HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Lionel Hollins starred at Arizona State. I wonder how he’d enjoy coaching down the road in Phoenix (not that I’m trying to push out interim coach Lindsey Hunter).
Or maybe Hollins would enjoy taking his coaching chops to Brooklyn — he’s certainly tough enough for the borough (not that I’m wishing interim coach P.J. Carlesimo be shoved out either). Carlesimo has saved the most critical season in Nets franchise history as far as I’m concerned.
But, look, there are going to be multiple coaching openings this summer. Given the current (disappointing) direction in Memphis, the lame-duck Hollins seems to be greasing the path for his own departure. Hey, it ain’t easy having champagne taste on a beer budget — and, really, who would want to?
It isn’t easy watching your team’s championship dreams be dismantled mid-season. Debate all you want about the Grizzlies’ title odds as previously constructed, but minus leading scorer Rudy Gay and key reserves Wayne Ellington and Marresse Speights, those odds have plummeted while frustration within the locker room is on the rise.
With Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis and others now in the fold, the remaining Grizzlies are begrudgingly hitting the reset button on their season. That much showed in Tuesday’s 96-90 home loss to Hunter’s Suns, Memphis’ second loss in three games since the Gay trade. It’s a small sample size and there’s plenty of games to get it right, but there has to be concern.
“It’s a real frustrating loss,” Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said. “I feel like we should have won the game. We had the chance to win and we didn’t get the win. It takes time to get acclimated and get all of the plays. It’s a variety of things. It’s a tough loss, a disappointing loss.”
Memphis wasn’t an offensive juggernaut before the trade, but in the three games after it, scoring has dropped by nearly six points to 88.0 ppg (the first of the three games was played without Prince). They’ve also committed 36 turnovers in the last two games and were fortunate to get a home win against Washington a couple nights earlier. Four turnovers in the final three minutes Tuesday doomed them against the lottery-bound Suns, who entered the game with a West-worst four road wins.
“We had every chance to win the game, but we had too many turnovers in the fourth and didn’t get any opportunities,” guard Mike Conley said. “It’s a work in progress. We have to find plays everyone is familiar and comfortable with. We just have some times where we have miscommunication with new guys and older guys who have been here. We just have to do a better job finding plays that work for everyone.”
Defense has also taken hit with Memphis allowing 92.7 ppg after the trade, up more than three points a game. The Grizz (30-17) are hanging onto the No. 4 seed by their fingernails.
And so we get back to Hollins, the franchise’s most successful coach, who has lobbed some subtle firebombs — depending on your interpretation — at the front office since it started shaking up the roster for financial reasons.
With Marc Gasol in foul trouble Tuesday and the 6-foot-10 Speights now a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Hollins lamented his inability to match up when the Suns went big.
“We didn’t have any big guys to put in the game,” said Hollins, 170-146 in now his fifth season in Memphis. “That was a big thing down the stretch. They went at Jermaine O’Neal and we didn’t have a big guy to play him because we didn’t have a big guy to put in the game.”
Hollins never wanted to break up the team — and neither did a team that wanted one more postseason shot together. A few weeks ago, Tony Allen said about this season: “This is the year.”
He didn’t mean it would be the year of cost-cutting trades and Hollins ultimately leaving Memphis.