Lloyd Pierce fired by the Hawks — but should he have been?
Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images
Lloyd Pierce, the now former head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, was fired on Monday night after spending 2.5 years with the organization.
Given the high expectations surrounding this team and the pressure put on by its owner, Tony Ressler, to make the playoffs in 2021, it’s not all that surprising the firing came after a ice-cold 14-20 start (they’re now 15-20 after last night’s 94-80 win over the Miami Heat). With their talent-riddled roster, the Hawks certainly are capable of making the leap to the next level of being competitive in the NBA’s Eastern Conference — but being capable can only do so much.
The Hawks started off the season 10-9 and looked as if, after building chemistry and getting healthy, they could make the aforementioned ascension. But following a 4-11 skid, internal issues with John Collins and Trae Young surfacing and rumblings that Young was ready to move on from Pierce, Atlanta fans everywhere felt that something had to change.
And fair enough.
When a team has been consistently down on their luck like the Hawks have been since their last winning season in 2016, it’s easy to get impatient. Pierce was in his first NBA coaching stint, and he didn’t do much for development, defense or winning with Atlanta. But, what he was given when he took over in 2018 wasn’t much to get excited about either. The San Jose native inherited a team with rookies Young and Kevin Huerter, second-year Collins, and veterans like Dewayne Dedmon, Vince Carter and Kent Bazemore.
The Hawks have since added Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Clint Capela, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and rookie Onyeka Okongwu. There’s a reason a boatload of NBA analysts and experts picked this team to skyrocket into playoff contention this season. In a vacuum, letting Pierce go makes a hell of a lot of sense.
But there’s also a hell of a lot of other factors that have to be taken into consideration. Gallinari hasn’t been himself in the 22 games he’s played this season, Hunter has only suited up in 18 games, Bogdanovic has played in nine contests and Okongwu is coming off a foot injury he sustained prior to the draft. Reddish hasn’t made the leap that was expected of him, either.
This team has been bit by the injury bug, they’re young, they don’t know how to play defense and it’s a shortened, jam-packed season. The most significant and valid excuse being the injury issue, and Pierce can’t be blamed for that.
The Hawks are a team with a lot of new pieces, an inexperienced head coach and a budding star that is absolutely putrid on the defensive end. They need time, they need to build continuity, they need to be taught. Pierce never truly got the shot he deserved.
To boot, the Hawks have outscored their opponents by 6.5 points per 100 possessions this season when Young, Collins, and Capela are all on the court together. When Hunter is on the court with them? They’re plus 12.9. It’s a small sample size, that’s true, but those are some impressive numbers. This team has plenty of talent, and they’ve shown they can be lethal in flashes under Pierce’s tutelage.
If health was maintained, Gallinari’s play didn’t plummet and this youth-filled team had time to work on the defensive end between games, the narrative surrounding the Hawks could be completely different than it is right now.
Firing Pierce may ultimately prove to be the right decision, but it doesn’t solve all the problems at hand.