The Memphis Grizzlies have decided to part with the winningest coach in the franchise’s history, telling Lionel Hollins they will not be renewing his contract as head coach coming off their first trip to the Western Conference finals.
Hollins confirmed Monday night to The Associated Press that he had been told his contract would not be renewed. He had no further comment.
The Commercial Appeal first cited anonymous sources who said Hollins had been told he would not be back as the Grizzlies’ head coach. WMC-TV in Memphis first reported that Hollins said his contract would not be renewed before thanking former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley for giving him the opportunity to be head coach and Memphis fans for their support.
The move finally came after Hollins attended each of the Grizzlies’ first three pre-draft workouts, including the third session Monday.
Hollins’ contract had been set to expire June 30, but the Grizzlies issued a statement Monday night saying that Hollins is no longer with the organization. Jason Levien, chief executive officer and managing partner of the Grizzlies, said they decided after talks with Hollins and his agent to go in a different direction and thanked the veteran coach for his work with the franchise since its start in Vancouver.
“Lionel, the coaching staff, the players and the organization achieved new heights this season with our run to the Western Conference finals, and for that, we are grateful,” Levien said in his statement. “The entire Grizzlies family wishes Lionel all the best and great success as he moves forward in his career.”
Hollins, who won an NBA title as a player with Portland in 1977, had been with the franchise for 10 of its first 12 seasons and was the interim head coach first in 1999-00, when he replaced Brian Hill after a 4-18 start in Vancouver and again for four games in 2004-05 after Hubie Brown resigned. Heisley hired Hollins after firing Marc Iavaroni in January 2009, and he is 214-201 overall and 18-17 in the playoffs.
His future with the team has been unsettled since the Spurs swept the Grizzlies in Western Conference finals. He led Memphis to a better record each season, including a franchise-best 56-26 record this season. The Grizzlies beat the Clippers, then top-seeded Oklahoma City in the playoffs.
Hollins said a day after the Grizzlies were swept that he wanted to stay in Memphis, but he is now expected to interview with the Clippers and the Denver Nuggets later this week.
New ownership led by Robert Pera, a California tech billionaire, took over the Grizzlies in November, and Pera put Levien in charge. Levien made some changes in the front office, bringing in former ESPN.com writer John Hollinger as vice president of basketball operations and Stu Lash as director of player personnel and basketball development in December.
But Hollins had lobbied against trading leading scorer Rudy Gay away, wanting to keep together the core of starters that turned in the NBA’s best start this season. Memphis traded Gay to Toronto on Jan. 30 as part of a three-team trade, and Hollins talked of not being able to have “champagne taste” on a beer budget before refocusing the Grizzlies on a stretch run that was the league’s best after the All-Star break at 23-8.
Under Hollins, the Grizzlies also featured one of the NBA’s best defenses. Memphis allowed the fewest points per game this season, with the 89.3 points the first time since 2005-06 that a team had held opponents below 90 points for an entire season. The Grizzlies also ranked third, holding opponents to 43.5 percent shooting and a league-best 33.5 percent made field goals a game.
The candidates to replace Hollins include Grizzlies assistant Dave Joerger and George Karl, fired last week by the Nuggets. Lash was hired away from Denver, where he had spent five seasons working on draft analysis and scouting.
“We have begun to identify our next head coach, who we feel can best move us forward,” Levien said.