The Hawks entered the 2020-21 season with playoff expectations after spending heavily in free agency. It is now clear that they thought Lloyd Pierce was not leading them in the right direction.
Atlanta announced on Monday that it had sacked Pierce amid a rough patch in which the team have lost 12 of their last 17 games. Pierce, who was named Hawks head coach in 2018, leaves Atlanta with an overall record of 63-120.
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“We would like to thank Lloyd for his hard work and commitment not only to the Hawks organization, but also to the city of Atlanta,” said Travis Schlenk, president of basketball operations for the Hawks. “He and his wife, Melissa, are great people who have made a positive impact across town. We have high expectations of our team on the pitch and believe that by making this change now that we can have a good second half. of the season . “
As the Hawks have stumbled out of the gates for a 14-20 mark (11th in the Eastern Conference) this season with Pierce at the helm, it should be noted that he has faced a brutal series of injuries, especially with off-season acquisitions Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn, Danilo Gallinari and Rajon Rondo missed a considerable time. Atlanta has lost the second most games to injury in the league behind Orlando, according to the Spotrac injury tracker, which gives Pierce little chance to build any kind of chemistry with that group.
However, the Hawks have also consistently put themselves in a game-winning position, before falling apart in the dying minutes. It might be unfair to pin all of these failures on Pierce, but as is often the case in the NBA, the coach is always the first person to walk out the door when a team is underperforming.
11 of the Hawks’ 20 losses this season came with the team ahead in the fourth quarter.
– Chris Kirschner (@ChrisKirschner) March 1, 2021
So where does Atlanta go from here? Hawks ‘optimistic’ Nate McMillan will transition from assistant coach to interim head coach, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. McMillan has been “fiercely loyal” in his support for Pierce, per Wojnarowski, so it is not out of the question that he will turn down the job. McMillan previously served as the Pacers’ head coach for four seasons before joining Pierce’s staff.
Atlanta is just two games away from a play-in tournament spot on Monday, and there’s still plenty of time to turn around this season. Whether it’s McMillan or another candidate, the pressure will be on the next head coach to bring the Hawks back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.