By Steve Lichtenstein
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“I’m not here to do Billy’s job — I just want to coach.”
Hollins later downplayed the subtext in his quip above from his introductory press conference on Monday, but the change in the aura surrounding the Barclays Center was still refreshing.
Kidd’s jersey may still hang in the rafters (as it should, since there’s no denying his impact when he starred on the court for the Nets from 2001-2007), but Nets fans no longer have to worry about all the drama that resulted from the growing pains of King’s failed experiment with a rookie coach.
That’s because Hollins has what King should have been looking for last summer when then-interim coach P.J. Carlesimo wasn’t reenlisted — a winning resume.
The Memphis Grizzlies steadily improved every year during Hollins’ five-year tenure, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2012-13, before he was forced out in a different sort of management squabble.
“I liked his leadership ability,” said King of his decision to give Hollins the opportunity in Brooklyn. “In Memphis, it didn’t matter if he had players in or out, they just played consistently and I think that’s a testament to his system and how he coaches.”
Hollins and his staff were responsible for the development of numerous players — Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley being the most advanced — into solid NBA contributors.
With the Nets and their ever-changing roster, Hollins was wise to steer clear of making any promises as to what he envisions for the 2014-15 season.
“When I look at this team,” Hollins said, “I look at some veteran players that can score and some young guys that are coming up and need to be developed.
“I know that I want to play at a little quicker pace than they even played it (and that) we played at Memphis. But I don’t want to run up and down the court and jack up shots. I want us to be aggressive, I want to be tough defensively–I want to be tough mentally.
“In trying to win and to win it all, it’s about how mentally tough you are. Because there’s so much adversity in an 82-game season and then the playoffs are such a marathon, that it takes mental toughness–it takes cohesiveness. And that’s more what I’m putting my sights on versus the style.”
To that end, Hollins certainly wouldn’t mind if the Nets were able to retain the services of Paul Pierce, who is still in limbo as a free agent, and Kevin Garnett, whose decision whether or not to return for a 20th season might be influenced by what Pierce does.
“If you have them (Pierce and Garnett),” said Hollins, “you have people who have done it and understand where you’re coming from. On the flip side, if you don’t have them, you have a bunch of young guys that it’s like molding clay. And that’s also positive.”
Hollins said he hasn’t talked to the future Hall of Famers, nor has he had much contact with his returning core.
“I did speak to Deron Williams and we’re going to get together when he gets back to New York,” said Hollins.
Hollins’ relationship with Williams is expected to come under the most scrutiny. Hollins was known to be a combative point guard during his playing days in Portland and Philadelphia and he has extended that persona to the sidelines.
Williams, who has previously chafed in public under both Jerry Sloan in Utah and Avery Johnson in Brooklyn for perceived grievances, won’t have vacation buddy Kidd watching his back any more.
Already Vegas has set the over/under on D-Will’s first back-handed swipe at Hollins at December 15.
The so-called franchise point guard is in Dallas rehabbing from surgery on the ankles that have hindered his performance in both of his seasons in Brooklyn. Hollins believes that a return to health will help Williams regain the confidence that once earned him elite status.
“You’ve got to be healthy and you’ve got to be in good condition to do what you want to do as a player on the court,” said Hollins.
Williams isn’t the only damaged good Hollins will be counting on to take the Nets to the next level. 2013 All Star center Brook Lopez is also on the mend from multiple foot surgeries after a December injury prematurely ended his season.
While Hollins doesn’t see another Gasol when looking at the defensively-deficient Lopez on tape, he will find the way to get the most out of him.
“It’s about finding the strengths of your team, finding the weaknesses of your team and trying to put them in the environment where they’re always playing to their strengths,” said Hollins. “That’s all that happened in Memphis. I didn’t go into Memphis trying to play the way we played. That became the team’s identity because that was the talent that was on the team. I like winning more than I like losing so I said I’m going to play your way so we can win.
“I will do the same thing here. When we find out what works best, that’s what we’re going to establish as our identity.”
I doubt it will take Hollins more than a third of the season to figure it out the way it did Kidd, who opened a season of high expectations by going 10-21.
That’s because — contrary to what King declared a year ago — experience matters.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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