Late last week, the Grizzlies made headlines when they hired ESPN's John Hollinger as their new Vice President of Basketball Operations. The move was significant for a couple of reasons. Hollinger is making the rare leap from journalist to front office executive and is doing it thanks to his analytics background. The world of baseball has been aware of the power of analytics for quite a while, but it wasn't until recent years that the NBA caught up. Hollinger spoke with 92.9 ESPN in Memphis to talk about the transition and Eric Schmoldt of Sports Radio Interviews has the goods..
On the reaction from old-school basketball people and players:
"So far, so good. I haven’t had a chance to spend much time with the players yet because the first day of work, you spend a lot of time just filling out forms, random stuff like that, and just meeting lots of people. … So, I’m hoping in the next couple of days, to really do that. I met some of the coaches today at practice, and that was great. … It’s something I’m looking forward to over the next couple of days, but as far as how I’ve been received, so far everything’s been really great. If anyone has any grievances about it, they’ve kept it well-hidden.”
On how he'll have to adjust his commentary on basketball:
“That’s going to be really interesting. I really want to keep up some kind of dialogue with people and use [my Twitter] account to do that, but I can’t do it in the same way that I did. The biggest thing is I just can’t really talk about players on other teams. That’s the biggest limitation. It kind of changes things, somewhat, and I’m still learning, I guess. … I’m still figuring out how that voice is going to work, but I’m still going to be out there on Twitter somehow and having that dialogue with people.”
On his notoriety in basketball:
“I would say it’s mostly coaches and executives. There are some players who do know me, and I know because they tell me. … But, I think a lot of them, you’re right, just haven’t been following me, and that’s fine. It’s not their job to follow what I’m saying. It’ll be interesting as we get into it, but I don’t know that it’s really going to affect anything. Even players that are aware of you and might be following you, their day-to-day interaction isn’t really with me, it’s with the coaching staff.”
On being a new-school guy working with a coach in Lionel Hollins that appears to be really old-school:
“I think the biggest thing to look at is that people will always want to make the strong-man argument, that you’re trying to replace the previous knowledge. That’s not the case; you’re trying to add to it. If I can add things to what they already know, then that becomes really helpful. I think the biggest thing is, you have to kind of build the relationship and build the trust and kind of start with things that are more easily grasped and then try to move on from there. I’m definitely going to be available to help them as much as I can, and we’ll just see how it goes from there. He’s had plenty of success without me, but at the same time, I think there are probably ways that I could potentially help him, and once we start really working with each other, we can figure out where that balance is.”
While previous reports have indicated that GM Chris Wallace's role with the Grizzlies wouldn't change after the hiring of John Hollinger and Stu Lash, Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports that Wallace, Hollinger and Lash are expected to have equal input with CEO Jason Levien, who'll have final say on basketball matters. While Wallace expressed a willingness to work in the new environment, Tillery wonders if this might signal the end of Wallace's tenure in Memphis, writing that "only time will tell" how long he stays on board. Here's more on the Grizzlies front office and other news from the Southwest Division.
After the 76ers parted ways with Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, and Louis Williams and others last season, they were in need of a veteran leader. The Sixers found their man in veteran point guard Royal Ivey, who was an excellent locker room presence for the Thunder last season, writes Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld. Royal Ivey and the Andrew Bynum-less Sixers are taking on the Pacers in Indiana tomorrow night. Here's more from around the Association..
6:10pm: Hollinger will serve as the Vice President of Basketball Operations, according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe (via Twitter). The Grizzlies also hired former Nuggets employee Stu Lash as Director of Player Personnel, according to Chris Herrington of The Memphis Flyer (via Twitter).
5:20pm: The Grizzlies have hired ESPN's John Hollinger to a front office position, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal (via Twitter). Hollinger is best known for his statistics-heavy analysis and Player Efficiency Rating (PER) metric, which crunches numbers from every portion of the box score to quantify a player's performance.
"It's incredibly difficult to leave ESPN, but the chance to work for an NBA team and the Grizzlies' new ownership was an irresistible opportunity," Hollinger told ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
The Grizzlies, under new owner Michael Pera and CEO Jason Levien have made a concerted effort to focus in on basketball analytics. The Rockets made a similar leap in 2007 when they tabbed MIT graduate Daryl Morey as their General Manager.
Ironically, Hollinger's resume and career path have a great deal in common with Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations David Kahn. Kahn worked as a full-time sportswriter for six years and both were previously employed by The Oregonian. Hollinger has been critical of Kahn's decision making during his tenure in Minnesota.
In addition to ESPN.com and The Oregonian, Hollinger also wrote for the New York Sun and Sports Illustrated.