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NBA PM: Lionel Hollins Eager for Next Shot

Lionel Hollins is eager for a return to the sidelines and is hopeful that he will land with the Cavaliers or Lakers…

Yannis Koutroupis

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With only two head coaching vacancies left in the league, the Los Angeles Lakers’ and Cleveland Cavaliers’, the opportunities for former Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins to make a return to the sidelines are dwindling. Hollins has interviewed with a handful of teams since being let go by the Grizzlies last summer despite leading them to their best season in franchise history, but continues to get passed over.

Hollins boasts a career record of 214-201 overall and an 18-17 mark in playoff games, highlighted by a trip to the 2013 Western Conference Finals. He’s one of the most proven and experienced head coaches on the market. Yet, since he’s become a free agent, 12 coaches with no prior NBA head coaching experience have been hired.

“It is [weird],” Hollins said to Basketball Insiders at adidas Eurocamp, where he is volunteering, when asked about still being without a job. “You would think with the success that I’ve had that something would have happened already but it’s just part of the process. There are a lot of other guys that are out there that aren’t even interviewing. I look at Scott Skiles and I look at Vinny Del Negro, guys like Jeff Van Gundy who is still sitting out there, George Karl who’s still sitting out there. There are a lot of people that have had much success and aren’t even getting calls to be interviewed. It’s kind of a crazy and wacky world right now.

“Unfortunately a lot of teams have filled their positions and there are only a couple left and hopefully I’ll be the number one guy for somebody as we go forward. Everywhere I’ve interviewed I’ve felt like it was an organization that I would want to be a part of and a job that had some prospects. Obviously it’s up to the team and the person making the call on what they want and whether or not they think you fit what they’re trying to do.”

Hollins has already interviewed with the Cavaliers and the Lakers and is still in the running for both openings. The Cavaliers have scoured the college ranks for Mike Brown’s replacement so far and actually negotiated with Kentucky head coach John Calipari before he ultimately decided to stay where he is at. The Lakers still seem to be weeks away from hiring their next head coach at best, seeming content to go into the draft and free agency without replacing Mike D’Antoni. They’re going into the offseason with aspirations of hitting a home run in free agency and they feel like leaving their options open at head coach could help them in that aspect.

Based off of the way that the Grizzlies played under him, Hollins has the label of being a defensive-oriented head coach who prefers to slow it down in the halfcourt. However, his philosophy was actually the opposite when he initially took over.

“We had a plan and we sold it and we worked it,” Hollins said. “We adapted a system around a group and they wound up having an identity of how they were going to play. I laugh because it wasn’t my thing to come in and play the way we play. It was the system that fit the personnel that gave them the best chance to be successful; that’s what we went with. We tried to run but we had two big guys who were very efficient in the post so we changed from doing that to pounding the ball inside, playing a lot of high-low, playing a lot of pick-and-rolls and the post ups; it was very successful and we had an identity. The part of the identity that was mine was that we were going to be tough, aggressive and physical and we were going to never give up. We were going to play hard every night and we were going to play together and the rest of the identity as far as style of play was really just about the personnel and what was effective for them.

“I don’t want to be known as a defensive coach, I don’t want to be an offensive coach. I think you have to know offense, you have to know defense you have to know how to put a team together for chemistry wise, developing relationships, how to be tough and when to back off. I think coaching is all of that and I’m just about winning.”

Being flexible to his personnel is going to be important for Hollins’ chances at either the Lakers or Cavaliers job, since Cavaliers GM David Griffin wants to play an up tempo style and the Lakers don’t have enough players under contract to play some offseason three-on-three even if they wanted to.

If they go in different directions, Hollins, who will turn 61 years old this October, faces the possibility of being out of the league for a second-straight year, but he’s still not to the point where he wants to consider going the route of Alvin Gentry or Nate McMillan and try to work his way back up to a head coach as a lead assistant.

“I would have to consider it if I want to stay in the league and there were no head coaching opportunities,” Hollins said. “It’s not something that I think about. It’s not something that I want to think about. My focus is on trying to be a head coach. I don’t want to go back to being a lead assistant and be a lead assistant for the next seven, eight or nine years and then they tell me that I’m too old to be a head coach.”

It’s tales of how he clashed with the new management and ownership in Memphis that have worked against Hollins more than any doubt about what he’s capable of on the court. Their relationship was testy at times and there may have been a lack of mutual respect between the two; Hollins also wasn’t embracing of their movement toward the expanded use of advanced statistics or the trading of Rudy Gay, but as abrasive as he can be, he does have a way of connecting with his players. He got the most out of the Grizzlies and earned their respect most importantly. He’s the kind of coach who you have to let do things his way, because it’s proven and he’s willing to adjust when he sees necessary.

“When you ask what was the key to my success, I think being flexible and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of my players,” Hollins said. “I think that being a guy that’s honest, a guy trying to help them develop as people as well as players and letting them know that I care about them and it’s not about me it’s about them having success. I don’t need to be Coach of the Year, I don’t need any accolades. I want you guys to be successful and I want you guys to have the same success that I had as a player and experience what I experienced when being a part of winning. Selling them that the more we win, the more everybody gets the accolades.

