On Sunday, we learned from Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski that contract negotiations between Lionel Hollins and the Memphis Grizzlies have broken down, and the coach has been given the freedom to speak with other teams. He very well may land a job quickly; the Brooklyn Nets and L.A. Clippers have openings and are said to be interested. (The Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers also have openings, but Hollins probably wouldn't join the former and is a worse fit with the latter's management than he is with that of Memphis.)
Memphis has a good coach in the wings in Dave Joerger, the purported architect of the Grizzlies' No. 2-ranked defense and someone amenable to the analytic-heavy philosophy of the new front office. As far as the immediate options go, if Hollins quickly lands on his feet and the Grizzlies go internal to replace him, it doesn't look so bad.
What looks bad is when the Grizzlies likely fail to reach the Western Conference Finals in 2014, or when the team can't hit 56 wins again. By letting Hollins go now, like this, the Memphis regime is opening itself up to heaps of second-guessing at precisely the franchise's modern peak.
Zach Randolph is getting older, Tony Allen is a free agent, and given the Grizzlies' salary cap sheet, there isn't likely to be much help in free agency or the draft. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley have been, knock on wood, injury-free. You're counting on the 11th-oldest team in the league to get better without an infusion of talent.
Of course, perhaps the Grizzlies can mix it up and find some outside help. Or Joerger, if he gets the job, can leverage Ed Davis and Austin Daye into meaningful roles, something Hollins failed to do this spring. But the odds of getting back to the Western Conference Finals, when you consider the competition, are relatively small in my mind. The Thunder with a healthy Russell Westbrook, the never-gonna-die Spurs, the Lakers or Rockets or Mavericks with Dwight Howard, the Clippers with a coach not named Vinny Del Negro (and possibly with one named Lionel Hollins), the Warriors, the Nuggets with a healthy Danilo Gallinari ... there's a lot of stiff competition out West.
And if Memphis fails to win 56 or fails to get back to the West Finals, the new management will hear it loud and clear from every fan and every writer who rode for Hollins.
The anecdote that Woj included in his report absolutely does not help the cause.
During the Grizzlies' playoff run, tensions turned to a confrontation when Hollins exploded during a practice session upon finding [analytic-minded exec John] Hollinger had walked onto the practice court and engaged forward Austin Daye during a shooting drill, multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports.
With the team watching - and with a motive to show his players that he was completely in charge on the floor, sources said - Hollins loudly questioned Hollinger about what he was doing, and why he believed it was appropriate for a management official to intrude on what's considered sacred territory for a coach and team, sources said.
This is Hollins acting insecure and Hollinger neglecting to realize Hollins was put in a position this season to be very insecure. Hollinger's presence was almost assuredly harmless -- and sacred territory? Front office folks are out there all the time in most NBA cities. But Hollinger had to know he'd be unwelcome in Hollins' space given the circumstances, and Hollins apparently got the desired effect: the story getting published shows a front office intruding in the lame-duck coach's work. Feh. Where was Hollins' reverence to staying in one's lane when he poked the front office's Rudy Gay trade back in February?
Really, Memphis couldn't keep Hollins after he needled the front office much of the season and then had the blow-up in front of the team with a guy who is more or less one of his bosses. But the circumstances are such that the Grizzlies have opened themselves up to incredible doubt at a time when reasonable people would agree that fewer wins and a shorter playoff run are expected heading forward.
Fixing the coach-front office relationship in the long run by replacing Hollins is probably a good thing for the health of the franchise. But it's going to be a rocky road in the interim.