Hollins’ Ouster Puts Memphis’ Brass Squarely On The Hot Seat



Lionel Hollins, the gruff, old-school head coach who delivered the embraceable blue-collar, Grit-and-Grind identity to the once-floundering Memphis Grizzlies, is officially out. And the organization’s new ownership group, led by young tech billionaire Robert Pera and his analytics-charged management team headed by CEO Jason Levien, is officially on the hot seat to keep a good thing going.

The apparent choice to replace Hollins has been his understudy, Grizzlies assistant Dave Joerger. Joerger is credited as the architect of Memphis’ stone-cold defense and would take over a club that won a franchise-best 56 games and appeared in its first Western Conference finals.

“On behalf of the Grizzlies organization I would like to thank Lionel for his service and hard work in helping this organization throughout his years in Vancouver and Memphis,” Levien said in a statement. “We have begun to identify our next head coach, who we feel can best move us forward.”

Where will the staunch Hollins, 196-155 in four-plus seasons with Memphis, land? Perhaps with the stylistically opposite Denver Nuggets. Reports out of Los Angeles have him on the Clippers’ long interview list for this week.

Lionel Hollins, Mike Conley

Lionel Hollins was key to the development of point guard Mike Conley.

But back to the Grizzlies. Memphis is a fragile small market and Hollins, along with key player acquisitions by general manager Chris Wallace — who took a back seat to Levien and is reportedly a top candidate for the GM job with the Sacramento Kings — turned a second-class citizen to its FedExForum co-tenant, the Memphis Tigers, into the pride of the city.

That’s rare stuff. Even so, Memphis’ attendance ranked 19th out of 30 teams this season. They played to 91.8 percent capacity. Only 13 teams played to fewer home fans (in terms of arena capacity) and only three were playoff teams — Indiana, Atlanta and Milwaukee.

“One thing I think is very unique about [our] market which helps us is that we’re the only game in town,” Levien, a former agent and former assistant GM with Sacramento, said last month in an interview during the second round against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “So if you’re in L.A., you’re competing with all these pro sports teams and all this other entertainment. If you’re Memphis, the FedExForum is the spot. The Grizzlies are the team. And even though it’s a smaller market, we need to do a better job of commanding that attention consistently, but we think that’s an advantage for us.

“The great thing about Memphis also is we’re in the Southeast. This is a basketball city, this is a basketball region. Even though SEC football is big all around us, people love basketball and a lot of that is the Tigers’ tradition. So we are very cognizant of the fact that we are growing on the backs of the Tigers and what they built here in terms of the love of basketball.”

The Grizzlies’ plan is to keep growing, to widen their fan base by expanding television deals into regional markets such as the recent TV and radio deal into Little Rock, Ark. To sustain and grow attendance and increase television reach — which often creates new sponsor opportunities, ticket sales and other revenue streams — Memphis must keep a winner on the floor.

Levien has major decisions ahead and tough ones in shaping a team under the constraints of the salary cap. A coach is No. 1. Then comes whether to re-sign defensive specialist Tony Allen. The free-agent swingman is affectionately called “The Grindfather” by fans who wear T-shirts bearing that name in the style of the “The Godfather” logo from the movies.

Will Levien shop Zach Randolph, who turns 32 next month and is owed $34.3 million over the next two seasons? Randolph became a beloved figure in Memphis as well as a two-time All-Star under Hollins, who deserves credit for sticking with and developing point guard Mike Conley and 2012 All-Star and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. Does Levien prefer the Grizzlies move away from the Grit-and-Grind foundation and to a more up-tempo attack to mirror the rest of the West?

Levien said he had begun earlier in the season the process of calling every season-ticket holder to share his vision for the club.

“The thing I’ve noticed in Memphis is they were down for so long they want to know that you want to win,” Levien said. “And If they think that you are serious about it, and that you have a process, and that you have a strategy and that you really want to win, I think they’re with you and they’re excited about that.”

Dismantling the structure of an operation that reached new heights is risky business. Mark Cuban took apart a championship team (his reason being to better deal with the changes of the new CBA) and two years later the Mavericks are out of the playoffs. Memphis doesn’t possess the longstanding fan goodwill (or deep-rooted corporate sponsorships) as Dallas does to sail through a public relations storm of a precipitous fall.

And its players that are locked up don’t want to even think about that.

“I’ve seen both ends of it,” Conley, who went 22-60 as a rookie, said during the West finals. “We were terrible, the support was pretty bad and now we’ve seen it hit an all-time high and I don’t want to go back to what it was before. Trust me. It would be huge if we could just stabilize what we have and just keep moving forward.”


  1. Terry says:

    I’m a Grizzlies fan that agrees with letting hollins go

  2. Kevin Reid says:

    A great coach was lost to the Griz. Why? The arrogance of management.

