzlies to the half-court and not to where they pushed pace, but that was more about the Grizzlies' personnel and less about his preferred style. It was Hollins coaching to his players' strengths.
Hollins, as a player, ran the point for 1977 NBA Champs, the Portland Trail Blazers, who were 3rd in the NBA in points per game, second in offensive rating and seventh in Pace. So, he knows the run, and I'm confident that he can coach it into a Brooklyn system if that's what he decides to ultimately do.
But, again, let's not pretend like we know what he's going to do just yet. So, how about I run through a few questions based on Hollins' style and the Nets personnel to see if we can talk our way through the changing of the guard in Brooklyn.
Will Lionel Hollins and Deron Williams get along?
Mostly, this is up to D-Will. Hollins hasn't been the easiest on his players over the year, having a fallout with O.J. Mayo, but also Mike Conley lived in his doghouse for some time and he "took no crap" from Allen Iverson during that failed experiment in Memphis. So, sure, Hollins is a tough, old school coach. But, he's also levelheaded and expects nothing but respect -- Conley found his way out of the doghouse and on his way to being a top 10 point guard, while Mayo chose not to find his way out of Hollins' doghouse.
Williams, as Nets fans know, is not an easy player to coach. He carries the nickname "coach killer" for a reason, one which for many years he was able to dictate who was calling the shots on his teams -- aside from him, of course -- yet at the backend of his career and coming off two ankle surgeries, the Nets will not cater to his demands. If Williams can't get along with Hollins and let him do what he was hired to do -- coach -- then we're caught in a situation where, "maybe it's not everyone else, maybe it's actually you."
Can I guarantee that Williams and Hollins will get along? No, but what I can gather is that it's Williams' job on the line here, not Hollins'.
What can Hollins do for Brook Lopez?
This, to me, is the most exciting aspect of this hire. No, Hollins can't heal Lopez's ankles/feet, unfortunately, but when I think about the progress that I saw in Marc Gasol, the throw-in from the Pau Gasol trade, it's exciting to think about what he can do with Lopez. Both he and Gasol are similar type of players, offensively. Lopez isn't as tough and hard-nosed as Gasol is, which is fine. But, Lopez has a similar offensive game as Gasol, even a little better developed game, especially with his step-out jumper. Gasol has improved over the years in moving his game away from the basket, with a nice elbow jumper, but more importantly with his high-post passing which is among the best in the NBA.
If Hollins can reach Lopez and light a fire in his ass that we haven't seen consistently, we might be looking at an improved defensive big man -- which, yes, we were seeing in the last two seasons, but has room for improvement, of course.
Hollins, however, may not decided to go high-low with Lopez. Why? Well, because he had one of the best low-post scorers in Zach Randolph to play with in Memphis, where the Nets will likely have Kevin Garnett back, who prefers the high post, and a young Mason Plumlee who is nowhere near as effective as Zach Randolph in the low post. Meaning, maybe he coaches Garnett high and leaves Lopez low, or maybe they work on Plumlee low, or run Andrei Kirilenko along the baseline, similar to what they tried to do -- they should have done it more often! -- with Rudy Gay.
There are a lot of options, but Hollins should be able to help certain aspects of Lopez's game, and if anything he has the track record, as seen in Gasol, to help continue to develop Lopez.
Would Lionel Hollins Be a Good Fit for the Nets?
Would Lionel Hollins Be a Good Fit for the Nets?
How will he use Andrei Kirilenko?
As I alluded to earlier, I could see him using Kirilenko in a hybrid way. On offense, he could use him similarly to how Grizzlies fans had hoped he would use Rudy Gay, working the baseline, disrupting the defense with high-low cuts. Gay loved to shoot long jumpers -- sigh -- and maybe spent 40 percent of his possessions playing to his actual strengths, which is unlike Kirilenko.
