The scene on the jumbotron looked oddly familiar, but little else did.
It was much more a press conference than it was a celebration. The remnants of the past season were still there: "HELLO COACH!" stuck around as the mantra, and Barclays Center's oculus sported an enormous picture of Lionel Hollins, the new Brooklyn Nets head coach. But the welcoming was media-only and occurred in the interview room down in Barclays Center's basement, not in the atrium entrance with fans and streamers. There was no applause when he walked out. This wasn't a welcome "home" like last season, this was purely an introduction.
Some at the press conference in the organization privately joked that the Nets coach introduction was becoming an annual event. But they did their best to fix the little things, in the hopes that they wouldn't do this again next year. First-time coach? Nope. History with the franchise? None. Power-hungry point guard? Pass (figuratively speaking). Instead, they went back to the guy with a track record for motivating players.
"When I look at this team, I look at some veteran players that can score and some young guys that are coming up that need to be developed," Hollins said. "When we start talking about style, I need to sit down and see from watching tape, just exactly what we're going to do."
Hollins brings a 214-201 lifetime record after three separate stints coaching the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies. He's an old-school coach, who talks more about Cotton Fitzsimmons and being an empty nester than analytics or new trends. He says he received over 150 text messages on the day the hiring was announced. "I don't know how many of you have my cell number, but best bet it will be changed," he joked.
The process went rapidly. Hollins met with general manager Billy King and assistant GM's Bobby Marks and Frank Zanin twice, for dinner on June 30th and lunch the next day. The first meeting was more about "getting to know each other," and Tuesday they got into the brass tacks: X's and O's and strategies for how Hollins would best implement a system with this roster. By the end of the day Wednesday, the two sides had a multi-year agreement in principle to make Hollins the new coach.
"Just watching him on the board -- you can run this for Brook Lopez, or you could do this with Deron. Or how would you play pick-and-roll on this?" King said. "When you threw questions at him, he had answers."
"I'm here to try to develop a consistent championship contender," Hollins added.
Consistency and stability are desperately needed in the Nets coaching ranks: they've had three coaches in the last two seasons, including interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo.
Hollins replaces Jason Kidd, who coached the Nets to a 44-38 record and a second-round exit before leaving to coach the Milwaukee Bucks. Kidd, whose jersey hangs in the rafters after his exploits as a player helped the Nets reach back-to-back NBA Finals, reportedly sought more power in the Nets organization, usurping Billy King's role overseeing basketball operations, and was denied by the front office.
Hollins, perhaps unintentionally, threw one subtle jab in Kidd's direction. "I'm a basketball coach. I don't want to to Billy's job," Hollins said. "I don't want to do anyone else's job in the organization but the one that I'm hired to do. And that's important to me. I'm very low maintenance."
"I'm actually embarrassed. I drove up and saw the big billboard with my picture on it, I'm like, come on. I just want to coach."
King had put Hollins high on his list already after interviewing him last season. He spoke with Memphis Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, as well as owner Jerry West, who both gave him high recommendations. After speaking with Hollins, it didn't take long before he was convinced.
"The one thing that always stood out about Lionel is his teams, they win," King said. "When Rudy Gay got hurt, they won. When Zach got hurt, they won. It reminds me a bit of (Chicago Bulls coach Tom) Thibodeau, that no matter who's playing, they played a certain way. When we played Memphis, we knew it was going to be a dogfight."
Hollins didn't start off as a winner. He was fired multiple times in Memphis, and didn't record a winning record in his first three seasons coaching the team. But his teams in Memphis had a better winning percentage in every season Hollins coached, including the two best winning percentages in Grizzlies franchise history, before Hollins was let go following a 56-26 season.
So gone were the pomp and circumstance of a year prior, but the message was the same: they're looking to build a championship contender from day one, under a coach they trust to get the job done.
- No update on the status of Bojan Bogdanovic or Paul Pierce. The Nets acquired Bogdanovic during the 2011 NBA Draft and can offer him the taxpayer mid-level exception, which they reportedly did last season before getting Andrei Kirilenko on board. Bogdanovic is a free agent and would not need to opt out of an overseas contract. King & Hollins also watched film of Bogdanovic during their meeting last week. The Nets have a financial advantage with re-signing Pierce, but it's not clear if they're willing to pay the excess tax.
- Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, who both recently had surgery, are progressing as usual. Lopez is doing non-contact workouts.
- There is no timetable for figuring out Hollins's staff. He has already gotten a few no's.