1. Does Monta Make Sense?reportedly opting out of the final year of his current contract, at $11 million, turning down a reported extension offer of two years and $24 million in the process and becoming a free agent this summer. Soon after that report, Bucks beat writer Gery Woelfel suggested on Twitter than Ellis has told friends he would be interested in playing for the Grizzlies.
What to make of this? On the first item, the odds of Ellis matching the three years and $35 million he allegedly left on the table in Milwaukee seem slim, but maybe he just wants to be out of Milwaukee that badly. The odds of Ellis getting a similar contract from the Grizzlies is close to zero, but the idea that he would target the Grizzlies is not surprising. Ellis is a Mississippi native who makes his off-season home in Memphis. Coming to Memphis would also likely land him in a winning situation with a team that needs more scoring and shot creation.
Still, there are plenty of hurdles and questions standing in the way of this theoretical partnership.
Is it financially feasible?:
I'll break down the Grizzlies' cap situation in more detail in a couple of weeks, but based on published salaries, the Grizzlies projected roster payroll for next season is currently at $57,567,539 for eight players (Conley, Gasol, Randolph, Prince, Pondexter, Davis, Arthur, Wroten). Add cap holds and draft picks and the Grizzlies will enter the free agency period above the projected salary cap line of $58.5 million but below the projected luxury tax line of $71.5 million. This will give the team access to the full mid-level exception, which starts at $5.15 million, which would be the most the Grizzlies could offer any outside free agent this summer in terms of starting salary.
However, that's not the only method via which the Grizzlies could acquire Ellis or a player of similar stature. The team also has a trade exception of nearly $7.5 million from the Rudy Gay deal. But the financial issues at play here go beyond merely the rules that govern player acquisition.
We're two weeks away from the first draft for the Grizzlies' new regime, even if they only have a trio of second-round picks with which to work. And while Hollinger's “draft rater” process certainly won't be the sole determinant of what the team does, it will have a big role in the team's draft-night decisions.
Unique among NBA decision-makers, Hollinger's past pre-draft thoughts are public record. Here are the links for Hollinger's year-by-year draft rater findings, though you might need an ESPN Insider account to read them in full:
Perhaps Hollinger's past assessments can provide a clue to what kind of picks the team will make going forward. And I might attempt to play that game in another draft preview post over the next couple of weeks.
But first, I thought it would be interesting to retroactively apply Hollinger's published draft rater pieces to past Grizzlies drafts. How might these drafts have been different if Hollinger had been making the picks?
First, a few caveats:
*Hollinger's draft rater only runs projections for players with college experience and thus doesn't factor in players making the jump straight from high school (relevant to the earlier drafts) or international players.
*Hollinger only published a full, subjective draft board — adding international players and accounting for factors the draft rater can't measure — for 2011 and 2012. In prior years, only raw draft rater rankings were presented. So it's more of a stretch to say “this is who Hollinger would have picked” in those years, but going strictly by draft-rater rankings still gives a pretty good indication. And better that than trying to predict subjective adjustments. (With one exception.)
*The first draft rater was published in 2007, though Hollinger did a retroactive look at the system's projections for the years 2002-2006 focusing only on lottery-level picks, updating 2007 and 2008 projections with new system tweaks in the process. So there generally isn't enough information to assign second-round picks for earlier years.
All that said, here is how the draft rater suggests Hollinger would have picked for each Grizzlies' draft since 2002, with explanatory notes:
Levien first spoke with team play-by-play man Eric Hasseltine on 92.9/730 ESPN Radio. He followed with team sideline reporter Rob Fischer and Fischer's co-host Brett Norsworthy on Sports 56 WHBQ. You can listen to the interviews yourself, but if you don't want to wade through the boilerplate, here's the money quote, taken from the Hasseltine interview but repeated in close to the same language on Sports 56:
“We want to have the kind of organization where we get people in a room who are prepared, who have opinions, who are going to disagree about what we should do and what the personnel moves should be. I want that disagreement. We want to really dig in and get messy when we're in that room talking about what the decision and direction should be. And then once we come to a decision, whatever that personnel decision is, we want to walk out of the room arm-in-arm, locked together in how we're going to proceed. And we're going to face the public that way together. And we're going to go out and face our adversaries that way together. We believe that getting the right head coach in here, working with our personnel folks. Working with our organization, we're going to have great success.”
