HOUSTON — Whether Lionel Hollins will return to coach the Grizzlies next season appears highly unlikely, now that team officials have expressed interest in other coaches and granted other organizations permission to speak with the embattled Hollins, whose contract ends June 30.
“It doesn’t look good,” ESPN News Editor Larry Starks told MemphiSport on Friday in a telephone interview from Miami. “I don’t think he’ll sign with the Grizzlies. The two sides philosophically are on different pages.”
Hollins and Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien met last week during a meeting in which Hollins admittedly came away convinced that he would work out a deal to remain the Grizzlies’ coach after guiding Memphis its first Western Conference Finals appearance in team history.
However, after learning earlier this week that he had been given permission to speak with other teams about their head coaching vacancies, it appears the relationship between Hollins and Levien is steadily deteriorating since the new ownership took over in late October.
“It seems like they wanted to go more toward analytics and (Hollins) doesn’t want that,” said Starks, alluding to Grizzlies new owner Robert Pera’s hiring of former ESPN analyst/writer John Hollinger as the team’s Vice President of Basketball Operations. “It seems like from the beginning of the season, there were irreconcilable differences between the team and Hollins. From what I’ve read, it seems like Hollins wasn’t on board with them trading Rudy Gay. But the bottom line, it’s a difference in philosophies with them.”
While the 59-year-old Hollins has publicly expressed in recent weeks his desire to remain in Memphis, the possibility exist that he has coached his last game for the Grizzlies, despite guiding the team to a franchise-record 56 wins this year.
According to multiple media reports, Hollins took part in a lengthy discussion Thursday with Los Angeles Clippers Vice President of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks, a development that transpired 11 days after team owner Donald Sterling reportedly attended Game 1 of the Grizzlies-San Antonio Spurs series supposedly to scout Hollins. Also, the Brooklyn Nets have been granted permission to speak with Hollins, but has not reached out to the coach after its initial request last week was denied days after the Grizzlies were swept in four games by the Spurs.
And, as early as Friday, the Denver Nuggets seemingly have shown interest in possibly landing Hollins to fill its head coaching vacancy after team officials announced Thursday that George Karl would not return for a tenth season. According to media reports, the Grizzlies appear intrigued in luring the 62-year-old Karl to Memphis after a year in which he led the Nuggets to franchise-best 57 wins and was named NBA’s Coach of the Year.
However, whether Hollins will emerge as the suitable fit for a Denver team that currently is without a general manger — former Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri left recently for Toronto to assume the same position — is up for debate.
“The Nuggets don’t have a GM and that seems to be a more chaotic situation,” Starks said. “(Hollins) has done a lot for (the Grizzlies). He’s added toughness. He’s added accountability.”
So if Hollins and the Grizzlies part ways, on whose sideline could the often-belligerent coach possibly emerge next season?
“The Clippers it seems are leaning toward (Indiana Pacers assistant) Brian Shaw,” Starks said. “The Nets I think could be a good landing spot for him. I don’t know what he’s thinking and what his thinking is. But the Nets are on the market where they have to compete with the Knicks.”
Though the possibility exist that Hollins could return to the Grizzlies’ sideline next year, many believe that is inconceivable, given both sides have commenced to looking elsewhere.
“I’d be surprised if he signs with the Grizzlies,” Starks said.