“Like I told Marc Gasol and like he told me, he said, ‘It’s gonna be weird beating you.’ And I replied, ‘It’s gonna be weird beating you, too,’” Hollins told ESPN New York.com.
Well, the time has come.
“I am glad it is finally here and I can get it out of the way because of all the questions and what have you,” Hollins said in anticipation of Wednesday's matchup at Barclays Center between the Nets and Grizzlies. “I had a great time in Memphis, we had great moments, we accomplished a lot. We went from zero to Western Conference finalists and players grew and become All-Stars and all-pros and they are still growing and getting better. To see those guys will be good. To play against those guys is not going to be fun, but we will go out and compete and see what happens.”
Hollins helped turn the Grizzlies franchise around. After missing the playoffs in his first season at the helm, Memphis made the postseason the next three seasons; In 2012-13, the Grizzlies won 56 games and advanced to the Western Conference finals. But Hollins reportedly clashed with ownership and his contract was not renewed.
“I take pride in knowing each and every one of those guys and where we were and where we came from,” Hollins said. “I am proud of them in what they have accomplished. We won 56 games, they won 50 the next year and they are on pace to win another 50. So that is all, the nucleus has been there for a long time with Zach, Marc, Mike and Tony. Those guys have been there from the get and they are a big part of winning and as long as they are together they are going to have a winning [group].”
The Nets decided to hire Hollins after Jason Kidd left for Milwaukee, signing the 61-year-old coach and former NBA point guard to a four-year, $18 million (fully guaranteed) contract.
The old-school, no-nonsense Hollins has come as advertised, shooting straight from the hip and never being afraid to call out his players. In early December, sources told ESPN.com that some players weren't completely on the same page as Hollins.
“A lot of coaches nowadays bend toward the knees of players. He’s the opposite,” Conley Jr. said. “He’s aggressive. He attacks you. He’s not afraid to call out anybody and it was unreal to see him yell at some of the big stars on our team and treat them like they’re rookies. That was stuff that you respected him for.”
The Nets' defense has made strides under Hollins' brand of coaching, rising to 13th in defensive efficiency after finishing last season 19th. The offense, however, hasn't been so pretty; Brooklyn currently ranks 24th in offensive efficiency in 2014-15 -- a 10-spot drop from last season.
Since starting the season 4-2 against a soft schedule, the Nets have gone 12-20 and rank tied for 13th in defensive efficiency and 29th in offensive efficiency. Over that span, they are shooting just 43.7 percent from the field (T-22nd) and 30.6 percent from 3-point range (29th).
“I thought coming in that we had some nice pieces that were capable of scoring a lot of points, that we had a high basketball IQ, that we had a high-skill basketball team,” Hollins said in late December. “But that turned out to not be as broad as I thought it was. It’s narrow.”
Max-contract players Lopez and Deron Williams have battled injuries and were recently put in reserve roles, replaced in the starting lineup by Mason Plumlee and Jarrett Jack. Williams (rib fracture) and Kevin Garnett (suspension) will not play Wednesday night.
Hollins said he doesn't think a win against his former team would mean much more than it usually does.
Gasol, however, slightly disagrees.
“He’s somebody that we still have a great relationship with," Gasol said. "And somebody that meant a lot to us [on[ and [off] the court, would change the mindset and the [direction] of the franchise. And it’s gonna be fun to beat him."