The Grizzlies announced Monday that Lionel Hollins is officially out as coach after leading the organization to its most successful season in franchise history.
In a prepared statement, Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien announced that Hollins, whose contract is up this summer, will not be offered a new deal and that Hollins is no longer with the organization, effectively immediately.
“After a thorough internal process, which included conversations with Lionel and his representatives, we decided as an organization to move in a different direction,” Levien said. “On behalf of the Grizzlies organization I would like to thank Lionel for his service and hard work in helping this organization throughout his years in Vancouver and Memphis."
The Grizzlies won 56 games in 2012-13, the most in franchise history, and advanced to the Western Conference finals for the first time ever. Hollins cultivated the Grizzlies' "grit and grind" culture, which emphasized defense first. Memphis ranked No. 2 in the league in defensive efficiency last season with center Marc Gasol winning the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year award. Gasol and guards Mike Conley and Tony Allen all landed on the All-Defensive First or Second Team.
Levien acknowledged that success in his statement: "Lionel, the coaching staff, the players and the organization achieved new heights this season with our run to the Western Conference Finals and for that, we are grateful. The entire Grizzlies family wishes Lionel all the best and great success as he moves forward in his career.”
The official decision to cut ties with Hollins comes after reports of strained negotiations in recent days, with the Grizzlies reportedly granting Hollins permission to speak with other teams about their coaching positions earlier this month. Philosophical differences between a new management team and Hollins surfaced publicly following the organization's midseason trade of starting small forward Rudy Gay. Hollins was critical of the move, accusing management, under new owner Robert Pera, of putting finances over basketball.
“It’s a business of basketball,” he said on a TNT broadcast. “I understand that perfectly well. I think our players understand the business of basketball. When you have champagne taste, you can’t be on a beer budget. We’re in a small market.”
Yahoo! Sports has reported that Hollins and Grizzlies VP of Basketball Operations John Hollinger do not see eye-to-eye when it comes to the use of analytics in coaching decisions.
During the Grizzlies' playoff run, tensions turned to a confrontation when Hollins exploded during a practice session upon finding Hollinger had walked onto the practice court and engaged forward Austin Daye during a shooting drill, multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports.
With the team watching -- and with a motive to show his players that he was completely in charge on the floor, sources said -- Hollins loudly questioned Hollinger about what he was doing, and why he believed it was appropriate for a management official to intrude on what's considered sacred territory for a coach and team, sources said.
That wasn't the first direct exchange between Hollins and Hollinger. Following a game between the Grizzlies and Blazers in Portland back in April 2011, Hollinger, then a sportswriter for ESPN.com, asked Hollins whether Allen and Zach Randolph didn't play in the late-season game because the Grizzlies were trying to manipulate their first-round playoff match-up. Hollins had just gotten through explaining that Allen and Randolph were dealing with minor injuries.
"Tony was hurt," Hollins responded, raising his voice, annoyed that he had to repeat himself. "Do you understand English? Tony was hurt. I chose to sit him out because he was hurt."
Grizzlies assistant coach Dave Joerger is considered a strong candidate to replace Hollins, according to reports from ESPN.com and USA Today Sports. ESPN.com further reported that former Nuggets coach George Karl and former Suns coach Alvin Gentry are also under consideration.
Hollins, 59, leaves the organization with a 214-201 (.516) record over seven years in Vancouver and Memphis. A first-round pick in the 1975 draft, Hollins retired in 1985 after 10 years with the Blazers, Sixers, Clippers, Pistons and Rockets. He holds career averages of 11.6 points, 4.5 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals, was a member of the title-winning 1976-77 Blazers and was selected as an All-Star in 1978.