The situation between the Memphis Grizzlies and Coach Lionel Hollins has gone from uncomfortable to contentious in a matter of days.
It began when Grizzlies leadership decided not to extend the contract of the winningest coach in franchise history during the regular season. Instead, they elected to wait and evaluate Coach Hollins’ work after the playoffs were over.
Well the playoffs are now over for the Grizzlies after the franchise’s first-ever appearance in the Western Conference Finals, and Hollins is still without a new contract.
The Grizzlies have now given him permission to talk to other teams about their coaching vacancies, and are courting other coaches of their own.
Should Hollins and the Grizzlies decide that it is best to go their separate ways, here is who should be on the Grizzlies short list of coaching candidates…
Coach Johnson is looking for employment after being fired by the Brooklyn Nets in December of this year, and would be a great fit for the Grizzlies should Hollins not be rehired. Before he took over for the Mavericks, they were seen as a soft and finesse team. He helped change the mentality and culture in Dallas, turning them into a physical team that played solid defense. The results were four straight 50 plus win seasons and a trip to the NBA Finals. His tenure in Brooklyn might not been as good as hoped, in part because of friction with point guard Derron Williams, but he would be great for the development of the young guards for the Grizzlies. Mike Conley and Tony Wroten would benefit immensely from the tutelage of the “Little General”.
Stan Van Gundy:
The former Orlando Magic coach would be another solid coaching candidate for Memphis, and it is due in large part to his inside out offensive philosophy. During his tenure in Orlando, the emphasis was on pounding the ball inside on offense, and playing solid defense, much like the Grizzlies do now. In fact, in his seven full seasons as a head coach (resigned during the 2005-2006 season when he was with the Miami Heat), his teams finished in the top ten of the NBA in opponents points per game six times. With Van Gundy at the helm, Memphis will remain one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, and continue to grit and grind their way to playoff success.
Reports have recently emerged that Memphis has already reached out to Coach Karl, even though he has been unemployed for little more than a day (says something about how much the Grizzlies bigwigs want Hollins back). Karl is an excellent candidate, with four decades of coaching experience, and won this season’s Coach of the Year. His Denver Nuggets vastly overachieved during the regular season this year, posting a 57-25 record (good for third best in the Western Conference), and losing just three games at home all year. What may be more important to the Memphis bosses, is the fact that Karl’s teams are among the best in the league offensively. Since being in Denver, his teams have lead the league in scoring twice, and averaged over 100 points per game each season. During the Hollins-era, it is no secret that the Grizzlies have struggled offensively to score (finished 27th in points per game this year), so a coach that can get more points out of his players will be a welcome site in the Bluff City.
Memphis could always decide to keep it in the family, and simply promote Joerger which might not be a bad idea. After all, he is already familiar with the players, leadership, and the grit and grind atmosphere in Memphis. It would be a smoother transition for everyone involved, and Joerger is a less stubborn version of Hollins, which would create fewer “minor” verbal altercations between head coach and executives. Also, Joerger is friendlier to the new wave of analytics that is sweeping the NBA than Hollins (really everybody in the world is friendlier to the NBA’s new analytics than Hollins, but that is beside the point), which is something the front office has started embracing.
The biggest risk on this list. Would Memphians like to see Coach Cal return to Hoop City? Cal already knows his way around Memphis and FedExForum. The former Tigers coach has already won a national title in college hoops and would love to redeem himself in the pro game. Plus, he wouldn’t have to worry about illegally paying players, banners being vacated, or more importantly SAT scores.
CJ Hurt covers the NBA for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from games.