The list for the next Brooklyn Next head coach seems to be narrowing down, slightly, after Phil Jackson decided he didn't want to coach in Brooklyn. The names we know -- Doc Rivers, Brian Shaw, Scott Skiles, Lionel Hollins, etc.
Rivers seems near impossible. Skiles is the most attainable and carries a head coaching resume, as well as some baggage, while Shaw seems "ready" but doesn't have the head coaching experience. Hollins, now, has the resume, is possibly attainable, but is he really a good fit for this Brooklyn Nets team? And, does he become less attainable as the Grizzlies continue to make their way through the Western Conference? Well, I'm glad you asked.
As many of you know, in my past life I ran the Memphis Grizzlies blog on SB Nation (then Straight Outta Vancouver, now Grizzly Bear Blues). I know the Grizzlies. I know Hollins. I know the Grit and the Grind. Tony Allen is one of my favorite players/people in the NBA. I am truly amazed at how Zach Randolph has grown up in Memphis, going from being one of the Jail Blazers to being one of the most important people in Memphis. I feel like a proud papa in being able to watch Mike Conley and Marc Gasol develop into stars/superstars. I saw the Grizzlies draft Hasheem Thabeet over Stephen Curry and James Harden. I lived through them trading Kevin Love on draft night for O.J. Mayo. I lived through the 2011 Game 4 triple-overtime loss to the Thunder and survived their Game 1 loss to the Clippers in 2012.
I know the Grizzlies. I know Hollins. I know the Nets. And here's what I know about the Grizzlies, Hollins and your Brooklyn Nets.
Lionel Hollins is a very, very good NBA coach. Very good. He coached the Grizzlies to their first playoff series win in 2011, when the Grizzlies (8th seed) beat the San Antonio Spurs (1st seed). He currently has the Grizzlies one game away from heading to the Western Conference Finals, after having coached them to a franchise best 56 wins this season. Under his watch, Marc Gasol has become a superstar, Mike Conley is well on his way, Randolph has become an adult, Tony Allen has become the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and the Grizzlies have a true identity.
Lionel Hollins, again, is a very good coach.
His team plays defense, they grind out games, they have a tough-guy mentality. In Memphis, it's known as the "Grit and Grind," as named by Tony Allen. That's their identity.
Hollins can tend to get the most out of his players -- Allen, Conley, Gasol, Randolph. Quincy Pondexter, Darrell Arthur, Jerryd Bayless, etc. Each one of those guys, to a certain degree, were cast-offs. The Celtics wouldn't give Allen $3 million, Conley was dubbed as a reach on draft night, Gasol was an afterthought in a trade that sent his brother to the Lakers, no one (not even the Knicks!) wanted Randolph, Pondexter on the fast-track to being a journeyman, Arthur was always injured and "not worth the hassle," and Bayless was 24 years old and already on his 4th NBA team when the Grizzlies got him. Now they are the core players on a team bound for the Western Conference Finals.
He's a player's coach, to a certain degree. The aforementioned players would go to bat for Hollins, stand behind him. They battle for him. But at the same time, he "takes no bull." When the Grizzlies decided to get cute and sign Allen Iverson, Hollins nipped that experiment in the bud and sent him packing. Iverson became a cancer in the locker room in the first week and, boom, he was gone. No nonsense. With that move, in my opinion, he earned the locker room's respect on a level that goes beyond anything you can do on the court. It had all the feel of a turning point moment. You mess with the bull, you get the horns. You show up to play, you get his respect.
Lionel Hollins is a very, very good basketball coach.
Is he a fit for this Brooklyn Nets team?
The two biggest knocks on Hollins during his tenure in Memphis are his handling of O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay.
Mayo, who was traded for on draft night for the rights to Kevin Love, was the future. He was their starting two-guard for the next 12 years. Or, he was supposed to be. As a rookie, Mayo averaged a career-best 18.5 points per game. Yes, a career-best as a rookie.
