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Left out of NBA’s bubble, Lionel Hollins created his own as he helps Lakers from home

Lionel Hollins coaches on the sideline.
Last month the NBA determined that Lionel Hollins, one of Lakers coach Frank Vogel’s top assistants, was not permitted to travel to Orlando for the NBA’s bubble for health reasons.
(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

The Lakers have two cameras installed on their practice court in the NBA bubble. One of them films all of practice from a slightly elevated location for review by players and staff.

The other sits at eye level and is typically on a sideline. It’s an iPhone perched on a thin stand. The Lionel Cam. Coach Frank Vogel has talked into it as if the people on the other side are actually in the gym with him. Players wave as they run by it during drills. Once, Anthony Davis walked over and shut it off as a joke.

“The way our team is, they have a lot of fun and they mess with people,” Lionel Hollins said recently by phone.

Last month the NBA determined that Hollins, one of Vogel’s top assistants, was not permitted to travel to Orlando for health reasons. So for the past five weeks, Hollins has coached over texts and video conferences. His days, not filled with going to and from practice, are busy instead with coaching his son, negotiating with his granddaughter and watching film at the kitchen table.

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“I miss being around the players,” Hollins said. “When you’re in a gym, you’re in the meeting rooms, you’re on the bus. That’s the big part of the culture and life we live. The camaraderie in the group. Not being there you’re kind of separated. Even in the meetings. Even though they can hear me talking, it’s not the same as when you’re in the room with the group. It’s a little bit disconnecting. But not anything you can’t overcome.”

Hollins and his wife, Angela, stayed in Los Angeles through the NBA’s four-month hiatus, hoping that eventually the season would resume.

When the NBA created its plans for the bubble, every player and coach underwent a health screening to determine their risk level traveling to Orlando. Although risk for the novel coronavirus was higher for people 65 and older, the NBA had assured the league’s coaches association that age would not be the sole factor determining who got to go to the bubble.

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A week before the team was to travel, Hollins, 66, learned the league viewed him as high risk due to preexisting conditions. As the Lakers prepared to try to complete their best season in a decade, Hollins could not go with them.

“I’m capable — could have been capable — of coming and doing my job, but I understand,” Hollins said. “This is an important step for the league. To make it as safe as possible for everybody is one. But also to make it successful.”

In every other way, he remained part of the staff. He watched practices live. He prepared scouting reports with assistant coach Miles Simon, who is in the bubble, and assistant video coordinator Jon Pastorek, who is in Los Angeles.

“It’s been fairly fluid,” Simon said. “We set up a time, us three are on a group text together. We get on there and we talk it out. What we want to do against the certain team. … Even here inside the bubble I try to relay, when I have to present what we put together, a lot of his insight because he’s so smart at all of what he does.”

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Their group had been working on scouting reports for Memphis and Phoenix in case one of those teams became the Lakers’ first-round playoff opponent. Until Thursday, there were four potential foes, and not until Saturday did they know they would play Portland starting Tuesday.

Hollins will continue to help the Lakers look ahead. What’s missing, though, is the daily interactions he had with players. He tries not to bother them remotely.

“Where we miss him is on the court,” Vogel said. “Where he’d be able to grab guys off to the side and just whisper, ‘On this coverage you’ve got to do this, on that you’ve got to do that,’ as well as working portions of practice.”

Hollins and his wife returned to Memphis a few weeks ago, after having been gone from their offseason home for more than a year.

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“Lifestyle’s a little different,” he said.

In Los Angeles he walked on the beach every day, watching the sunset from his patio. In Memphis his house overlooks a high school football field and he doesn’t walk much outside to avoid humidity and mosquitoes.

The main advantage is sleep. When the Lakers have a meeting at 8 a.m. EDT, it’s 7 for Hollins in Memphis, instead of 5 in Los Angeles.

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The only face-to-face coaching Hollins had been able to do lately is with his son, Austin, who left Wednesday to return to play in Russia. Hollins’ daughter often drops her kids off at his house during the day.

The 5-year-old constantly is plotting to stay with her grandparents overnight. When she succeeds, she sleeps on an air mattress in the office Hollins doesn’t use. No one really bothers him as he sits in the kitchen working to help the Lakers.


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