On defense, he will likely allow for Kirilenko to roam, similarly to Tony Allen. Now, Kirilenko, unlike Allen, will be called at times to defend bigs, but Hollins' defense is set up for cheats and help. Marc Gasol essentially won the Defensive Player of the year two years ago because of his help defense -- Tony Allen and Mike Conley, two of the league leaders in steals, would cheat in the passing lanes and hedge, a little, knowing that Gasol was behind them in case the cheat failed. And, of course, Gasol did a fantastic job helping. Expect to see more cheating, and I'm not talking about the spilling-a-soda kind of cheat.
What about developing young players?
This is another "strength" of Hollins'. He hasn't been perfect in this area, but he's done one heck of a job turning Marc Gasol and Mike Conley into two of the best players at their respective positions. Was he perfect? No. But no one has been able to develop Hasheem Thabeet, O.J. Mayo played his best basketball under Lionel Hollins before he decided that he didn't want to play for Hollins, Darrell Arthur was injured for most of his Grizzlies career, and the Josh Selbys, Hamed Haddadis and Sam Youngs of the world were who they were.
Some more revisionist glitches included Kyle Lowry, who spent really no time with Hollins as his head coach -- six games -- before being traded and Greivis Vasquez whose one season in Memphis was a mixed bag, at best.
Hollins worked Conley really, really hard and truly believed in him. It paid off. He truly believed in Gasol, when the team went the direction of drafting Hasheem Thabeet. It, too, paid off. He tried to coach Mayo, who didn't want to be coached as anything other than a superstar point guard. His departure ultimately paid off.
Now, Hollins has Mason Plumlee, Sergey Karasev, Mirza Teletovic, Brook Lopez, Markel Brown, Xavier Thames, Cory Jefferson and, well, Marquis Teague and Jorge Gutierrez. No, they won't all develop and work out, but there has to be some confidence within that beyond Lopez -- who is still only 26, remember -- and Plumlee, he'll be able to develop more talent out of that bunch and any future young assets they pick up.
Additional strengths and weaknesses?
Hollins had the trust of his core players and he stayed true to them as well. Beyond Conley and Gasol, look at what he did for Randolph's career and what he did in turning Tony Allen into something...more. He had Rudy Gay's back until the end, famously saying that you can't have a "champagne taste on a beer budget." Meaning, he did not want to move Gay, but understood the economics. Still, he was not happy with the move.
A weakness? He's an old school coach, a traditionalist. I'm still not sure whether that's a good or bad thing. He's learned to embrace analytics more so these days, but at the end of the day it's about basketball, the feels and the talent eye test. Hollins isn't going to be sitting through analytics sessions and providing his own personal context to "why numbers are and what numbers mean."
Again, is that truly a weakness as long as you embrace its place in the game, yet stay away from beyond the nuts and bolts of it? He can hire a team to analyze, as they Nets already internally do, and get his reports -- not necessarily from afar -- and go from there. A weakness? Eh.
It's also been said that without current Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger, once an assistant to Hollins, he would not be who he is. There's some minor truths to that. Joerger is a superstar mind in the NBA and helped to develop much of what became Hollins' defensive system, but at the end of the day, Hollins called the shots and it was Hollins who led the Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals, not Joerger. And this is basketball, where no one piece makes a whole -- except maybe LeBron James, right? This is a whole other conversation, but yes Joerger was a fantastic assistant and was a big part of Hollins' success in the league, but he wasn't Hollins' success. Just a part of it.
Most of the answers to these questions will play out on and off the court. This was merely an exercise in telling you what I've learned in the past about Hollins and now what I know is going to happen in the future. It's not certain to work out, but one thing I do know is that Hollins is not going to take this opportunity for granted.
One or many of you wills start the #FireHollins campaign, we'll hear from many of you after a 3-game losing streak why Hollins was the wrong hire, and we we'll forever connect Mark Jackson to this job because, well he was a fan favorite among some. Those things will happen as they always do. I'm fully confident, however, that expectations will be met by Hollins. Will he exceed them? That's the important question, right? But he'll give the team an identity and he'll coach his way, not the way the players tell him to coach and certainly not the way we the media and fans tell him to.