Coaching Profile: Lionel Hollins

May 30th, 2014 | by Dan Clayton
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Hollins’ head coaching history is unique, to say the least. That’s because he has had three separate NBA head coaching stints – but always for the same franchise.

When the Vancouver Grizzlies fired Brian Hill 22 games into the 1999-00 season, they looked to Hollins as their interim coach. With a core of Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Mike Bibby, the Grizz went 18-42 to close that season, and they’d opt to make Sidney Lowe their next coach instead of retaining Hollins and removing the interim tag.

But Hollins wasn’t done with the Grizz. After coaching in the minor leagues for a while, the Grizzlies, now in Memphis, looked to him again, this time just to keep the seat warm between Hubie Brown’s tenure and the start of Mike Fratello’s reign. This one was just a winless 4-game intermission, after Memphis had just let go the reigning Coach of the Year.1

After briefly serving as an assistant in Milwaukee, Hollins got his third phone call from the Grizzlies, this time to serve as the bona fide head coach, not some interstitial gig.

There were just 39 games left in the 2008-09 season when Hollins retook his old post, so we won’t hold that train wreck2 against him. The following season, Hollins and the Grizz began their ascent. They went 40-42 in Hollins’ first full season as coach, followed by win totals of 46, 51 (adjusted for lockout season), and 56 before they let him walk last summer.

Which is odd, right? Why would a coach who presided over that type of ascent get fired? The Grizz were top 10 defensively for three straight seasons, maxing out at #2 in 2012-13. So what gives?

The prevailing theory was that Hollins got the axe because of philosophical differences with the front office, specifically because he didn’t embrace a holistic approach to analysis that would complement traditional scouting with new data. Now, after the mess Memphis has been in with owner Robert Pera clashing with a number of Grizzlies folks (including analytics evangelist John Hollinger), who knows?

There was this weird story about Hollins firing his assistant and long-time friend Barry Hecker in the middle of a playoff series because the latter had ostensibly distracted the team by antagonizing (or giving into the antagonizing from) a Thunder fan. That happened just a couple weeks before Hollins himself was out as coach.

Hollins also irked management with his frank objections to the Rudy Gay trade, and his comments about having “champagne taste” on a beer budget. But it may just come down to the fact that he wasn’t Pera’s guy. Pera is being described in the media as an annoyingly hands-on owner who has unwittingly created some messes by being too involved in the basketball side of things. He purchased the team in the fall of Hollins’ last season, so maybe he just got the grass-is-greener bug.

Whatever the real reason is behind Hollins’ dismissal from Memphis, it doesn’t appear to be affecting his stock too much. He’s being mentioned in conjunction with several open jobs, including the Jazz’s. Teams evidently like what Hollins was able to do in taking a team without a lot of top-tier talent to new heights and establish an elite defensive mindset.

Offensively, Hollins holds his own, but doesn’t do anything too crazily innovative. In Memphis his staple was some high-post/low-post stuff with a lot of picks and drive-and-kicks. The Grizz like the quick outlet, but when the break isn’t there, they slow things down into a pretty intense gridlock, and they actually finished dead last in pace in 2012-13.

Hollins might not be your guy if you want a running team, but he can create a defensive juggernaut and has experience taking a team from oblivion to contender status. Keep him on your radar.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

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  1. Mewko says:

    I like how Hollins coaches good defenses and good big-men, but he is too old to coach our guys. The Jazz wouldn’t want him because he is too mouthy. Hollins probably wants to go to the Lakers where he has more freedom to be mouthy.

    • CLH14 says:

      How can you say he’s too old and mouthy??? He’s a younger darker version of Jerry Sloan!

      • Mewko says:

        Well, I don’t think an old coach will want to go rebuild a NBA team. And when I say mouthy, I mean openly mocking his front office.
        Jerry respected the front office.

  2. Kirk Parkinson says:

    Hollins is a really fine coach, and he’d be great for the Jazz. One of the cool things about Hollins is that he has closer ties to our State than most anyone whose name has been mentioned as a Jazz coach possibility. Hollins, who’s from Vegas, played two years at Dixie College in St. George before going to Arizona State. I remember years ago that Dixie was scheduled to play the U of U freshman team. The Utah team featured a brilliant scoring phenom named Bernard Tomlin (who played no defense, by the way). Hollins smothered Tomlin. I don’t remember if he scored, but Dixie easily beat the freshman team, and the primary reason was Hollins. Anyway, I’d love to see the Jazz pick Hollins as the team’s coach.

    • Mewko says:

      Byron Scott was from Utah also. I think the Lakers will hire either Lionel Hollins, Derek Fisher, or Byron Scott as their coach. 2 guys who played ball in Utah, and one who was born here.

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