BC-BKN—Spurs-Grizzlies, 1st Ld-Writethru,993
Grizzlies coach focused on Spurs, not his contract
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Eds: Updates with quotes, details. With AP Photos.
By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Lionel Hollins has been more successful than any Grizzlies coach and will be a free agent after June 30.
He has the Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals for the first time and has won more games with this team than any other coach.
He probably wouldn’t have a problem getting another job, but is very happy with the one he has. And he’s not worrying about what the future holds.
“I have a job,” Hollins said. “I’m happy with where we are and excited about what we’re doing. That’s my only concern. Everything else is irrelevant.”
New owners took over in November and decided to wait until after the season to see what they had before extending contracts. That has made Hollins a popular potential candidate for other openings.
Memphis needs Hollins’ full postseason attention right now with the Grizzlies down 0-2 heading into Saturday’s Game 3 against San Antonio. They rallied from an 0-2 deficit against the Clippers in the first round, becoming only the 10th team to win four straight and the first to win all four by double digits.
The challenge now is tougher because no NBA team has won two series in the same postseason after trailing 0-2.
Center Marc Gasol said Thursday that Hollins’ focus on the task at hand definitely helps the Grizzlies concentrate only on the Spurs right now.
“We know that there’s nothing we can do about it right now,” Gasol said of Hollins’ future in Memphis. “Eventually, that’s going to come, and hopefully, it’s going to be solved quickly after we do what we’re supposed to do.”
Dealing with adversity is nothing new for Hollins. The sixth selection overall in 1975 by Portland remembers having to wait to make sure his check had cleared in a career that included 673 games five teams. He also has a championship starting for the Trail Blazers in 1977 when they won the NBA title despite starting the finals with an 0-2 deficit themselves.
Hollins started coaching at his alma mater Arizona State before returning to the NBA where he worked at Phoenix. He was an assistant on the original Grizzlies’ coaching staff as an expansion franchise in Vancouver in 1995 and even served as interim head coach twice before Memphis hired him the last time in January 2009 as the team’s 11th head coach.
“As an assistant coach, I was on a one-year contract that ran out every summer,” Hollins said. “People that have jobs, their contract runs out. You still just have to do what you do while they’re there and while you’re under contract.”
Since being brought back in January 2009, all Hollins has done is help the Grizzlies win a little bit more than they did the season before. He’s turned in his best season yet with a franchise-record 56-26 that includes the most wins at home and on the road.
Hollins starts with defense. As a player, Hollins was on the NBA’s All-Defensive team, and he uses that same defense-first mentality as a coach. Memphis had the league’s best this season holding opponents to 89.3 points a game and 33.5 field goal percentage.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Hollins put in a consistent system that has been taught well with the Grizzlies buying into the schemes.
“I thought he did one of the best coaching jobs of the season,” Popovich said of Hollins. “He’s been steady, he’s been classy. That’s why they’re in the conference finals. They’ve come together really well. That’s a tribute to him, his staff and the hard work of the players. They come every night with that consistent physical effort, and that’s not easy to do.”
Spurs forward Boris Diaw said they had seen the Grizzlies building to this success the past few years under Hollins.
“They’ve been playing great together from the beginning of the season,” Diaw said. “They have a great team defensively. They really play as a team. There is really no one guy dominating, it’s everybody playing together.”
Hollins faced some challenges this season that made it seem easier for the new owners to move on without him.
The new owners, who took over in November, finally ended weeks of uncertainty Jan. 30 trading away leading scorer Rudy Gay to Toronto. Hollins wasn’t happy, having lobbied publicly to keep his starters together for another playoff run.
“When you have champagne taste, you can’t be on a beer budget,” Hollins said a day after the trade.
But Hollins also told his players they had no excuses and to get back to work. He mixed in new players like Tayshaun Prince and Ed Davis, and the Grizzlies went 23-8 after the All-Star break for the third-best record in the NBA.
“We got a good team don’t forget that, but he did a great job with the trade and putting us in position the way we play having confidence,” Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said.
To point guard Mike Conley, Hollins is a mentor and father figure on the court who fought for him to play at a time when team officials considered trading the point guard away back in 2009.
“He’s always been on me about every single little thing I can improve on, and I think that’s just made me better each day knowing that he’s going to point out everything I need to improve on and not sugar coat anything and be honest with me,” Conley said. “And obviously, he gave me the opportunity I have today so I just try to take advantage of it.”
Some of Hollins’ best lessons have been off the court for the Grizzlies.
“That’s what he taught us that basketball is just an aspect of your life,” Gasol said. “It’s real important, but you have to do it the best you can. But you’re working for something bigger.”
AP freelance writer Raul Dominguez in San Antonio contributed to this report.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker