Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley pledged support for his head coach Lionel Hollins, today, in a dispute with superstar veteran Allen Iverson over whether Iverson should start. From the Memphis Commercial Appeal:
“Lionel will handle it,” Heisley said via telephone. “This is a situation that’ll be handled between Lionel and Allen. What Allen said was inappropriate, but I’m not going to make a big deal out of it. Allen expressed his frustration about not playing and I understand that.”
It’s no secret that Heisley made the Iverson acquisition happen. But Heisley reiterated Wednesday that he won’t tell Hollins how to coach.
“It’s up to the coach to handle these issues,” Heisley said.
And Hollins, for his part, echoed his earlier statements as far as Iverson’s concerned, saying "There’s no way we’re making a change right now,” but leaving open the possibility that Iverson could start in the future. It’s a significant statement from Heisley, only insofar as it affects the public perception of the situation—from the outside looking in, it may have looked as though Allen’s public comments had a chance to usurp the authority of his head coach, specifically since Iverson was directly acquired by Heisley, the owner and superior to Hollins.
Instead, though, Heisley called Iverson’s comments inappropriate, and sided with Hollins—a minor decision in the shorterm, but one that could have a significant bearing on diffusing this situation. Iverson needs to understand that he’s got minimal authority, here, regardless of how he was acquired, and if nothing else, starting Iverson in the wake of his public complaints would send a horrible message to the younger players in Memphis.
For now, at least, Hollins seems to be making the right call. But with sizable egos involved on all sides, to say nothing of the impressionable young players in Memphis, this will be a tricky situation for Hollins and the Grizzlies to navigate. And with the entire basketball world watching Memphis closer than they have in years, having Heisley’s support certainly helps.