Sometimes these stories just write themselves. The Memphis Grizzlies are coached by a notoriously anti-advanced stats Rudy Gay fan in Lionel Hollins. The team’s front office is composed of two men in Jason Levien and John Hollinger that tend to shockingly pay as much attention to actual numerical production as to what they see on the court as they copiously watch game after game. Their interests coincided with an upcoming luxury tax burden that would afflict the Grizzlies should they retain all of the team’s most prominent players -- Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Rudy Gay -- beyond this year.
The new front office decided to part with Gay, citing his inefficient scoring and impact (shot selection, and number of shots) in turning the Grizzlies into the worst fourth quarter team in the NBA. Rudy Gay was much-loved by both teammates and coaching staff that don’t have to figure out how to build a winner while working around a luxury tax in one of the NBA’s smallest markets, and the team has done nothing but pout while losing two of three since the deal.
Following Tuesday’s embarrassing loss to the Phoenix Suns, coach Hollins decided to rant about his team’s supposed lack of center depth in the wake of deals sending Marreese Speights to Cleveland and Hamed Haddadi (since waived by the Raptors) to Toronto. As he vents, he makes little sense. From the great Memphis Commercial Appeal columnist Geoff Calkins:
Explaining the loss, Hollins twice pointed out that when Gasol got in foul trouble, he couldn't put in another big to match up with Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat.
"One of the issues that I have is that neither Darrell or Ed (Davis) are fives. We don't have another big guy. We weren't able to play big and have two bigger people across the board because we don't have a bigger guy to put in the game."
Complete and utter twaddle.
Hollins would understand this if he weren’t too busy complaining about the well-compensated team he was given to coach for years that had to be broken up due to flexibility concerns, or if he’d bother to do even rudimentary research on two of his most recent additions.
Ed Davis played nearly a third of Toronto’s minutes at center this season, and has done fantastic work at the position. He’s 6-11 and spindly and the son of a longtime NBA center and in a lot of ways more suited to guard someone like Luis Scola or the burly-yet-perimeter-based Marcin Gortat than Gasol is – and Gasol is an all-word defender. And guys that skim the NBA while obsessing over getting to coach a supposed star in Rudy Gay don’t know that Jon Leuer is strong and fluid enough to play extended minutes at power forward against someone like Luis Scola. Any simple lookup to see what Jon Leuer did in Milwaukee last season – two weeks after Memphis dealt for him – would relay that news.
Or that promise. Or that hope; which Hollins seems like going out of his way to diminish because complaining, as has been the case since his time as a player, seems to come more naturally to him. This is a time to cheer up, as you lose a beloved co-worker. This is a time to act as the force that brings a broken-up locker room together. Because that’s what coaches do. They’re supposed to let out sighs far away from where the players can hear them.
This is supposed to be the opportunity -- for the team that had the second-worst offense in the NBA with Gay and Speights from the first week of December up until now and the worst fourth quarter offense in the league throughout the season -- to try and do what was right, and get it together.
By working through Randolph and Gasol. By utilizing Tayshaun Prince not as a pick and roll guy, but sending him to the corner for three-pointers. By not putting a pall on the locker room by kvetching over deals that were made to eliminate the problems created by, again, one of the league’s worst offenses WITH Rudy Gay and the league’s poorest fourth quarter offense WITH Rudy Gay. And Speights. And Haddadi, who Hollins saw fit to play all of 87 minutes all year … but is suddenly needed so, so badly against the fearsome Phoenix Suns frontline that had lost 24 of 33 games entering Tuesday night’s game.
Of course, this is the coach that presided over a team that gave Zach Randolph just one shot in the fourth quarter, because (as Zach pointed out) “that’s what coach wants.”
Lionel Hollins is playing the martyr role, which is a shame because he could be the sort of leader that puts this team over the top. Everybody knows you’re not happy with the recent trades, Lionel. But if you give the moves your best shot and actually listen to what these front office nerds are saying, and it fails? Then you’re afforded the chance to prove everyone wrong, and not look like an old school stereotype.
Lionel Hollins will have to try, first. And in only playing Ed Davis nine minutes in a loss and giving Zach Randolph just one shot in a game-changing fourth quarter, it’s hard to tell exactly what Hollins’ motivations are at this point.