Additionally, on Hasseltine, Levien shot down the notion that the coaching decision was driven by financial considerations and said a final decision on a new coach would come “sooner rather than later.”
On “Fish & Stats,” Levien said he had not made a decision on Hollins at the time the season ended and that it was possible for events in the interim to change his decision. Levien said that he did not underestimate the amount of criticism the decision would bring and referred to “the public record” of critical comments from Hollins as a factor in the decision.
This shouldn't be that surprising: Lionel Hollins' fate as Grizzlies coach was always dependent on the resolution of conflicting normalcies: “Don't mess with success” vs. “New owners hire new people.” When Hollins bristled publicly about the Grizzlies' new front office on multiple occasions mid-season, the odds tipped in the favor of change but that didn't seal his fate. Instead, closing interviews — not just with Hollins but with others around the organization — seemed to convince team CEO Jason Levien to make the change he probably always desired.
There are many factors at play in this unpopular decision, but it's ultimately about an apparently unbridgeable cultural divide: Hollins is of the “you provide the players, I'll coach them” mold. Levien and controlling owner Robert Pera want to forge a more collaborative organizational culture, one where everyone is working on the same track and the coaching staff doesn't just receive players from the team's front office, but also actionable information. Even as Hollins publicly dismissed talk about “philosophical differences,” those very differences were on display.
Film references are instructive (at least for me): Via Japanese master Akira Kurosawa there's the Rashomon effect, in which truth is difficult to uncover because people tend to give contradictory interpretations of the same event. Hollins, by his account, thought his exit meeting with Levien and Pera went really well. Levien and Pera apparently thought otherwise. Via French titan Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game is the wisdom of “The awful thing about life is this: Everybody has their reasons.” It's equally easy to see — at least to me — why Hollins would assume he'd earned a new deal and also why Levien would be reluctant to commit a long-term contract to a coach with whom he didn't think he could have a productive working relationship. Blame feels irrelevant.
“Risk” and “mistake” are different things: “Don't mess with success” is pretty persuasive if you ask me, but to call this a mistake is to assume a future, and I don't put that much stock in the importance of Hollins or any individual coach. But it's certainly a risk. There are obviously coaches out there who can work better with his bosses. There are also a smaller number who can be as or more successful on the floor. There's a smaller group still who can do both. And there's no guarantee this or any front office can successfully choose that person no matter how good a hire seems at the time. Past Grizzlies history is instructive here.
But, to his credit, Levien showed a confidence and willingness to make unpopular decisions with the Rudy Gay trade, though the team was on firmer ground there, even if a lot of traditionalists didn't know it (and still don't). The risk is greater this time.
A few quick observations as we continue to fly through the turbulence:
*As of yesterday, Lionel Hollins was waiting to be contacted by Jason Levien for a renewal of talks between the two about Hollins' future with the Grizzlies and, from Hollins' perspective, some clarity about the “philosophical differences” that reportedly separate the two. My feeling only, but if the Grizzlies are already reaching out to Karl while Hollins awaits a follow-up discussion, then I can't imagine Hollins is back at this point.
*I'm not sure where the idea of the Grizzlies and Hollins agreeing on a two-year deal now is coming from, but it's been communicated to me, on more than one occasion now, that Hollins would not be interested in that.
*Karl is a major coaching figure who has had made the playoffs with five different franchises and has made the conference finals or better with the last three teams he's lead (Sonics, Bucks, Nuggets). On the other hand, Karl has gotten out of the first round only once in his past 11 seasons as a head coach.
