Nets Find More Than Just a Coach in Lionel Hollins

By Lenn Robbins

BROOKLYN – With the abrupt departure of Jason Kidd, the Brooklyn Nets needed more than a coach.

They needed a man of integrity, a man with NBA head coaching experience, a man who knows the feeling of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.

To find such a man in July, when nearly all of the NBA coaching dominoes have fallen, isn't easy.

Nets GM Billy King found such a man and he found him quickly.

The Nets announced on Wednesday that they have reached an agreement in principle with former Memphis Grizzlies’ coach Lionel Hollins.

Hollins is a man of substance over style. Consider these words spoken before the start of the 2012-113 season by Grizzlies center Marc Gasol when he was coached by Hollins in Memphis.

"He wants us to be a better man when we walk away than when we came in," Gasol said. "He's really preaching on that.

“He has great experience on life. Some stuff some of the guys already know. But he just wants us to be better men." Hollins, 60, who will be introduced on Monday at a press conference in Barclays Center, already has a plan in place for the Nets. "My goal offensively is to get a lot more ball movement, a lot more side to side penetration,’’ Hollins told Turner’s David Aldridge.

That should be music to the ears of point guard Deron Williams. And free agent Paul Pierce, a proponent of team basketball, also should find Hollins’ philosophy to his liking.

For King, the hire is the culmination of a whirlwind week in which he oversaw the draft, attended a press conference for the franchise’s state-of-the-art Hospital for Special Surgery Training Center in Brooklyn, began working the free agent market, and handled Kidd’s abrupt departure with grace.

“One, I think we're looking for experience, someone we'll build with for a long time," King said Wednesday morning on ESPN national radio. "Someone who can develop young players, develop veterans and have a tough mindset. But someone also who has the experience, who can take us to where we want to go."

Hollins took the Memphis Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals in 2013.

He was the floor general on the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers team that won the NBA title.

He has integrity to match his intensity.

“I think people might know who he is, but what is he like in the locker room or at practice?” Memphis guard Mike Conley said in a 2013 interview with GQ magazine. “He’s intense man. He’s a guy who speaks his mind. He’s pretty straightforward.’’

That Hollins was even available is surprising. After leading the Grizzlies to 56 wins and the Western Conference Finals in 2013, Memphis opted not to renew his contract.

It was one of the more baffling moves in recent history.

The bottom line was this: Memphis’s management contracted the basketball equivalent of Moneyball.

They valued analytics and advanced scouting more than the human factor.

Hollins knows the game, knows how to manage players, and he knows how to win. He played for three Hall of Fame coaches - Lenny Wilkens, Chuck Daly, and Dr. Jack Ramsay – and coached under Cotton Fitzsimmons, Hubie Brown, Paul Westphal, and Mike Fratello.

In his last three seasons in Memphis, as he continued to developed players such as Gasol and Conley, the Grizzlies went 143-87. Hollins is old school in this sense: He hates to lose and loves to teach the game.

When asked recently if he wanted to get back into coaching, Hollins told reporters, “Of course!’’

“I miss coaching,’’ Hollins said. “What I miss is the teaching … the development of the team and the players… the players working together and watching them grasp it mentally, and then have them go out and do it physically.”