NEW YORK -- Brooklyn Nets coach Lionel Hollins earned power forward Thaddeus Young’s respect on Feb. 27, 2015.
The Nets were facing the Rockets in Houston. It was a back-and-forth game, and Young, who had just been acquired by Brooklyn at the trade deadline, wanted to play in crunch time. Instead, he found himself stapled to the bench.
The Nets lost by four. Young wasn’t happy. Hollins knew as much, and addressed Young in front of the entire team after the game.
“I was upset. I was heated,” Young told ESPN.com a few days before training camp opened Tuesday at Duke University. “But Coach came straight at me and said, ‘Thad, I’m sorry but you don’t know the plays yet, you don’t know the offense yet, and I have to put people out there that I feel give us the best chance to win.’
“And I couldn’t do anything but respect that. I could’ve been mad. I could’ve said, ‘You know what, forget this. I’m not coming back next year or something like that,’ but I respect that he came right at me, face to face in front of the whole team. He didn’t try to take me into a separate room or anything like that.”
Hollins, the first coach in Brooklyn Nets history to make it to Year 2, is a straight shooter -- an old-school, no-nonsense type of coach. Some players like it. Others don’t.
Count Young among the former.
“The good thing with Coach Hollins is you can lay it on the table and he’s gonna lay it on the table,” Young said. “He’s very, very tough. He’s hard on you. And I was telling some of the guys in the locker room, you have be tough to be able to play for Coach Hollins. If you’re not tough, then you don’t need to be here. This is not the place for you.
“When I got traded here, Brook [Lopez] was sitting next to me on the bench, and I couldn’t believe it. But those are the type of things that you’re going to respect, when he’s sitting his star player down in order to win basketball games. That means he’s not playing guys by their contract, he’s playing guys by who he thinks is going to win him games.”
Said Hollins during a recent radio interview on SiriusXM: “It’s not that people get me or don’t get me. It’s whether they want to accept me. ... I tell players all the time I’ve gotta be honest with you and you’ve got to be mature enough to accept the answer. ... I can’t tell you what you want to hear all the time because it’s not going to ... help the group.”
Hollins’ first season in Brooklyn was rocky at times. Injuries and a lack of chemistry early only made things tougher.
Tension between he and his players existed. As the New York Daily News first reported and ESPN.com and other outlets confirmed, former point guard Deron Williams had to be restrained from fighting Hollins during a meeting around the All-Star break. The soft-spoken, laid back Lopez and Hollins also clashed, although their sparring was only of the verbal variety.
Hollins’ rotations were confusing at times, his public criticisms of players rankled ownership and he never took responsibility for the team’s disappointing season.
But the Nets did have some success under Hollins -- buoyed by Lopez’s renewed health and All-Star caliber production down the stretch -- and wound up sneaking into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference after going to a much more simplified pick-and-roll offensive system.
This season figures to be more of a challenge given the lack of superstar talent on the retooled roster and lowered expectations. But Hollins doesn’t care about all that. He turned things around in Memphis, and he hopes to do the same in Brooklyn.
“I think you have to come in and, as I told Lionel, be yourself,” Nets GM Billy King said. “You only have one chance to introduce yourself to the team. If you come in soft, you can’t ramp it up later because they know you one way. I think he was able to come in and set an expectation. It may ruffle some feathers, but I think guys bought in and believe and it got us in the playoffs, and now we’re going to build on that.”
It’s time to find out how good of a coach Lionel Hollins really is. Because this is his team now, and if he puts himself in consideration for Eastern Conference Coach of the Year honors, the Nets will likely defy the odds and do much better than most people expect them to.
As Hollins said recently, “Nobody’s said wait until next summer. We’re going out and trying to win. Whether we can or not remains to be seen. But it’s not my mindset and the players’ mindset. Whatever group you put together, you’re trying to win. I don’t think you sit around saying, ‘We’ll wait until next summer.’”