It was confirmed yesterday that Lionel Hollins will not be coming back to Memphis. While it’s unclear whether his departure will be good or bad for Memphis long term, right now we have a chance to look back to his tenure and see what kind of legacy Hollins is going to leave.
It’s certainly hard to imagine that he’ll be leaving anything other than a positive history for the franchise to look back on. He led the Grizzlies for the last 6 years until he was the head coach, driver, and tactical mastermind behind the best Grizzlies team in franchise history, and he’s got to get credit for that.
Hollins is one of the best tactical x’s and o’s coaches in the NBA, right behind Doc Rivers and Popovich. His managing of the coaching staff and of team tactics built the grit and grind system, and the basis for last years’ franchise-best team.
Hollins certainly wasn’t perfect, but he deserves credit for what he did: he built the foundation for a team moving into contender status.
Reading this interview with Hollins, it’s clear that he knows how a team needs to play to take advantage of its resources as best it can:
It takes a lot of things to build a good NBA team: smarts, a decent basic roster, and a coherent identity and chemistry built around smart basketball. Then it takes just a few more details to build a contender. Hollins doesn’t know all of the details necessarily, but he does know how to make a good team, more so than most people.
He knows that Conley-Marc pick and rolls stretch a defense. He knows that packing the paint and using Tony Allen on the perimeter will force the midrange jumpshots that the Griz want teams to take.
He knows how to make a team smart, and as a result, good.
Now that he’s leaving, the Griz know how to be smart. It’s hard to know whether they will stay that way or not, but they definitely know now. In the meantime, Hollins’ deficiencies are coming out.
The smudge on Hollins’ reputation will always be his vocal opposition to the use of analytics in front office dealings. Lots of people, the front office included, are frustrated with Hollins’ insistence on sticking to his guns even when math tells him his guns are…well..wrong. His refusal to start QPon at least cost them the sweep, though the Griz probably still wouldn’t have won the Western Conference Finals.
Without listening to the math, without agreeing to the importance of game changing details, Hollins may not have ever been the future of the franchise. The memory of him in Memphis might be scarred by the interpretation of Hollins as the old guy who refuses the adjust to the times.
The geezer. The Anti-progressive.
But while he wasn’t the future of the franchise, he was the past. The most successful past in the franchise’s history. The past that led to the bright future the team has before it.
He’s not the best coach, and maybe not the right one, but he is a very good coach. A well intentioned, smart guy, who will always know what it takes to make a smart team.
Hopefully he’ll be remembered for what he has done, not what he didn’t do.