NEW YORK –- Lionel Hollins arrived in Brooklyn, where he was greeted by a large digital billboard bearing his likeness at the front of Barclays Center.
“I’m actually embarrassed,” Hollins said. “I’m like, ‘Come on.’ I just want to coach.”
Over a year ago, Jason Kidd’s hiring as Nets head coach was treated as if a hero had returned. The news conference was held in the atrium in Barclays and all that seemed to be missing was a parade running down Atlantic Avenue in Kidd’s honor.
On Monday, Hollins was introduced as Brooklyn’s newest head coach in the building's interview room with much less pomp and circumstance after Kidd bolted on a fast break to Milwaukee.
And just like the two news conferences, the Nets’ latest hire is different from the last. Unlike Kidd, Hollins brings a wealth of experience. And he made it clear he doesn’t want to do anything other than coach -- alluding to his predecessor's request for a say over basketball decisions above GM Billy King.
The Nets and Hollins did their best to distance themselves from the messy Kidd divorce.
“It’s just nice to be able to do your job,” Hollins said. “That’s all I want to do. I’m a basketball coach. I don’t want to do Billy’s job. I don’t want to do anybody else’s job in the organization but the one I’m hired to do.”
“That’s important to me,” he added. “I’m very low maintenance.”
However, there is one area in which Hollins would do well to be Kidd-like. He needs to develop a rapport with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Kidd had the respect of the two former Celtics from his playing days, and that relationship and mutual admiration helped persuade the two to accept a trade to Brooklyn last summer.
Now it is Hollins’ turn to convince Pierce and Garnett again why they can win in Brooklyn. Pierce is an unrestricted free agent and most expect his decision to come down to the Nets and Clippers; his good friend and old coach Doc Rivers would love to stage a reunion in L.A., ideally via a sign-and-trade.
Garnett is under contract for one more season. But if Pierce doesn’t return, does KG want to remain a Net without Pierce and Kidd -– two big reasons he thought he could win in Brooklyn? If Pierce joins Doc, would KG want to follow somehow and be traded?
Perhaps this is why Hollins said that when he talks to Pierce and Garnett, he wants to know where their heads are at.
“It will be about them more than about me,” Hollins said when asked what his message to Pierce and Garnett will be. “It will be about What do they want? Where are they? I got to get inside their head and find out just where they want to go.”
Those two want to get back to the NBA Finals. They want to be with a winning organization that is stable and isn't dysfunctional as things certainly appeared in Brooklyn last week during the Kidd debacle, no matter who was to blame.
And they’ll want a coach who they believe can direct them to a championship the way Doc did in Boston.
Hollins should command their respect considering his vast basketball knowledge and experience, and his hard-nosed approach. King says through his conversations with Garnett that Hollins has KG’s respect.
But Pierce is the wild card right now. The Nets can pay Pierce more than any other team because they own his Bird Rights. Perhaps they’ll give Pierce enough financial incentive to return, more than the $6-8 million the Nets would ideally want to pay the forward per season in a short-term deal.
While the two are clearly in the twilight of their careers, Pierce and Garnett can help ease the Nets’ transition from Kidd to Hollins. They can be the glue that helps the Nets stick together at the start of the season, when the team has to learn a new system and coach for the second time in a year, all while Deron Williams and Brook Lopez come back from surgeries.
Their leadership is invaluable. But most important, their mere presence on the roster will give the players the belief that they still have a chance to contend.
The Nets’ only realistic avenues of improvement this summer, barring an unlikely blockbuster trade, will be to re-sign Pierce, bring over European draft prospect Bojan Bogdanovic for the mini midlevel, possibly trade for somebody like Cleveland’s Jarrett Jack to replace Shaun Livingston, and maybe add a few cheap pieces here.
If that’s the case, the Nets will need Hollins to be the biggest difference-making addition this offseason and hope that he’s an upgrade over Kidd, who won two Eastern Conference Coach of the Month awards after a rocky 10-21 start last season and was certainly improving as a coach.
Two weeks ago, Hollins never imagined himself sitting in the Barclays Center being introduced as the Nets’ newest coach.
“I’m humbled by the fact I’ve been out of the NBA for a year,” Hollins said. “And to have this opportunity is truly a blessing, and the way it came about is truly miracle-like and I’m very thankful.”
Hollins did a terrific job selling himself in his introduction to Brooklyn.
Now he has to convince Pierce and Garnett to stay in Brooklyn and why he can take them further than Kidd did.