An Adult is Now in Charge

This time around, the red carpet wasn’t rolled out. The press conference didn’t need to take place on the main stage within the Barclays Center. The press room would suffice. After all, this event was about substance, not style.

In hiring Lionel Hollins, the Brooklyn Nets went in a different direction from where they were a year ago. The organization took a risk with Jason Kidd and was ultimately burned by the player the fan base had grown to love. It appears now we have someone who wants to be here and this isn’t just a stepping stone for the next quick promotion.

In listening to Hollins speak during his introductory press conference as well as the sports-talk radio circuit, one thing is certain – he exudes professionalism. He showed his appreciation to front office and clearly respects the roles of his bosses. He admitted to being humbled by being out of the NBA last year and you can tell that he is genuinely grateful for the opportunity to coach this Nets team.

It took a few years, but the Nets finally appear to have their leader.

It took a few years, but the Nets finally appear to have their leader.

You get the impression that the Nets won’t have worry about being embarrassed by the actions of their new leader. I am not referring to the misdemeanor charges unrelated to basketball, but the shenanigans Kidd displayed last year – the abrupt reassignment of Lawrence Frank, “Soda-Gate”, and then the attempted power play against Billy King which ultimately cost him his job.

With Hollins the Nets now have a coach who has paid his dues throughout his coaching career including: assistant roles, interim tags, and brief stints with the USBL and IBL. He admitted to being low maintenance and was embarrassed by the billboards and attention drawn to his hiring. He is a man who knows who he is and declared that it isn’t about him, but the players.

I believe I’m a leader.”

A year ago, the Nets saw the need for a heart transplant when the Chicago Bulls eliminated them in a decisive Game 7 on their own home court. The trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce was in theory supposed to fill this void and make the Nets a tougher team. It helped to some degree, but there is definitely room for more growth.

With any organization, sports or not, the tone is always set from the top. Your identity comes from your leader. It’s no wonder why the Bulls or Spurs seem to play the same no matter who’s on the roster. In Hollins, the Nets have a coach whose goal is cultivate a tough mentality and develop leadership qualities within the players. After all, his Memphis team’s mantra was “Grit and Grind”. Should Pierce and Garnett return to Brooklyn, Hollins would have two representatives on the court and in the locker room who will help him carry out his mission.

Throughout the last few weeks, Hollins has been unfairly labeled as someone who’s unable to adjust his style of coaching and that his system is antiquated by today’s standards. Since his hiring, he has made it clear that it was the Grizzlies personnel which dictated that slower pace of play. It was what made them successful, and I am sure very few people in Memphis were unsatisfied with the results. He also cited that in Vancouver they played more up-tempo with Mike Bibby and Shareef Abdur-Rahim on a roster which also included Bryant Reeves.

Hollins admitted that having a year off allowed him to view the game differently and in assessing the team, he wants to play at a quicker pace in comparison to how the Nets played last season. He even referenced that his former mentor, Cotton Fitzsimmons, always said that “you can never have too many shooters”.

For Nets fans fearful that his hiring means the end of Mirza Teletovic, think again. This roster has the ability to stretch the floor with their outside shooting and if Hollins is true to his word, it’s unlikely that he will try to shove a square peg into a round hole.

Nets fans can only hope Hollins can elevate Brook Lopez's game as he did with Marc Gasol's.

Nets fans can only hope Hollins can elevate Brook Lopez’s game much like what he did with Marc Gasol’s.

An old-school coach doesn’t necessarily mean to a return to the Avery Johnson era. Johnson’s micromanaging ways earned him the nickname “The Little General” or “The Little Dictator” to the players who weren’t as fond. It didn’t bode well that the “dictatorship” comment came from the likes of Dirk Nowitzki.

Hollins may be tough and demanding but there seems to be a difference between him and Johnson. Where Johnson was a type-A personality, Hollins doesn’t seem rigid to that extent. His former players admitted the difficulty of his training camps, but they understood the purpose and saw the benefit. To me, Hollins is that tough teacher you had who expected a lot and held you to a high standard, but you respected him for it. For some players on the Nets roster, that type of leader can hopefully bring out their best and further develop their talents.

Lionel Hollins may lack the pizzazz of Jason Kidd, but it appears the Nets are in a better place today than they were yesterday. Their new head coach wants to do just that – coach. He doesn’t appear to be the type that will let jealously control his actions, something we saw in Kidd when first-time head coaches (Steve Kerr, Derek Fisher) received more lucrative contracts and Stan Van Gundy was fully empowered in Detroit.

The Nets are now led by someone who had to take the long road to accomplish what he has. He has earned the opportunities presented to him rather than simply getting what he wanted on demand.

The Nets may have lost Kidd, but they’ve replaced him with an adult in Hollins.

