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Nets’ Hollins has something to prove

Veteran Coach Arrives in Brooklyn After Rude Memphis Sendoff

July 3, 2014 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Lionel Hollins is eager to get back in the game following his surprising exit from Memphis last summer.
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What do you give a coach who helped develop your young players into budding stars and took your franchise to the precipice of the NBA Finals while improving his winning percentage for four consecutive years?

All it got Lionel Hollins in Memphis was a kick in the pants on his way out the door.

The Brooklyn Nets’ new coach, who will be officially introduced Monday morning at the Barclays Center, is doubtlessly eager to get back to work this summer after the Grizzlies opted not to renew his contract following the 2012-13 season.

Hollins guided Memphis to records of 40-42, 46-36, 41-25 and a franchise-best 56-25 during his final four seasons at the helm – he had also briefly coached the Grizzlies twice previously, once in 1999-2000 and again in 2004.

His tenure culminated with a four-game sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, marking the first time the Grizzlies had ever come so close to reaching the NBA’s championship round.

When it came time to re-up and do a new deal with the most successful coach in franchise history, the Grizzlies decided to go in another direction, hiring Hollins’ assistant Dave Joerger, who guided Memphis to 50 wins and a first-round playoff exit this past season.

Hollins, who was a candidate for the Nets’ job last summer before general manager Billy King hired the since-departed Jason Kidd, was shocked that the time he had put in with the Grizzlies was not rewarded with a new contract.

“I want to coach the Memphis Grizzlies, the team that the city has embraced and that has the potential to go further with a few tweaks and adjustments,” Hollins said in a radio interview soon after it was evident he would not return to Memphis. “[I’m] very comfortable with being here and working with management.”

Apparently, management wasn’t equally comfortable.

“I thought everything was good. I was excited when I left [last week]. … The next thing I know, I’ve been given permission to talk to other teams,” Hollins revealed. “People need to know from my perspective that I don’t want to talk to any other teams. I want to be here. I told the media after our exit interviews that if the team offered me a contract that I felt was fair, I’d sign it the next day.”

The offer was never made, the contract was never signed and Hollins didn’t get another job offer, spending the past season wondering if he’d ever get the chance to once again coach an NBA franchise.

And then this week happened.

As soon as Kidd’s well-chronicled power play with ownership failed, and the future Hall of Famer was on his way to Milwaukee, King quickly turned to Hollins, who was only too glad to get back in the game, Brooklyn-style.

Though terms of Hollins’ contract were not revealed, as per team policy, numerous reports have indicated that it is a four-year pact worth anywhere between $16 and $20 million.

That’s at least $1.5 million per year more than Kidd would have received over the final three seasons left on his original deal.

“I want to thank the Nets ownership and Billy for this opportunity,” said Hollins in a team-issued statement. “It has been a long process to get back into the league, and I believe that Billy and I will have a very successful working relationship.

“Brooklyn has firmly established itself as a franchise that is committed to winning,” he added. “And I eagerly look forward to becoming part of that culture and building on the success of the past two playoff appearances.”

King, who took the high road this week when asked about Kidd’s move to usurp his power, believes Hollins will fit right in with Brooklyn’s win-now mentality as he continues to work the free-agent market entering the holiday weekend.

“We are very excited to welcome Lionel as the new head coach of the Brooklyn Nets,” said King of the 19th coach in Nets history and fourth since the franchise relocated to our fair borough.

“He is a proven winner who will provide the franchise with stability and leadership going forward,” King added.

With two decades of coaching experience under his belt as an assistant and head coach at the pro and collegiate level, many may have forgotten that Hollins was a key member of Portland’s NBA championship team in 1977, playing alongside Bill Walton.

He also ran with Julius Erving and the 76ers during his 10 years in the league, helping Philadelphia reach the Finals in 1980 and 82.

Now, he’ll have to find a way to get the Nets to improve on their recent second-round playoff exit at the hands of four-time defending Eastern Conference champion Miami, and figure out how Brooklyn can raise its first championship trophy since the Dodgers did it in 1955.

King will play a key role in that dream coming to fruition as he is currently working to keep Paul Pierce with the Nets via free agency while filling out the rest of the roster around key returnees Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett.

At least King knows now that he has someone in charge that doesn’t want his job title or another more lucrative opportunity.

All Lionel Hollins wants is a chance to prove – to the Grizzlies and all the other teams who passed on hiring him last summer – that he can win it all, right here in Downtown Brooklyn.

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