*Stylistically, is Karl a good fit in Memphis? His tendency is toward deep rotations and an uptempo pace and, as presently constituted, the Grizzlies' roster is not well-equipped for that.
*Check out the Twitter feed for NBA writer Chris Tomasson, who was once based in Denver. He outlines some of the complaints about Karl in Denver, which sound very similar to some of the complaints about Hollins here.
*It was suggested to me a while back that if Hollins were to take a job with another team and the Grizzlies did not hire current lead assistant Dave Joerger, that Joerger would likely follow Hollins to his new job. Does the messiness of the past few days change that?
*The Commercial Appeal this morning adds a new name to the mix for the Grizzlies, in addition to Hollins, Joerger, and Karl: Recently let go Suns coach Alvin Gentry. Hiring Gentry would make him the second “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns assistant to helm the Grizzlies (after Marc Iavaroni).
*Is this good or bad for Hollins? If you assume, as I now do, that Hollins was unlikely to return to Memphis regardless, this works two ways: Karl is now considered a candidate for the Clippers job, giving Hollins more competition there. On the other hand, it opens up another job, and a good one. And it's already being reported that the Nuggets will reach out to Hollins. ESPN's Marc Stein has suggested that a coach swap between the Nuggets and Grizzlies is now possible.
More as it comes.
A few hours after I posted my initial reaction to the Grizzlies' granting Lionel Hollins permission to negotiate with other teams, Hollins himself took to local airwaves for a dramatic interview that bordered on public plea. In the two days since, I've been busy working on non-Griz writing and editing but have been keeping up with the reaction — on Twitter, on comment threads, on local sports-talk radio. A few freewheeling thoughts on Hollins' public statement and the talk it's generated over the past couple of days:
The Pain of Making it Personal and the Difficulty of Blame: I have no personal investment in whether Lionel Hollins returns as Memphis Grizzlies' head coach. There are certainly those in the local media much closer to him than I am, but I think I get along with him fine. I've never cared much about his media-relations skills or perceived lack thereof. I think Hollins has strengths and weaknesses, like all coaches, but also think the scale tips more toward “strengths” for Hollins than for most. I've been pretty consistent in saying that I think the potential pitfalls of bringing Hollins back are less profound than the risks of letting him go. But a coaching change is unlikely to alter my projection for next season — at the moment, a slight step back from this past year's regular and post-season achievements — and I do think this decision is about the future, not about the past; about what's best for the Grizzlies not only next season but over the next several seasons. And, as I've written at length, I think that's a more complicated situation than simply “Lionel Hollins has done a great job; he deserves to be back.”
But, listening to Hollins' raw, candid interview with Peter Edmiston on Sports 56 Monday morning, I was most struck not by his blown-out-of-proportion comments about assistant Dave Joerger or even his passing mention of me, but by the personal aspect of it. When Hollins talks about his personal commitment to Memphis and about his now-deep family connections to the city, that's real. And on those grounds in particular it would be painful — for Hollins most of all, but for the city and its fans too — for his tenure here to end, a tenure, by the way, that is more profound over multiple assignments than perhaps any figure in franchise history. But it will be similarly bitter in the very possible event that Zach Randolph — who has said Memphis is now his home, regardless — wears a different uniform before he retires. Change happens.
Most stories cite sources as saying “major philosophical differences” were the reason talks stalled even before the sides could negotiate potential contract terms. It's hard to be too surprised by this. In citing a series of questions and concerns that might prevent Hollins from returning to the Grizzlies' sideline next season, I led with “implementing organizational philosophy” when working through The Coaching Question back in April. Revisiting the issue in May, I wrote this:
Given the on-going success of this postseason and the team's player-contract situation, bringing the current core back next season now looks likely, and bringing Hollins back to coach it preferable. But this core has a two-year expiration date. So, is Hollins the right coach to preside over the transition to a new roster and potentially new style, the territory a new contract would take him into?
When that becomes part of the question, then issues about Hollins' commitment to and ability to implement a new organizational philosophy, as well as his development of young assets begin to loom larger.