Experience Should Count

The professional sports world is a unique industry. In any other profession, a resume featuring a track record of success is usually what gives you an advantage over a neophyte vying for the same job. Apparently that’s no longer the case in the NBA, as it’s become a place where experience is something that can be used against you.

Fans better get used to seeing not only ties but pocket squares.

Fans better get used to seeing not only ties but pocket squares.

Once the messy divorce was finalized with Jason Kidd, the Brooklyn Nets’ fan base seemed torn as to who would be the best man for the job- Lionel Hollins, Mark Jackson, and George Karl to name a few. All three are veterans who have achieved success over the years; however, each of them seems to have a blemish or two that discredits their coaching abilities.

As it appears that Billy King has found Kidd’s successor in Hollins, many Nets’ fans fear that this has disaster written all over it. Here are some of the things that I’ve read on the Twittersphere:

  • “This will be the second coming of Avery Johnson.”
  • “His style won’t work. He focuses too much on defense.”
  • “He is too old-school.”
  • “It won’t sit well with Deron and others.”
  • “There goes any chance of landing Durant in 2016.”

What’s ironic is that the same people who are trashing Hollins for being a tough, defensive-minded coach are probably the same people who put Tom Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy on pedestals. The last time I checked, those two weren’t exactly the types that place emphasis on offense and behave like Rex Ryan with their players. There’s no denying that Hollins is accomplished leader who experienced tremendous success with the Memphis Grizzlies, but for some fans out there it seems as if the Nets would’ve been better off by bringing Kiki Vandeweighe back.

Consider his last three regular seasons in Memphis:

Season

Winning Percentage

2010-11

0.561

2011-12

0.621

2012-13

0.683

There was steady improvement from one year to the next, and the Grizzlies’ success carried into the playoffs. In those three postseasons, Hollins led his teams to an 18-17 record, not bad against the “Group of Death” also known as the Western Conference. As the eighth seed in 2011, the Grizzlies stunned the top seeded Spurs in six games only to take the Thunder to seven games in the conference semi-finals. In 2013, Hollins guided Memphis to the Western Conference Finals where they were swept away by a superior San Antonio team.

Is Hollins the perfect coach? Of course he isn’t, but who is? There is only one Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. Hollins is a very good coach and is most likely an upgrade over our previous leader. It’s not a sexy hire but the Nets are better off with substance over style.

As Colin Cowherd recently alluded to following the NBA Draft, we tend to be critical of things we are familiar with. Perhaps that’s why teams shun four-year American college players and opt for the unknown foreigners. We obsess over their flaws and what they can’t do rather than focus on what they can do.

As for Hollins, we do know that he has had success in player development, especially with centers and power forwards. This would bode well for Brook Lopez, whose game still has room for growth, as well as Mason Plumlee.

As Tom Lorenzo mentioned in this article: http://www.netsdaily.com/2013/5/14/4329634/lionel-hollins-grizzlies-nets-head-coach-contract, Hollins is not exactly a players’ coach but his guys would “go to bat for him”. You would have to assume that savvy veterans like Joe Johnson, Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce would respect his approach and support his vision.

I don’t get the impression that Hollins is another Avery Johnson. If you recall, Johnson was labeled a micro-manager and would often clash with his point guards. This dated back to his days in Dallas with Devin Harris and continued in Brooklyn with Deron Williams. Hollins may be old-school in his approach but to me he resembles that tough teacher you had who demanded a lot but you respected him for it. Watch this video and you will see his sideline demeanor, how he communicates, and how his players admire him as a person and coach.

I’ve heard the concerns that he won’t be able to coexist with Williams. Well, the Nets tried pairing their franchise point guard with his golf buddy as coach and that didn’t work out the way we all envisioned it, did it? This dismisses the notion that Deron needs a players’ coach to be effective. His best years were under the direction of Jerry Sloan, who was not exactly the “warm and fuzzy” type. The key for Deron is to be healthy and hopefully the surgeries he had this offseason will finally allow him to be just that.

For those out there that feel this ends any chance of Kevin Durant or other players signing with Brooklyn in the future, might I remind you of the summer of 2010 when we all had front row seats to both the Knicks and Nets striking out in their quest to win the free-agency sweepstakes. You can plan for the future but at the end of the day, you cannot predict what’s exactly going to transpire. There is just too much uncertainty and to bank on someone like Durant coming here two years from now is foolish. How did that go with LeBron and Dwight Howard? Build a winner and let the rest take care of itself. A successful ball club in the biggest market with the best arena will be enticing to free agents.

The Nets may have jumped into the swimming pool this time around without making a splash, but for a franchise that just got burned you can understand why. Assuming Pierce resigns and both Williams and Lopez return healthy, there’s no reason why the Nets cannot pick up where they left off last year and compete in the East.

Maybe the sky isn’t falling after all and the Nets got the guy they should have hired twelve months ago.