Hawks’ Carroll making former coaches regret decision not to keep him

You can almost see inside the mind of DeMarre Carroll as he briefly reflected on his initiation into the NBA.

He did so first with a pause, then a smile and finally a small laugh. The impetus for the moment of contemplation was the mere mention of the name Lionel Hollins. Carroll, the Hawks’ starting small forward, was selected in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft by the Grizzlies, then coached by Hollins. Carroll’s stay with the Grizzlies was short-lived and after stops with the Rockets, Nuggets and Jazz he signed with the Hawks last season. Carroll and Hollins meet again, six seasons later, with Hollins at the helm of the Nets in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Carroll was posed a question Monday, a day after the Hawks’ Game 1 victory over the Nets in the first-round series. A reporter began his inquiry by saying only “Lionel Hollins was asked about you …” Those words alone brought the soul-searching reaction.

“Coach Hollins, he is a great coach,” Carroll said after his moment. “At the same time, this situation was better for me, a better opportunity. I might have matured more but, you know, I think I’m still the same player. It’s just me getting better.”

Carroll and Hollins parted ways when the player was traded to the Rockets in February of 2011 after a total of 78 games. He was waived by the Rockets two months later after five games. He signed with the Nuggets but his stay lasted just a week after four games. Carroll landed with the Jazz and had a successful season-plus before signing with the Hawks as a free agent and was given an opportunity with a starting job.

And what was it that Hollins had to say about Carroll?

“DeMarre Carroll has come a long way,” the coach said. “When we drafted him, we liked his activity, his energy, he was flying all over the court. He was young and immature. A lot of guys come into the league with a high opinion of themselves and expecting a bigger role and it takes time. Unfortunately for him, we were moving forward and he got lost in the shuffle with us. Then he went to Denver and got lost in the shuffle there. Next thing you know, he’s here, he’s starting, he’s playing well. I’m happy for him.

“I’m happy for guys who grow up and figure it out and see what this league is all about. It’s not just about them and what they are going to get out of it. It’s what they give back to the game. He’s done a nice job.”


Carroll averaged a career-high 12.6 points this season and continued as the Hawks’ defensive stalwart. He had 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists in the 99-92 Game 1 victory Sunday. He set career playoff highs with two 3-pointers, six 3-point attempts and five free throws. It was the fourth time in 12 playoff games he scored in double figures. Carroll has averaged over 17 points in the five games against the Nets this season. Coincidence?

“Coach Hollins helped me out a lot because if I don’t look back to it, the way he pushed me and the way he got on me, I wouldn’t the strong man I am today,” Carroll said. “I give him credit. He reminds me of my granddad.”

The 6-foot-8, 212-pound Carroll said the Grizzlies couldn’t decide if he was a small or power forward. When Zach Randolph got hurt, he was forced to play the bigger role and guard the bigger players.

The transformation began in earnest with the Hawks, who put an emphasis on player development. Carroll said working with then-assistant now Jazz head coach Quin Snyder on improving things like his footwork was a first.

“Usually guys who are ultra-competitive, which DeMarre is, if you give the avenues and opportunities to improve individually, they take to it pretty well,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s been great. He deserves so much credit for how much time and effort and how willing he’s been at this stage in his career.”

Carroll said he feels like this is his second season in the NBA, after being a rookie in his first season with the Hawks. He said he has matured and understands his role in the league.

“I’m taking advantage of it – getting back to being the Junkyard Dog,” Carroll said. “Not straying away from who I am, not thinking I can be the Kobe (Bryant) or the LeBron (James) or the KD (Kevin Durant). Just being who I am. That’s the Junkyard Dog, doing the nitty and gritty things.”

That doesn’t mean he can’t have an offensive impact, Carroll said. He has worked hard to improve that aspect of his game. He added he holds no resentment toward to previous coaches who couldn’t wait for or couldn’t see his potential.

“There are no hard feelings in me,” Carroll said. “Every coach I had in the past, I give them credit. Even George Karl, he was man enough to come up to me and say ‘I shouldn’t have let you go,’ That’s the beauty of it. I respect a guy like that. I respect every coach I’ve had. They’ve all taught me a little something, each coach.”