Lionel Hollins coached the Memphis Grizzlies for the better part of five seasons before being let go following a Western Conference loss to the San Antonio Spurs last summer.
Despite being fired, Hollins doesn’t seem too bitter about his release.
“I’ve been so blessed,” Hollins recently told Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune. “The freedom to not be in a gym, at practice, in a meeting … I’ve had an opportunity to enjoy what life is all about again.”
Hollins took over the Grizzlies with 39 games to go in the 2008-09 season and helped build the team into one of the Western Conference’s best squads. He went 196-155 from 2008-13, leading Memphis to the playoffs three times. The Grizzlies enjoyed their best season in franchise history behind Hollins last year, finishing 56-26 while leading the NBA in fewest points allowed per game (89.3).
Despite all of this success, Hollins was surprisingly let go by Memphis.
As it turns out, a change of ownership may have been the ultimate reason, and not Hollins’ coaching ability that led to his firing. The Portland Tribune article tells us more:
Hollins fell victim to a change in ownership and management. Former owner Michael Heisley sold the club to a group led by California tech billionaire Robert Pera, now 36. Jason Levien, an attorney and former sports agent who had worked in the front office of the Sacramento Kings, became CEO and managing partner of the Grizzlies. Levien took over the basketball operations from Chris Wallace, who remains the club’s vice president/general manager in title only.
The night Memphis was eliminated by the Spurs, Hollins and his agent met with Levien for two and a half hours. Despite just being knocked out of the playoffs, Hollins felt good about returning to the Grizzlies.
“When I walked out of there, I thought I was coming back,” Hollins told the Portland Tribune. He would later go on to say, “They had an agenda of how they wanted to do things, and what they wanted to spend. I didn’t fit into that.”
What seemed to transpire was a clash of styles. Hollins is a veteran of the game, having played for Jack Ramsey with the Portland Trail Blazers back in the 1970’s. The current ownership group, along with VP of basketball operations John Hollinger, seems to prefer a new, analytical-driven style of basketball. Hollinger is a former ESPN NBA analyst who came up with the player efficiency rating, or PER, system.
Hollins didn’t seem to completely buy in to the way Memphis wanted to overvalue advanced statistics, telling the Portland Tribune:
“It’s not just numbers. I’m dealing with emotions and egos and sensitivities and insecurities. It’s easy to say these guys need to play so many minutes and this group is the best group to have on the floor at the particular time. It’s not cut and dried like that.”
Hollins has a great point. Advanced statistics play a large part in today’s evaluation of the game, but they simply can’t account for everything that goes in the NBA.
Still, Hollins seems to be just fine since leaving Memphis. He’s working as a studio analyst for NBA TV, and appears to be enjoying life.
The Grizzlies were clearly going in a different direction, one where they’re fighting for the eighth seed in the West just one season after advancing to the conference finals.
Was Memphis wrong to get rid of Hollins? Maybe, but he certainly seems to be ok with it.