“I don’t think we were the most talented team in Memphis, we certainly didn’t shoot the ball great but we played to our strengths, we led in points in the paint and second chance points with the offensive rebounding. Defensively, we got a lot of turnovers and we scored points off of those turnovers and we made the other team shoot a low percentage. We played to our strengths and we were successful. When I was in Memphis we didn’t have a huge collection of shooters but we made enough shots and we did enough to keep the floor spaced and we played and did things that took advantage of teams where they couldn’t just load up on our post guys consistently. When you get to the playoffs teams take away what you’re trying to do and make you play to your weaknesses.”

Make sure to check out the NBA PM on Thursday for more from our exclusive interview with Lionel Hollins!

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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VIDEO: Tobias Harris – 2018 NBA All-Star

New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

Basketball Insiders

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New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda

Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.

And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.

During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.

“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.

“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.

As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.

From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform to, this year, eliminating the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, it’s become clear that Silver simply “gets it” and isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.

At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.

Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.

The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.

The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.

From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.

First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.

Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.

Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.

Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.

On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.

* * * * * *

As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.

What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.

Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.

That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.

A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance. 

The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.

Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.

It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.

An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.

This system would at least eliminate that contention.

On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.

Why does it have to be in the NBA?

* * * * * *

With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.

Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.

This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…

(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT

(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans

(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers

(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers

(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets

(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder

(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks

(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers

Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).

The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.

At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.

It would be a benefit to all observers.

One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.

The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in other to be fresh for the postseason.

Everyone wins.

No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.

Best bet?

It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.

It simply makes too much sense, and if there’s one thing the commissioner has already proven, it’s that he isn’t afraid of changing tradition.

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NBA All-Star Saturday Recap

Brian Slingluff recaps All-Star Saturday from Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders is here to recap an eventful All-Star Saturday that led to three first-time champs in the various skills contests. Let’s get right to it.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

In Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the “Bigs” team, boasting 3 All-Stars, set out to claim a third straight title. The competition kicked off with Joel Embiid coming from behind to best Al Horford, and sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen swishing his first 3 point attempt to eliminate Andre Drummond. On the Guard side, Buddy Hield had an early lead before losing out to Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jamal Murray upset hometown favorite Lou Williams.

In the semifinals, Markkanen was able to dispatch Joel Embiid, who struggled with the pass portion of the competition, and Dinwiddie topped Jamal Murray by making his first 3 pointer for the second consecutive round.

In the Final round, Dinwiddie finally missed a 3 pointer, but it did not matter as he finished with a wire to wire victory over Lauri Markkanen. Dinwiddie, competing in front of his friends and family, was able to end the Bigs’ two year win streak in impressive fashion.

JBL Three Point Contest

The event started off with Tobias Harris scoring a solid 18 points. Wayne Ellington was next, sporting the hot new alternate Miami Vice jersey. Ellington started off cold and heated up on his last three racks, ending up with a score of 17. Devin Booker and former three-point champion Klay Thompson tied for a round-high 19 points. Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry struggled from the start and never found a rhythm, falling short of making the championship round. Defending champion Eric Gordon never got it going, and would not defend the title, scoring only 12 points.

In the Championship round, Tobias Harris was on fire through the first 3 racks, but quickly got cold, scoring 17 points. Devin Booker was next and could not miss, scoring 28 points, leaving Klay Thompson a high number to match. Thompson fell just 3 points short, and Devin Booker was crowned the 2018 JBL Three Point Champion.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

The final and most anticipated event of the night started with Donovan Mitchell bringing out a second hoop, bouncing it off the second backboard and finishing with an impressive windmill dunk, scoring a 48. Victor Oladipo followed with a difficult look-away alley oop dunk attempt that he was unable to complete, totaling 31 points from the judges. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice reverse double pump that got 39 points and Larry Nance Jr., in a throwback Phoenix jersey, payed homage to his father’s cradle dunk, nailing it almost exactly for a score of 44 points.

Oladipo started the next round of dunks by borrowing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther mask, and scoring 40 points with a tomahawk windmill dunk. Smith Jr. hit a seemingly impossible reverse 360, through the legs, switching hands dunk for a perfect score of 50. Nance Jr. pulled off a Vince Carter level windmill, nearly missing a perfect score. Mitchell jumped over comedian Kevin Hart to advance to the finals against Larry Nance Jr.

In the Finals, Nance started things off with a windmill alley-oop with some help from Larry Nance Sr., garnering a score of 46. Mitchell completed the difficult one handed alley-oop he had attempted in the previous round, scoring a perfect 50. Nance Jr. answered with an incredible double pass off the backboard dunk, scoring yet another 50 points.  Mitchell ended the contest with a Vince Carter tribute dunk, coming out on top by just two points. It capped off an exciting Saturday night, setting things up for the main event on Sunday, Team LeBron versus Team Stephen.

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