A second issue with a new long-term contract for Hollins — and one I'd prefer not to get too far into right now because if feels unnecessarily trouble-making, but here we are — is the opportunity cost in likely losing lead assistant Dave Joerger to a head-coaching opportunity elsewhere. Joerger has been, in large part — let's not deny Hollins his due credit here as well — the architect of what may be the league's best defense and has a compelling head-coaching pedigree at the minor-league level. There are many who believe he could be the next Tom Thibodeau or Erik Spoelstra. While Hollins may be the best coach for the present, does a long-term deal close off the possibility of Joerger in the future?
Though sources close to the talks have apparently stressed that a deal could still be reached, those two issues — Hollins' potential incompatibility with the organizational philosophy and the long-term considerations that have to come into play when considering a likely four-year commitment — are the ones that now seem to be driving Hollins and the team apart. In both of those earlier posts, I concluded that losing Hollins would be very risky and that I felt the team was likely to try to bring him back. My opinion hasn't changed on the former, but on the latter the tea leaves were pointing in the other direction last week, which Chris Vernon and I talked about on his show on Thursday.
A few thoughts on where we are now:
It was a typically rambling, entertaining gabfest, and with Rose and Simmons having just spent a few days in Memphis where they were part of the broadcast crew for Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals, their take on the city was a big topic.
Simmons and Rose seemed to have a terrific time in Memphis. They raved about Gus' Fried Chicken and Central Barbecue. About the scene on Beale Street. About the rickety downtown trolley. About the friendliness and spirit of the people. About the colorfulness of the Grizzlies' players. And about the authenticity of the relationship between the team and city. In a burst of irrational exuberance, Rose even suggested Memphis would top his impromptu “Black Guy City Power Rankings.”
It was great.
But they also paid respects to what they both called the “Lorraine Hotel” (it's “motel”) and what Rose referred to as “the MLK museum” (it's the National Civil Rights Museum). And that's where it got dicey for a few seconds, with Simmons straining for a linkage between the history and the sporting event he'd witnessed:
“I didn’t realize the effect [the MLK assassination] had on that city…I think from people we talk to and stuff we’ve read, the shooting kind of sets the tone with how the city thinks about stuff. We were at Game 3. Great crowd, they fall behind and the whole crowd got tense. They were like, ‘Oh no, something bad is going to happen.’ And it starts from that shooting.”
A player-by-player snapshot of the Grizzlies' roster entering the summer, in rough order of probable return:
A couple of hours before tipoff at FedExForum Monday night, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich held his usually curt pre-game press conference in the arena's media room. It was longer than Game 3's two-plus minutes, but not by much. He had somewhere to be. A few minutes later, Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins held court in the hallway outside the Grizzlies' locker room, talking for what felt like 20 minutes or more in front of a gradually shrinking gathering of reporters, veering — on request — from questions about this series to back history on his Grizzlies' tenure and his general leadership philosophy, a not-unusual dissertation that, given the circumstances, bordered on the valedictory. Nowhere to go.
Happenstance proved prophetic by the end of the night, as Popovich's Spurs move on to their fifth NBA Finals and the Grizzlies stay home to contemplate an uncertain off-season that only begins with questions about Hollins' future.
If this Grizzlies' postseason was a revenge tour, then perhaps it came to a fitting end. In the opening round, the Grizzlies beat the Los Angeles Clippers, avenging a bitter first-round loss from the previous spring. The next round, the Grizzlies overcame the Oklahoma City Thunder, avenging a second-round loss from two springs prior. And it ended where this team iteration's three-year playoff run began, this time with the Spurs avenging their own 2011 upset first-round loss to the Grizzlies.
Losing to the Spurs in four games after having won eight of their previous nine playoff games was a shock to the team and a bitter reminder for longtime fans of the Grizzlies' playoff past: Before Lionel Hollins was the head coach. Before Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol patrolled the paint. Before Tony Allen transformed NBA culture in Memphis. When sweeps were the norm and they didn't come in the conference finals.
