Of course, Pierce got fired.
Fair or not, coaches nearly never survive the combination of discord with their star player and an underwhelming record.
Atlanta Hawks President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Travis Schlenk announced today that Lloyd Pierce has been relieved of his head coaching duties.
“We would like to thank Lloyd for his work and commitment to not only the Hawks organization but the city of Atlanta. He and his wife, Melissa, are tremendous people who have made a positive impact throughout the city,” said Schlenk. “We have high expectations for our team on the court and we believe by making this change now that we can have a strong second half of the season.”
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
Sources: The Hawks are hopeful assistant Nate McMillan will choose to become the interim head coach. McMillan is meeting with Lloyd Pierce and rest of Hawks coaching staff now. McMillan has been fiercely loyal in his support of Pierce.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 1, 2021
Presumably, Nate McMillan – who previously coached the Pacers (quite well overall) – will take Atlanta’s interim position. After all, it was speculated he’d eventually ascend to the top job when the Hawks hired him as an assistant last offseason.
Perhaps, that’s a reason for slow-playing McMillan’s promotion. He might not want to be viewed as undermining Pierce – who’s not only a fellow (too-rare) Black coach, but also a leader in using the position advance racial justice.
McMillan might also have contract demands before taking the job. Sometimes, assistants have salary requirements before accepting the burden of being head coach.
Atlanta also has reason to slow-play naming a new coach. The Timberwolves, even given the in-season complications, just received unprecedented scrutiny for their hasty coaching search.
But the top assistant usually become head coach following an in-season firing. The Hawks are scheduled to play the Heat tomorrow. There’ll be some resolution by then.
Atlanta hired Pierce from the 76ers in 2018, hoping he’d help set a culture and develop young players. He delivered a mixed record. Young, John Collins, De'Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish have all shown progress under Pierce’s watch. But the Hawks have also suffered from infighting, especially related to Young’s imperfect effort levels.
Perhaps more importantly, Atlanta has lagged both offensively and defensively relative what it seems Pierce’s rosters were capable of.
It’s easy to look past Pierce’s 29-53 first-year record given how early the Hawks were in their rebuild. But going 20-47 last season was disappointing, and this year’s 14-20 record is way below expectations.
That said, last offseason’s key acquisitions have largely underwhelmed. This roster is flawed, too. Pressure is increasing on Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk. Which is another force pushing toward Pierce’s ouster.
The coach is always an easy scapegoat.