  3. Djr says:

    The new owner wants to be the Jerry Jones of the NBA. He wants a yes man on the sideline so he can call the shots on the floor. You hire a coach to coach not kiss butt.

    Good luck Lionel !

  4. Get says:

    Total mistake by a bunch of ego driven managers/owners. Hollins is one of the best coaches in the NBA. Btw…. I am a season ticket holder….I dare Levien to call me!!

    • Max says:

      Marc Gasol is needed by the Lakers. I think the Grizzles need a new GM. Hollins would work for the Nuggetts. I doubt if G.Karl will move out of Denver. He just may hang it up. Grizzles if broken up will go down next year. I hate to see that, but if Marc Gasol is leaving then LAX!

  5. mgml says:

    Tech Billionaire Rober Pera, my A$$. Guy doesn;t know how to keep a winning team. Go back to ur tech stuff and leave the game of basketball in right hands…

  6. Yave says:

    2 stupid things Memphis has done: Trading Gay and letting Hollins walk, who lead them to their 1st conference final. SMH

  7. sharp x says:

    they need to run. conley is my homeboy and i work for his dad,but he is a bum. he is a good ball handler and decision maker but he cannot play that aggressive,fast paced style. hell,i am almost fifty and i still beat him one on one.

  8. Dee Jay says:

    Its obvious that Hollins and Levien never saw eye tp eye. I dont think this was a quick decision, I believe it was Levien’s plan NOT to renew Hollins contract from the start of the season. Memphis probably won’t achieve this much success again for a long time. The city of Memphis should show the Grizzlies what a mistake this was by watching games from at home which will plummet ticket sales

  9. Pop says:

    As a season ticket holder I am extremely upset with Levien. I sat through the 20+ win seasons and its not fun. Heisley brought in Wallace and Hollins and promised a playoff team in 3 years. He fulfilled his promise. Two years later we are playing for the western conference championship. What more can you ask? Whatever happens Wallace and Hollins were not treated fairly. Levien will get his just rewards one day.

  10. rslewis147 says:

    It seems to me the new owners are intentionally trying to bring hardship and losing back. Their reasoning for could be to turn them into loser and lose the fan support so they can relocate the team to a larger market.

  11. Common Sense says:

    Does anyone think this was a good idea?

  12. AG says:

    get george karl

  13. Patty says:



  14. jon says:

    It was a set up. They wanted to “X” Hollins the whole time, even before Gay, but had no reason. So they decide to trade Gay thinking the team wouldn’t be able to regroup and make it this far in the playoffs which would give them a reason to fire Hollins. Now that their plan has backfired, they just fire Hollins for no reason.

  15. randygoldman says:

    Blue collar – moderate income fan base. If current ownership thinks they will improve on 91.8% capacity in Memphis, they are ignorant. Rather than fire the most successful coach in franchise history, why not develop an aggressive, broad based program of community outreach. New slogan bould be something like – “Memphis Grizzlies…..Basketball is just the beginning.” or “Grizzlies – 365”. Go into the local community every week and be seen actively making a difference to make it better.

    Hollins deserves the lions share of the credit for Memphis getting to this level. I say, we fire the owners and keep Lionel. That would make better business sense and be better for Memphis.

  16. derel says:

    Agree with most comments. Hollins re-built this team with Chris Wallace. He has shown he is a finecoach in a league where there are really few of them. What he’s done with an ex-druggie Zach Randolph is incredible. Marc Gasol has com into his own. And Mike Conleyt certainly was not an NBA player right out of college. He’s serviceable now.

    Hope things continue well for Grizz.

  17. slikkdee says:

    champagne taste on a beer budget indeed……Hollins knew exactly what he was talkin bout.grizz is jus booking a ticket to lotteryland in anticipation of the next Tim Duncan,Lebron James or Shaq.wont mention others coz thats what they ere in the lottery so far.not as productive as you were supposed to be (kwame brown,elton brand,dwight coward,andrea bargnami).lotterypicks is what they deserve after booting HOLLINS..cheapskates on a mission for nothing at all.i say give Vancouver its team back coz all you seem to be doin is tryna milk memphis citizens of their hard earned cash with false promises of a chance at the chip but when you get close enough you slither away with a pocketful of excuses you wont even mention coz im sure they are lame.some coaches still have their job on worse perfomances.on which planet is the nba chip shared by 16 or 30 clubs?grizz management can go there coz on earth it can only be won by one ballclub each yr.no ties for the chip.teams that lose should really look deep instead of blaming coaches all the time.i say HOLLINS proved himself beyond any doubt and so did the team.they just need small additions here and there.anyhow that just means less competition in the west if that team is broken up.and you bet the next team he goes to has to be broken up so he builds it up his way.GnG STYLE fo sho….management should start takin their share of the blame and stop pointin fingers where they shudnt…Hollins for denver or clippers.move on to real champagne budgets Hollins and leave them beerguts in the sewer where they belong.