But this was no collapse. The Spurs earned this.
2. Conflicting Trajectories: The Grizzlies' pattern this postseason has been, by and large, to improve as each series has progressed. Even down 0-3, that's been the case in the conference finals as well. Game 1 was a debacle. Game 2 was a potential debacle that got turned around in the second half. Game 3 was a hot start that dissipated, but the Spurs didn't acquire their ultimate double-digit victory until the wheels came off in overtime. Follow that trajectory and tonight, at home, should be a tipping point for the Grizzlies. The problem, of course, is that this potentially too-little-too-late upward trajectory is fighting against the crosscurrents of 0-3 malaise, the tendency for both players and fans to sense ultimate hopelessness and pack it in.
For two nights in San Antonio, the Grizzlies' starting lineup, which had been brilliant defensively in the regular season and again in the first two rounds of the playoffs, suddenly couldn't get a stop. But at the outset of Game 3, that unit's defensive impact returned, more ferocious than ever. The Grizzlies scored their first two baskets off of steals, building an 18-point first quarter lead off seven steals (five from Mike Conley alone) that fed into eight Spurs turnovers and defense that hounded the Spurs into 4-19 shooting when they were able to control the ball.
But it couldn't last.
“We came out with great energy. We got steals, we were running. We just couldn't sustain,” Lionel Hollins said after the game. “We subbed and tried to get some rest and we didn't get production out of some of the people on the bench and then we couldn't rev it back up when we got back to our starters.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich pulled all five of his starters in disgust seven minutes into the quarter.
“Those guys looked like they'd been asleep since Tuesday,” Popovich said.
I expended most of my time and energy over the past day or so on The Griz Glossary, so this preview is going to be shorter than normal despite the momentous nature of the games in question. Oddly, that feels okay in a series where so much for the Grizzlies right now boils down simply to “play better” and where at least half of their problems come down to “defend the pick and roll better.”
Fave takes ahead of a big game Saturday night:
1. Promise or Mirage?: Here’s how the series has gone so far for the Grizzlies, quarter by quarter:
-17, +3, -2, -6, -2, -13, +3, +12, -4 (OT)
Was that 21-9 fourth quarter the Grizzlies played to force overtime in Game 2 a product of legitimate adjustments or an outlier, fool’s gold that masked ongoing problems?
There’s evidence for either argument but after re-watching it I feel a little bit less encouraged than I did watching it live.
The Grizzlies did plenty of good things.They put more effective lineups on the floor (Quincy Pondexter played the full quarter, Jerryd Bayless all but a couple of minutes), creating the space for Zach Randolph to get into a rhythm (3-5 with four rebounds in the quarter). The energy and, for lack of a better word, spirit was much stronger than it had been for most of the series at that point, with success allowing the team to play with rare confidence.
But even with a more conducive lineup on the floor, it’s easier to get your offense going when the other team’s best defender is on the bench, with Tim Duncan playing only 4.5 minutes of the quarter due to foul problems. On the other end, the Grizzlies' defense played hard, but that out-of-character nine-point quarter for the Spurs was partly the product of a lot of out-of-character missed shots. Matt Bonner missed a three with no-one within seven feet of him. Parker missed open threes. Duncan missed a tip-in. They were tired. Both teams were tired. The Grizzlies missed lots of open shots too, but that’s less unusual.
2. The Comforts of Home: If the fourth quarter of Game 2 presents false hope barring further improvements, so does a return home.
The Grizzlies are undefeated on the Grindhouse floor so far these playoffs and have run their home record up to 19-1 since Lionel Hollins’ post-trade/pre-game address back on February 8th. Hosting a West Finals game for the first time on a Saturday night, the arena will likely be bonkers. All of this should give the team a boost, but that alone isn’t enough. And Hollins knows this.
"We went on the road in every series and lost and have had to come back. We’re at home and we want to come out and play much more aggressive and confident, which teams normally do at home," Hollins said after practice on Thursday. “[But] as I’ve told our team, being at home isn’t going to win anything for us. We have to play much better.”