Mayo is a talented kid, a very good scorer. He has flaws in his game, but somewhere he fell out of favor with Hollins. The moment(s) can be pinpointed to Hollins' decision to start Tony Allen at the 2-guard and bring Mayo off the bench. This after Mayo started in 164 games in his first two seasons in the NBA. Mayo was a kid. He wasn't happy about how he was being handled. Yes, that's the coach's decision, stand by it, kid. But, Hollins, to a fault, treated Mayo like the kid that he was, not the man that he needed him to be.
The other issue with Hollins was how he handled Rudy Gay. No, he didn't treat him as an outcast or bench him for his lagging development, but the problem was that Hollins didn't put the leash on Gay that he's put on other players.
Rudy Gay is a star. He's an All-Star-calibur player. Not a superstar, but an All-Star. Problem with his approach was that Gay needed to be coached. For as skilled as he is, Gay thinks he's a pull-up jump-shooter, and not a slasher who can make a great living in the open court and living on the baseline. (Note: my favorite moments were when the ball went into the low-post to either Randolph or Gasol, the defense would collapse and double and Gasol, a great passing big man, would hit Gay on the baseline for an easy two. That happened, oh, not often enough.)
Rudy Gay needed to be coached, but Hollins let him roam.
This leads to player development. Hollins gets an "A-plus" for his handling of Conley and Gasol. He struggled with Mayo and he's not showing much confidence in Tony Wroten or Ed Davis. This is where you have to wonder, what will life for MarShon Brooks, Mirza Teletovic, Tornike Shengelia, Tyshawn Taylor and draft picks be like under Hollins?
He's a coach who has "his guys," much like we saw with P.J. Carlesimo this year. Again, that's not to say he'll come in here and simply not play the young guys, but if Ed Davis can't crack the Memphis lineup...He'd be the starting power forward in Brooklyn.
Hollins would be able to do wonders for Gerald Wallace. I believe that he'd be able to coach to his strengths, much like he's doing with Tony Allen. He'd do fantastic job in the continued development of Brook Lopez (see: Gasol, Marc). He'd be the ideal coach for Reggie Evans. Hollins knows the limits of a player -- he's proven as much with Tony Allen, who regularly does all his damage in 23-25 minutes per game. He'd let Joe Johnson be Joe Johnson. Similarly to what he did with Rudy Gay, but the difference is that Johnson is "beyond coachable" -- he's a veteran, been around the block. Whereas Gay needed to be coached, and still does, actually.
I worry about his relationship with Deron Williams. It's not that Hollins and Williams can't coexist. It's a question of whether or not D-Will will buy into it. But, then again, that's the million-dollar question for any coach they bring in, right?
MarShon Brooks and Andray Blatche should expect to see a short leash, which can be a good thing. I could see a scenario where Blatche and Brooks so deeply buy into Hollins that they'd become more polished basketball players -- it's possible.
The fit between the Nets and Hollins, at its core, isn't a perfect one. Hollins, though, would bring a much-needed identity to this team, some toughness. He'd hopefully be able to win over the locker room in a way that breeds confidence and cohesion. Similar to what he's done in Memphis. He's not an "offensive guy." No. But he's got the defensive chops to really push this Brooklyn team -- an offensive team. He's also not a "new school" coach, so your analytics? No thanks.
I go back and forth. I have my issues with Hollins in certain capacities, but I very much respect him and the job he's done in Memphis. Honestly, I would gladly endorse the Nets hiring Hollins -- though I do wonder how he'd handled the media in New York City. I go back and forth because while I see his flaws, I can't seem to think of a coach -- an attainable one -- who fits that mold as a "perfect coach" for this team. Doc Rivers? I think he'd be fantastic, but what will it take to get him?
Hollins hasn't been offered a contract extension from the Grizzlies, and that's in part because the team changed ownership and management in the middle of the season and they wanted to keep the option open to bring in "their guy," as most teams often do. At this point, though, if Hollins coaches the Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals (and beyond?) it might be a moot point.
Lionel Hollins is a very, very good basketball coach. And the Nets should certainly do themselves a favor and explore him as a possibility.
At this point, searching for the "perfect" head coach feels like a pipe dream.