  18. The Claw says:

    Inconsistency says it all.. Roller coaster season after season.. first knocking spurs two years ago,made it to second round. then knocked off by the Clipps last year in the first round, this year made it to West finals,, next year what??? winning a championship is not about defense alone.. it should have offense too.. and hopefully the Grizz will have a Coach that will make this Team, doing pretty darn good in both ends of the court.

  19. Keith says:

    I am a season ticket holder. I have not received a call from Levien, nor do I expect to. The front office is good at double talk and this is more of it.

  20. NYCBBallFan says:

    Wow…. So, Levien thinks releasing the WINNIINGEST coach they’ve ever had, who led them to their first WCF, gave them a league best defense and kept them a contending team even after the Rudy Gay trade,is the smart thing to do. If the Grizz, Clipps, Nuggets, Nets, and other teams who dumped their coaches for no other reason than “We aren’t in the Finals.” tank next yr, this is why. Don’t hate the player(s). Hate the front office.

  21. Maat says:

    Another example of how most owners/managers have absolutely no loyalty to players, nor to coaches. That’s why I didn’t have a problem with Labron leaving Cleveland.

  22. Tnplumber says:

    What a joke. They had a fantastic coach and just threw him away. So much for hard work paying off!

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  24. Tom says:

    Dumb move. Franchise best season, competitive in the West finals and you ditch the coach that led you there from nothing? Their only issue is scoring and that’s on management to find personnel who can score. Hollins did amazingly well to cover for the loss of Gay’s scoring and still beat the Clips and OKC.

  25. mee(a)t says:

    so many face palms with these organizations..

  26. joma eusebio says:

    Lionel Hollins do not deserve the boot……

  27. Grizzlies Fan says:

    New ownership is all about cost-cutting, and the bottom line of the financial reports. They could have extended Hollins before this season even began for fairly cheap, but they waited, which ended up coming back to bite them. Long story short, they do not want to pay Hollins the salary he now deserves.

  28. Momowonthis says:

    Grizzlies took on the identity of Coach Hollins… Tough, gritty, smart and composed. It’s easy to put the blame on the coach when they mixed the roster up right before the trade deadline offset their offense. This was Memphis best chance to win the west with Rudy Gay. All we was missing was a swingman scorer with length. Memphis will regret this for a long time…

  29. ninggay says:

    WTF 1st rudy gay & now hollins!? talking about stupid organization!

  30. realist2013 says:

    I’m no memphis fan but their front office must take a ahort bus to work. Hollins did a damn good job. I think what they really were missing is perimeter scoring to accent thier low post game. Tashaun Prince has to go to. Totally ineffective jacking up 3’s and no defensive prescence. Pretty sure tgey will slide a bit without Hollins.

  31. the mandalorian says:

    phil Jackson to memhpis, yeah

  32. Michaelp says:

    Memphis should state the reasons why coach hollins’ contract was not extended. Otherwise, the decision does not make sense. It’s bad for the budding franchise which tasted success in the post season. Clearly, Levien is in the hot seat. Hope he redeems himself. Otherwise, he’s getting the boot.

  33. J says:

    wtf hollins was a great coach>:(

  34. Ace83 says:

    So leading your team to their first ever conference finals appearance and getting knocked out by the team with the second best regular season record in the west isn’t considered a good enough effort to keep your job? Strange move. Ok, so they got swept by the Spurs, fair enough. But the 4-0 series makes it look they were smashed when in fact they had a good chance to win three of those games and barely came up short. Unless they’re hunting Karl for his greater experience, then I don’t get it. Regardless, seems like a knee-jerk reaction against a coach who has delivered improvement from his team for a number of seasons.

  35. daddykong says:

    y are there so many coaches getting fired, its not the coaches fault, its the system

  36. edwin says:

    I think Hollins did a great job of beating the clippers and thunders with less talents

  37. NBA Fan 1 says:

    Young Owners..all they do is fire people. Firing this man was a big mistake
    oak trees dont grow over-night. things take time.

  38. Game Time says:

    Man NBA owners and managers are idiots. You have coach that has had the team improving each year. I guarantee you this team will be broken up next year and won’t become the contenders everyone was expecting.

  39. hollins is overrated…the grizz should get brian shaw…or george karl

    • Kei says:

      Overrated? I say he’s underrated. He’s the second best coach they ever had behind Brown. Do you even know the meaning of overrated? Let me explain: Lakers are overrated! There you go.

    • Pop says:

      As a season ticket holder I am extremely upset with Levien. I sat through the 20+ win seasons and its not fun. Heisley brought in Wallace and Hollins and promised a playoff team in 3 years. He fulfilled his promise. Two years later we are playing for the western conference championship. What more can you ask? Whatever happens Wallace and Hollins were not treated fairly. Levien will get his just rewards one day.