But Young was hardly alone among Hawks players who took issue with Pierce.
Sources say player support beyond Young was dwindling at the end, with several sharing their desire for a change with management recently.
The lack of faith in Pierce from the players quickly eroded last year, with several on the team feeling like they could not approach him without leaving the conversation feeling like they weren’t being heard.
“There’s no telling when he lost it,” one source close to the team said. “He didn’t have support from many people. It came down to him not being able to manage egos. That’s what did him in, especially these young guys. It’s tough.”
Pierce had a difficult job. Young is a young star who dominates the ball (mostly for good reason) and plays extremely lax defense. That can rub his teammates the wrong way. Pierce had to hold Young accountable without alienating Young while getting the complementary Hawks to buy-in. Winning cures most ills, but Atlanta’s roster wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. So, mood-lifting victories were harder to come by.
But no matter how tough Pierce’s job was, that is the job. If he wasn’t up to it, the Hawks are right to move on.
Interim coach Nate McMillan – who previously coached the Pacers, Trail Blazers and SuperSonics – has proven adept at getting his teams to play hard and together during the regular season. Beyond McMillan’s capability, a change in voice could be helpful.
These problems tend to snowball. Young had the clout to spar with Pierce. When Young’s teammates saw that, they became increasingly empowered to resist the coach, too. And now that Pierce is out, everyone can pile on him.
Pierce was far from Atlanta’s only problem. But if players tuned him out – fairly or not – he had to go. That’s how the NBA works.