Lionel Hollins contends he doesn’t care.
At least that is the reaction the Memphis Grizzlies coach seemed to render when asked recently about Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling having attended Game 1 of Memphis’ Western Conference Finals series against the San Antonio Spurs in the AT&T Center.
According to multiple media reports, Sterling, the NBA’s longest-tenured owner whose net worth is $1.9 billion, sat opposite the Grizzlies’ bench supposedly to scout Hollins for a possible interview to fill the Clippers’ head coaching vacancy.
The Clippers last week announced that Vinny Del Negro would not return as head coach after three seasons, a development that only heighten speculations surrounding Hollins’ potential move to coach the team the Grizzlies eliminated in six games in the playoffs’ opening round.
However, Hollins, when asked before Game 3 of the Spurs-Grizzlies series about Sterling’s appearance in San Antonio to scout him, quickly dismissed the notion of possibly being interviewed by the Clippers, saying that his name being rumored to coach elsewhere wasn’t a distraction for the Grizzlies.
After eliminating the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in five games in the conference semifinals, Memphis advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history before being swept by the Spurs in a 93-86 loss Monday night in FedExForum.
“If that team knew about it, maybe it would have been (a distraction) you know,” said Hollins, adding that he wasn’t aware of Sterling’s showing in San Antonio. “But who gives a (expletive). (Expletive)…there’s distractions every day. Every day we come to the gym, it’s a distraction. Every time we get on the highway and come to the gym, it’s a distraction. Every time we get on the plane and the weather is bad and we don’t get to leave on time, those are all distractions.”
Among the reasons Hollins’ name continues to surface as a serious candidate to fill a head-coaching vacancy elsewhere is that team officials did not offer him a contract extension this year, although the Grizzlies had compiled a franchise-best 56-26 record and reached the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
Besides Sterling, Brooklyn Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov also is rumored to be showing serious interest in Hollins, according to various reports.
Hollins, 59, first joined the Grizzlies in 1999 when the team was in Vancouver, where he coached the team through the end of the 2000 season. Consequently, he was named interim coach of the team during the 2004-2005 campaign before being name head coach for the third time in the franchise’s short history in January 2009.
Since 2009, a stretch that spans 312 regular-season games, Hollins has generated a 183-129 mark and guided Memphis to three consecutive postseason appearances. As a result, Hollins — who earlier this week said he remains hopeful a contract extension with the Grizzlies would get worked out quickly — has emerged as one of the most sought-after coaches after a historical campaign in which the Grizzlies overcame what he described as a “slew of distractions.”
“We overcame those,” Hollins said. “We’ve been through trades. We’ve been through deaths. And all of a sudden, somebody’s coming to me (about filling a coaching vacancy) is a distraction. So I don’t know why some stupid article would make you be distracted on doing your job.”
Prior to his professional coaching career, Hollins played 10 NBA seasons for five different teams, most notably in Portland, where he was a member of the Trail Blazers’ 1976-77 squad that beat the Philadelphia 76ers in six games to win the NBA Finals.