Fun Ride, Memphis; You’re On Your Own Now

It’s now official that Lionel Hollins, the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies that took the franchise to its first Western Conference Finals in team history, will not be welcomed back by the team next season.

What a disaster.

After a questionable mid-season dumping of All-Star, and team focal point, Rudy Gay last season, Memphis was already in an awkward position. (They did, however, manage to gracefully overcome the multi-team Gay trade, but perhaps only because of the masterful work of Hollins.)

And now this – a dumping of arguably the best coach in the league.

Former Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins got the franchise to its first ever Western Conference Finals appearance.

Former Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins got the franchise to its first ever Western Conference Finals appearance.

Hollins took over in 2008, grabbing a 22-60 (26.8%) team by the horns and elevating them to the pinnacle of the league, culminating in their 56-26 record this year – topped off by a Western Conference Finals appearance.

Other than Gay, Hollins had little to work with when he took over in ’08. Slow-to-feel-his-oats point guard Michael Conley, the 2007-08 draft’s fourth-overall pick, had hardly developed enough to be considered anything close to a star; he was, on a good day, a fourth- or fifth-best player on a weak team at the time. It was center Marc Gasol’s rookie season in the league. Star forward Zach Randolph hadn’t yet joined the team.

At the very least, you could say Hollins did a lot with a little.

And now he’s gone, after the best season in Grizzlies’ history.

It begs the question: is Grizzly management trying to ruin their team’s chances at winning a title? After giving up their star player and star head coach, how can the question be avoided?

Obviously the answer is a resounding “no, of course they don’t want to ruin their team’s chances.” But it’s interesting that anyone would have to ask that question.

So where do the Griz go from here?

The latest reports have the next head coach being trusted assistant Dave Joerger or perhaps former Denver Nuggets head coach, George Karl.

Those two would be great replacements, but for entirely different reasons. Joerger would continue to build on Hollins’ grit-and-grind style of coaching – something that worked surprisingly well for the Griz over the last few seasons. Karl, on the other hand, would bring in a more up-tempo, fast-paced offense that might work well with the fleet legs of Conley, Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Pondexter, and Tony Allen.

That’s the potential upside. The downside is that any candidate, no matter how prestigious, will fail to replicate the same success that Hollins did during his tenure. Anything less than a Conference Finals appearance and the decision to let Hollins walk will be considered a disaster.

And to think this team was only one series away from the Finals, and had a chance to do it again next year, makes this decision all the more questionable.

Griz management better hope, for the sake of the skin on their heads, that they can make another playoff run next year.

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