Rudy Gay isn’t talking. At least, for now.
Gay, the former Grizzlies and current Toronto Raptors swingman on Wednesday declined interview requests by MemphiSport to assess the situation surrounding his former coach, Lionel Hollins, who will not return to Memphis next season.
The Grizzlies on Monday announced in a statement that they will not offer Hollins a new contract when his current deal expires June 30 and that he is no longer with the organization. Hollins, 59, was named the Grizzlies’ head coach in January 2009, a 4 ½ year stint that was comprised of a 196-155 mark and three consecutive postseason appearances.
Among the reasons Hollins and the Grizzlies have parted ways is that he and team officials reportedly have found it difficult to co-exist since the NBA approved for the new ownership to take over the team in October.
Hollins, for instance, publicly expressed his displeasure in team officials trading Gay on January 30, particularly after the team had fallen below the luxury tax threshold by dealing reserves Wayne Ellington, Marreese Speights, and Josh Selby a week earlier to Cleveland for a future first-round pick and Josh Leuer.
However, after repeated requests to speak with Gay about the split-up between Hollins and Grizzlies management, the Raptors issued a written statement to MemphiSport in which the 26-year-old Baltimore native declined to discuss the issue.
“We agreed that whatever thoughts he has on the Hollins situation should remain private,” Raptors director of media relations Jim LaBumbard said in a statement. “He has great respect for Coach Hollins, but this is between Coach and the Grizzlies organization, and it wouldn’t be fair for Rudy to comment. Rudy is now a Raptor and that is his main concern.”
At the time of the trade, Gay, the team’s franchise player, was the Grizzlies’ leading scorer at 17.2 points per game, although many within the organization sensed the former UConn star wasn’t playing up to the five-year, $82 million contract extension he signed in July 2010.
Though Hollins wasn’t in favor of the trade, he addressed reporters days later, reiterating, among other things, that he is a “team player” and that he must devise ways to get the most out of his current roster.
“Both trades that were made, they kept me abreast with what was going on,” Hollins said before the Grizzlies’ February 8 home game against Golden State. “And I voiced my opinion and they went with what they had. But my responsibility is to coach the team with the players we have, and that’s what I try to do and that’s what I will continue to try to do.”
Even without Gay, the Grizzlies amassed a franchise-best 56-26 record and reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time in team history before being swept in four games by the San Antonio Spurs.
However, during a national television appearance Wednesday morning, Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley was asked if he believed Memphis would have had a better chance of beating the Spurs had the organization chose not to deal Gay. A seven-year veteran, Gay was the catalyst of the Grizzlies’ 101-98 overtime win against San Antonio in a January 11 game in FedExForum when he registered a team-high 23 points on 10-of-20 field goals in 42-plus minutes.
“When we got to the Spurs, we could of used Rudy,” Conley told Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s First Take. “There’s no telling how far we would have gotten with Rudy.”
When asked how surprised was he after learning that Hollins would not return to coach the Grizzlies, Conley said, “It’s tough for us to lose coach. He was the guy who brought a different mentality to our team that wasn’t there. It’s a new stage for us. We’ve got to find a way to work through adversity.”
Much like they did after Gay was sent north of the border.