Cellar-dwelling Grizz cannot stop revolving-door ways with coaches
The Grizzlies fired coach Marc Iavaroni after the team's 11-30 start
Avery Johnson reported turned down a multiyear deal to take over the Grizzlies
Lionel Hollins is the frontrunner to be the team's next permnanent hire
NEW YORK -- It seems like another lifetime now, but it was only two years ago when Marc Iavaroni was the NBA's most coveted assistant coach.
Today, he joins a growing list of fired head coaches.
The Memphis Grizzlies fired Iavaroni on Thursday, just 1 ˝ seasons into his first head coaching job. General manager Chris Wallace told reporters on Friday the team was in negotiations with former Grizzlies coach and current Milwaukee Bucks assistant Lionel Hollins to take over the head coaching position. According to league sources, Hollins will assume coaching duties on Sunday and coach his first game on Tuesday against Denver.
Sources also say that former Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks will be named as Hollins' lead assistant. Cheeks, who was fired by Philadelphia in December, will join Johnny Davis (who was named as interim head coach on Thursday) as the top assistants on the Grizzlies bench. Assistant coach Kevin O'Neill, according to sources, will not be retained.
The decision to fire Iavaroni was not surprising. Sources say Iavaroni had lost the team, and in recent days, players had begun to publicly criticize the team's direction. Among the complaints, according to sources, were Memphis's short practices (which routinely ran a little over an hour) and Iavaroni's inability to demonstrate strong leadership.
"The energy and spark hasn't been there in recent weeks," said Wallace. "Coach Iavaroni gave his all to the organization. But looking at how the season was unfolding, we got off to a good start, got some momentum that dissipated, got it back in the middle of December and have been struggling ever since. We felt we needed to take a drastic step to pull this team out of the ditch that it has been in and make some positive strides before the end of the season."
But while the decision to fire Iavaroni was not surprising, the Grizzlies' choice as a replacement was. A league source confirmed a report that Memphis offered the job to former Mavericks head coach Avery Johnson. Johnson, a stern disciplinarian who has a Coach of the Year award on his resume, would have been a natural fit for a Grizzlies team that badly needs proven leadership at the top. That may not be Hollins, a well-known figure in the Memphis community but a coach without a proven track record. The 55-year-old Hollins, who has been an assistant under Scott Skiles this season, posted an 18-42 record as the Grizzlies' interim coach in Vancouver during the 1999-2000 season, replacing Brian Hill following after a 4-18 start. Hollins also went 0-4 as the interim coach in Memphis between Hubie Brown and Mike Fratello during the 2004-2005 season.
Wallace pointed to Hollins' history with the franchise as a positive for Hollins but it may not be one at all. According to sources, Hollins was unpopular with players during his tenure as assistant coach. The hiring of Hollins has been met with considerable negativity since the news first broke.
"When you do a hire, you can't always play for the crowds," said Wallace. "You have to do what is best. Lionel is a terrific basketball coach. He has a great track record in this game."
Iavaroni, who has another year remaining on his contract after this season, is expected to sit out the rest of the year. Before Friday night's game, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, who worked with Iavaroni in Phoenix, told reporters he would be interested in adding Iavaroni to his staff next season.
"He's a good coach," said D'Antoni, who was quick to say that a year and a half was not long enough to evaluate a coach. "That's just the way the NBA works. I would never be against [adding him as a coach]. Something will work out for him."