They did not hire the name coach. They did not hire the proven coach. They did not hire a coach who probably makes the average Hawks’ fan think, “Yippee! This is why we drop-kicked Mike Woodson! So we could hire . . .” Um, Larry Drew?
Don’t fret. This might work out.
This shouldn’t come as some grand proclamation that Drew is going to be the next Phil Jackson, who stepped up from assistant to head coach when the Chicago Bulls fired Doug Collins in 1989. (Jackson won six NBA championships in the next nine years).
It’s not a guarantee that he even will be the next Alvin Gentry (a name you will hear often from Hawks’ management over the coming months). Gentry, who led the Phoenix Suns to the Western Conference finals this year, was a six-year assistant coach with the team before finally taking over for the fired Terry Porter midway through last year.
But don’t indict Larry Drew just because he worked for Mike Woodson, the coach the Hawks just got rid of.
He’s a different coach (more creative). He’s a different guy (not so hypersensitive and paranoid). He’s a smart basketball guy. He’s tough. He’s disciplined.
Most importantly, he has one advantage over any other coach the Hawks could have hired: He knows where the problems are.
The Hawks, like most teams, have issues, both on the court and in the locker room. Their issues relate to Josh Smith’s continuing lapses in maturity (and effort); Joe Johnson’s unwillingness to share the ball (possibly the residue of Woodson’s offense); Johnson’s tendency to disappear in playoff games; Marvin Williams’ effort and toughness rarely matching his talent level; inconsistent defense on the perimeter; offensive creativity.
And maybe this: A clear willingness to knock the other team down when it’s necessary.
Drew has been up close for these problems. He knows what buttons need to be pushed. He is not going to play favorites. Practices will be tougher. Accountability will be more apparent. He also was a point guard in his playing days, which should help in the development of Jeff Teague (the seldom-used rookie under Woodson).
Don’t want to celebrate Larry Drew’s promotion? That’s fair. Just don’t assume failure. He is a different voice than Woodson. A better voice.
You wanted somebody proven. You wanted some sign that the Hawks were serious about going to the next level — which is to say, winning at least one game in the second round. Understandable.
Doc Rivers. Completely understandable. It was never going to happen.
Avery Johnson. Completely understandable. But after three interviews, Johnson either got tired of waiting or figured New Jersey was a better option, anyway.
Byron Scott, the former New Jersey and New Orleans coach, would have gotten people more excited. So would have Utah assistant Tyrone Corbin, a former Hawk. For whatever reason, neither got a look.
So who did this come down to? Drew: 1) a respected assistant coach who knows the Hawks’ problems; 2) Dwane Casey, a Dallas assistant coach who briefly coached the Minnesota Timberwolves before being fired, possibly prematurely; 3) Mark Jackson, who went from player to broadcaster and has never coached in his life.
It’s fair to wonder if everybody in the Hawks’ front office was on the same page about this. It’s fair to wonder if Drew is capable of making the transition one folding chair over.
Just don’t assume he can’t.
Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog suggesting Drew was a legitimate candidate. I mentioned how he was highly regarded and respected by players, including the toughest and most respected player in the room: Al Horford.
Most readers didn’t agree. In fact, in an online reader poll of the four finalists last week, Drew finished a distant fourth with seven percent of the vote — far behind Johnson (62 percent), Jackson (17) and Casey (14).
When the Hawks open next season, it probably won’t be, “Larry Drew Bobblehead Night.”
But sometimes the exciting hire isn’t the best hire. And if Drew wins, watch how popular he becomes.