As sabbaticals go, the one Lionel Hollins has been on the last few months has been pretty nice, but the former Memphis Grizzlies coach said in an extended interview with ESPN.com that he is ready to get back to work.
Since not being retained by the Grizzlies' new ownership group, Hollins has been playing golf, attending charity events, doing a little broadcasting for NBA TV and watching his son Austin Hollins a senior guard for Minnesota, play college basketball. This week, he was in Hawaii to watch the Gophers in the Maui Invitational.
Nice as the time off has been, however, Hollins is ready to return to the NBA.
"I believe I've established myself as a head coach and I'd like another opportunity to show that [my success] wasn't a fluke," Hollins said. "I feel like I've proven I can take a young team and develop it, then sustain what I've done by what I did in the last five years in Memphis."
Hollins was let go by the Grizzlies despite winning a franchise-record 56 games and leading Memphis to its first Western Conference Finals appearance last season. The reasons were philosophical in nature, after a season in which Hollins didn't always publicly embrace the moves or direction set by the Grizzlies' new ownership and front office.
"We want to have the kind of organization where we get people in a room ... who are going to disagree about what we should do and what the personnel moves should be," Grizzlies president Jason Levien said in a radio interview with WHBQ after Hollins was let go. "We want to really dig in and get messy when we're in that room talking about what the decision and direction should be. And then once we come to a decision, whatever that personnel decision is, we want to walk out of the room arm-in-arm, locked together in how we're going to proceed."
Hollins, who still makes his home in Memphis, declined to comment about his exit from the Grizzlies. He said that he has tried to keep a distance from his former players as well, out of respect for new coach Dave Joerger, who was an assistant for him last season. He occasionally runs into Tony Allen, whose wife is close with Hollins' wife. He also sent a text message to center Marc Gasol recently, after he suffered a knee injury.
But mostly, he said he's tried to move on with his life and career.
"I think Marc [Gasol] said it best, 'It was odd knowing -- from his perspective -- that I wasn't going to be there,' " Hollins said. "And from my perspective, it was odd knowing that we weren't going to add a few pieces and build on what we'd already established. We were at a level where we needed to add the right pieces in order for us to take another leap. So it was just odd not being there and planning and going through the whole process that we normally do every summer with our young players, starting with the draft and then summer league and then the workouts that we have all summer, with players coming in and out. You get away from that routine. ...
"I was antsy when training camp started. But once they started playing, I was comfortable not being there. I get to watch a lot of basketball on TV. And now I've gotten to re-evaluate what I like to do and what I want to do."
Hollins said watching other teams play different styles has re-invigorated him.
"My identity was tied to the team's identity," Hollins said of his defensive-minded, slow-paced, "grit-grind" teams in Memphis. "But the only things I'd like to be tied to were that they were tough, they were aggressive, and they never quit. The rest of it was because of who they [the Grizzlies roster] were. They were a very physical, inside dominant team. That's why we played that way. We weren't a great team in terms of taking care of the ball when we played fast, so we slowed it down.
"When I first came to Memphis I wanted to run, and we tried to run, but it just wasn't the makeup of the team. Being out allows me to go and look at the up-tempo teams and different styles of ball movement and playing side to side that we kind of got away from because we had a dominant set of big people inside and we took advantage of it. The next team I get may not be that way. So I want to make sure I'm prepared to play whatever style is necessary for us to play."
Over the summer, Hollins said he had an opportunity to join Maurice Cheeks' staff with the Detroit Pistons as an assistant coach but declined.
"I had done it [serve as an assistant coach] for a long time before I was given the opportunity to be a head coach," Hollins said. "But my thought process was, 'I've established myself as a head coach. I'd like to stay in that state at the moment.' But if it didn't work out, yeah, I'd go back and be an assistant coach. I'd go to college and be a head coach there, if I had the opportunity. But my thought process is to be a professional head coach."