So far these playoffs, the Grizzlies have notched a -1 point differential on the road and a +9 at home. That 10-point swing is pretty strong, but in San Antonio the Grizzlies lost by 13 a game, so it won't be enough with some significant improvements.
On Saturday night, the Memphis Grizzlies will not only host a conference finals game for the first time in franchise history but will also host, arguably, the biggest sporting event in the city's history. At 5-0 on their home floor so far this post-season and after recovering from a rough first seven quarters to force overtime in a Game 2 loss in San Antonio, the Grizzlies and their fans have plenty of hope for extending the series. But, down 0-2, the prospect of the team's season ending in Memphis on Memorial Day is a real one. And with culture-changing folk hero Tony Allen entering free-agency this summer, there's at least a small chance that we could be witnessing more than just the waning days of a playoff run.
Under Allen's manic influence, the Grizzlies and their fans have developed one of the league's more colorful cultures. For the benefit of those around the broader NBA community turning their full attention to Memphis for perhaps the first time, here's one reporter's alphabetical guide to Griz Land:
"All heart. Grit. Grind." — The origin of contemporary Griz culture, from February 8, 2011, in Oklahoma City:
This now-legendary interview came after a 105-101 overtime road win in which the Grizzlies were playing without ostensible stars O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay. Tony Allen, new to the team and barely in the rotation for most of the first two months of the season, scored 27 points, had 5 steals, and sent the game to overtime with a three-point play in the final minute of regulation.
At the time, it was as much about performance as phraseology, and the best, if largely forgotten, moment — Marc Gasol interrupting Allen's courtside soliloquy for a little head tap of deep gratitude — is unspoken. But this is what launched Allen into the cherished Memphis continuum of subcultural characters and rough-edged raconteurs, with the likes of Sputnik Monroe, Dewey Phillips, and Rufus Thomas.
This was a man who emerged as a transformative on-court force, beloved teammate, and fan fetish object after beating up a teammate in a minor gambling dispute; who turns playing basketball — and, more so, cheering from the bench — into a form of expressive, lunatic performance art; who, obviously, delivers ridiculous, inspirational post-game interviews that evolve into citywide rallying cries; and who generally approaches everything in life with a loopy joie de vivre that reminds us why we enjoy this stuff so much.
Maybe a few dozen fans exulted in the moment on Twitter as it happened, with local radio's Chris Vernon Show turning the audio into a recurring soundbite the next day. But this cult classic didn't become best-seller until later in the season. (See: "Tony Allen T-Shirt") These days, "grit, grind" always seems on the verge of ossifying into a used-up cliché, but the man they now call the Grindfather won’t let it.
Allen Iverson — The only player in franchise history — league history? — to never play a home game and still have his jersey pop up in the playoff crowd.
"Ante Up" — Tony Allen’s self-selected theme song is Future’s “Go Harder,” which now emerges from FedExForum speakers at appropriate moments. But this 2000 ode to desperation and thievery from Brooklyn rap duo M.O.P. is the people’s anthem. On the court, Allen is known to kidnap fools.
The Grizzlies saved Saturday.
Wait, I’ve used that lead before? Through two games, this series feels an awful lot like the first-round series against the Clippers: A discouraging 20-plus-point loss in Game 1 followed by a disappointing but ultimately encouraging close loss in Game 2. In that series, the Grizzlies then won four straight. That’s very unlikely here, but the Grizzlies seem to have regained some confidence and made some adjustments and certainly can return home with more hope than seemed possible at halftime of this one.
The Grizzlies were down three with 5:18 to play in the first half when Mike Conley was called for a phantom third foul and went to the bench. A combination of Conley’s absence, growing frustration, and some searching lineups — abetted by the Spurs’ continuing fine play — sent the Grizzlies into a 15-3 tailspin to finish the half, including one scrum-as-metaphor in which the Grizzlies’ missed six layups in nine seconds.