Expectations were high coming into this season in Atlanta, particularly internally. They saw spending big on guard Dejounte Murray to put in the backcourt with Trae Young as something that would catapult them back up near the top of the East. Instead, the Hawks are 29-30 at the All-Star break and projected for a 41-41 record that would have them ninth in the conference.
Coach Nate McMillan paid the price Tuesday for failing to meet expectations, he was fired by the team.
“I would like to thank Nate for his leadership and professionalism during his time with the Hawks. He is truly a class act, and we appreciate the graciousness and work ethic he brought with him every day,” Hawks General Manager Landry Fields said in a statement. “Decisions like these, especially in-season, are always extremely difficult, but we believe it’s in the best interest of our team to move forward with another voice leading the way.”
Assistant coach Joe Prunty takes over as the interim head coach, but the team will instantly start a search for his replacement. Among the early names on the list are former Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, former Nets head coach (and current Warriors assistant) Kenny Atkinson, Bucks assistant Charles Lee and others, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. Interviewing current assistants — particularly on contending teams — during the season can be a challenging dance.
McMillan being fired is not a surprise, although the timing caught some off guard. McMillan was not expected to last long as coach once former GM Travis Schlenk was pushed out of power into an “advisory role,” although the expectation around the league is that the change would be made over the summer.
There have been frustrations with the on-court fit between Young and Murray, with the two playing next to each other rather than with each other (although that has looked better in recent weeks). There have been rumors of chemistry issues flying around league circles all season. Along those same lines, the buzz around the league has been that Nick Ressler, the son of owner Tony Ressler, has a powerful and rapidly growing front-office presence, and he was the one who pushed for the Murray trade over the concerns Schenk and others. The result of the trade not working out as envisioned — so far — has led to a new GM and a new coach.
Atlanta will find its new coach, but it will have some hard roster decisions coming up if this backcourt cannot consistently find the chemistry this team needs to thrive, and if they can’t get the right players around them to maximize that backcourt.