In Orlando, the Magic fired Stan Van Gundy and said they did so essentially because he’s not a players’ coach. Or as the Orlando Sentinel’s Josh Robbins put it: “[Van Gundy] occasionally annoyed veteran players with his demanding expectations, his demonstrative sideline demeanor and his blunt assessments of their play during press conferences.”
In Atlanta, meanwhile, the Hawks exercised Larry Drew’s contract option and I’ve head fans complain he’s too much of a players’ coach. These fans covet a coach who annoys veteran players with expectations, shows more “fire” on the sideline and takes to the media to call out players (or at least the players they don’t like at that moment).
(That sounds suspiciously like Mike Woodson, except with more quotes ripping players. But I digress.)
No matter your opinion on Atlanta’s decision to retain Drew, it doesn’t seem to be a strong decision. Instead, the Hawks took half measures with Drew and pulled off the tough trick of choosing continuity without also gaining stability.
The Hawks seem not to have noticed that the one-year deal they gave Woody for 2009-10 was a factor in players eventually quitting on him. That’s not surprising since management (but not players) always dismissed that obvious angle when I brought it up. Now hear they are again asking a coach with an uncertain short-term future to guide players, the best of whom always have more security than the coach.
The Hawks could have made it clear Drew is their guy by giving him an extension and a raise that leaves no doubt among players that he’s here to stay. You should want this even if you don’t think Drew is the best coach for the Hawks because not many NBA coaches can thrive without clear support from their higher-ups. Think about it: If you believe Drew’s weakness is that he’s not assertive enough with his players, then a one-year contract and a low-end salary aren’t likely to make him better in that area.
If the Hawks weren’t convinced Drew is their guy, then they could have let him walk and take steps to show that the next coach is their guy. That would mean offering a long-term, good-money contract. If it didn’t work out, then the Hawks eat some money and try again. The best franchises regularly operate with such long-term thinking.
The Hawks look wishy-washy in regards to Drew. They touted his accomplishments while not taking unequivocal action to show they believe there are better things to come. Puzzlingly, they’ve done this without even having a GM in place beyond next month.
Unless the Hawks change course and decide to offer Drew an extension this summer, he will spend next season coaching without security, same as last season.
“I think through the course of the season [the contract] popped in and out of my mind,” Drew said on the day he learned about his retention. “I’m glad the time has come and it’s over so I have a clearer picture of where I stand in this organization. They’ve shown they are committed to what I’ve been doing and they are committed, at least for another year, to what me and my staff have done.”
At least for another year . . . .
And remember that Van Gundy was emboldened to annoy his veterans and call out Dwight Howard because he makes a good salary and knows he’s likely to be in demand. Van Gundy also did these things because, as he famously and awesomely said between sips of Diet Pepsi, he doesn’t like BS).
I’m neither endorsing nor condemning the Hawks’ decision to keep Drew. I’m also not suggesting his circumstances should inspire pity. Drew gets another season to prove his worth, which is preferable to unemployment.
My point is Drew, like most NBA coaches, needs relatively strong job security to bolster his authority. The Hawks organization need stability. By choosing to take a half measure, the Hawks got neither.
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat