It wouldn’t be a bad thing in the larger sense if LD is another Woody. In the aftermath of the recent postseason disappointment, it’s easy to forget Woody led the Hawks to one of their better seasons after helping them rise up from their status as laughingstocks. But Rick Sund said the Hawks needed “another voice,” after all, so there’s some understandable skepticism when they hired Woody’s right-hand man to be the “new” voice.
Clearly Atlanta believes LD offers something distinct from Woody. The Hawks hired him after rejecting not just Woody but his entire program. Promoting his lead assistant means they don’t think LD got much of a chance to put his stamp on that program. And the Hawks are telling you that not only do they expect LD’s way to be better than Woody’s way, but that he’s the guy to guide them to the next level even though he’s never been in the head coach’s seat before.
Anybody making snap judgments about the legitimacy of those views is just guessing. Sund and ASG made their choice. LD gets his shot to win over skeptics. At some point it will become clear if he’s the right choice.
I talked to some players this weekend, and all of them said they expect LD’s approach to be different than Woody’s. Drew often ran the second-team offense in practice and was said to deploy creative sets, with one player describing them as a “fun” departures from the isolations. Another player said when things went badly for the Hawks, LD tended to be more of an “encourager” than a “screamer” and focused his energy on laying out a detailed plan for how the Hawks can get better.
The players have better insight into LD than the rest of us, and so it’s significant that he enjoys wide support among them. But they can’t be sure how Drew the assistant will work out as Drew the head coach. His relationships with players will be tested. Now LD has the final say on how the run the team, including playing time and touches, and players inevitably aren’t going to like some of his decisions.
It’s probably not much different than most real-life workplaces when your direct boss becomes the “big boss.” It happened to me at a previous job. I knew that when my supervisor became the department’s boss our relationship would necessarily change. Where once he would go into his boss’s office as my advocate, and sometimes privately agree with my gripes, suddenly I was griping to someone else about his decisions. We talked every day when he was my direct supervisor; when he became the department head and had wider responsibilities, sometimes the explanations came down through the chain of command, and sometimes not at all.
I knew that when he was promoted my boss had to put some of that “command distance” between us. I’m not saying I always liked it but I accepted the circumstances and did my job. It’s not an exact analogy, I know, but Hawks players now have to do much the same with Drew. It’s part of being a professional.
That raises another important point. It’s not just ASG, Sund and LD who are under pressure. The players have a lot to prove, too. It’s fair to critique Woody’s strategies, his management of the team, and his failure to bring along Rook’. But, in what’s probably a common NBA tale, the players whom Woody treated like pros and gave some degree of say in their working conditions eventually let him down (and that’s before you even get into the issues with his roster, which is another blog altogether).
The players credited Woody with creating a loose atmosphere that made it enjoyable for them to come to work but then they didn’t get serious when it was time to do so. Woody backed off from the long, hard and frequent practices players didn’t like and in the end they didn’t work as hard as they should. Woody gave them on-court freedom (especially J.J.) and instead of taking that trust and becoming a free-flowing offensive team, they became a selfish “get mine” kind of team–and resisted Woody’s efforts to get them to share the ball.
Now Hawks players get a replacement for Woody whom they know and like. The new voice in charge is a familiar one and the internal hire causes fewer disruptions and less uncertainty. As one player said, now it’s up to him and his teammates to support Drew by getting on board with his program, respecting his decisions even if they don’t like them and sacrificing for the team.
Otherwise, no matter if LD draws up better plays, holds all guys accountable and develops the next Rook’, he might end up just like Woody did in the end.