Drew deserves some credit for holding Hawks together

Larry Drew has been a nurturing coach this season for Jeff Teague and the Hawks. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Larry Drew has kept messages positive for players such as Jeff Teague. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

For a guy considered an afterthought of a candidate, a guy who some figured was hired because he lobbied so hard, wouldn’t make demands and certainly came cheap, Larry Drew keeps passing tests.

It’s one thing for a team to play hard for a coach in his first season, when everybody in the locker room is just happy that the previous guy is out of town. It’s another to keep that same team from derailing in Season 2, particularly when the coach has no real resume for how he responds to landmines.

Al Horford went down 11 games into the season. Still, this Hawks team, wrapped in gauze much of the season, managed to go 40-26, the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks overcame injuries. They used lineups resembling the Lollipop Guild. They endured Tracy McGrady publicly whining about his playing time and Ivan “The Ticking Time Bomb” Johnson getting sent home off a road trip because of a spat with teammates during a game.

They accomplished this in part because of Drew.

Some coaches succeed because of X’s and O’s. Drew has succeeded largely because of his ability to manage players and massage egos. He has stressed positives and avoided verbally beating down his players, a la Mike Woodson.

It helps that this is a veteran team. It helps that Jerry Stackhouse, for as few minutes as he has played, has been the locker room’s resident psychotherapist. But head coaches set the tone.

After Horford’s injury, Drew said, “I was a little birdie on everybody’s shoulder. I was always trying to inject some confidence in them. You don’t manipulate them. You just constantly remind them how good they are. Even in losses, rather than pound them with negativity, I’d find a positive in the game. I think the players appreciated that. In the past sometimes when things didn’t go well, they expected to be chastised. But when I took over, I just thought with the make-up of our club it was important to take a different approach.”

That last comment could’ve been taken as a veiled shot at Woodson, his former boss. To say there’s a chill now between the two would be an understatement. They haven’t spoken since Woodson was fired two years ago. It follows that when the Hawks faced the New York Knicks this season after Woodson took over as interim coach, it was a big moment for both parties.

Asked if there was a tenseness when the teams met late in this season, Drew said: “I wouldn’t say tenseness. I’m competitive, but I’ve always try to remind myself not to view any game differently.”

So what’s a better word?

“Anxious.”

To prove yourself?

“Pretty much. Once New York made the coaching change, I knew they would be a little different. I knew there would be a level of intensity there because players usually respond to a coaching change. I knew he wanted to come back here and beat us — and I sure wanted to beat them.”

Josh Smith has had the best season of his career. Whether that’s because of maturity or Drew, we may never know. But it happened. Smith said of Drew, “He’s always positive,” and he remarked that, “This is the closest team I’ve ever been on.”

Given the backdrop, that’s remarkable. General manager Rick Sund brought in six new players. The lockout and condensed training camp limited bonding time. Drew turned Marvin Williams into a sixth man. He shifted Joe Johnson to small forward. He has tapped into the unusual melding of personalities on his bench.

Even the rarely effusive Johnson said, “L.D. has been great as far as picking his spots, knowing when to pull guys aside. You’ve got so many egos in the locker room, you never know who’s having a bad day or a good day. That’s the hardest part of his job.”

In Drew’s first season, the Hawks eliminated Orlando, one of their tormentors, in the first round of the playoffs and took Chicago, a No. 1 seed, to six games in the second round.

But he described the season as “a touch-and-feel situation. Now I feel like I can win every game I go into. I didn’t have that feeling before.”

He talked about Pat Riley, for whom he played at the end of his career in Los Angeles, saying Riley had more influence on him than any other coach.

“After I signed he sent me a letter before I had even met him, and I felt the energy in the letter,”  he said. “The way he managed people was impressive. Everything was done with such precision. I called my brother after the second practice and said, ‘I see now why they have all those banners hanging up in the Forum.’”

The contract: Drew was hired as the NBA’s lowest-paid coach. His second-season salary, close to $1.5 million, still scrapes the bottom in his fraternity. Nobody has said a word to him about the team option for next year being exercised.

“I feel everything will take care of itself,” he said. “I was grateful just to get the job. I had something to prove. Not trying to toot my own horn or anything, but I feel good about these last two years.”

Drew’s next test comes against the Boston Celtics and Doc Rivers, the league’s highest-paid coach. Regardless of how this playoff series turns out, Drew has shown he can coach a little. To go 40-26 this season was significant. And somebody deserves a raise.

By Jeff Schultz

63 comments Add your comment

Whopper Dawg

April 27th, 2012
5:30 pm

Whopper Dawg

April 27th, 2012
5:31 pm

And I find it interesting that in every preview of the east playoffs, the Hawks are never mentioned. Every other team is, but never the Hawks. Why is that Jeff?

Dawg Haus

April 27th, 2012
5:32 pm

P-Man

April 27th, 2012
5:41 pm

The one thing I noticed this year is that the team fights hard to the very end of games, regardless of the score. That hasn’t always been the case. A fun team to watch.

GT Alum

April 27th, 2012
5:41 pm

Two positive articles about the Hawks in one day. Forget buying you drinks, I think the ASG has kidnapped Schultz and have an impster filing stories on his behalf.

Hail Munson

April 27th, 2012
5:42 pm

I can’t wait to see what KG does to try to get inside J. Smoov’s head. I don’t think he can anymore, and that will only frustrate KG to the point that it negatively affects his own game.

Deja vu

April 27th, 2012
5:44 pm

ESPN hates Atlanta.
Would be great to send Boston home and watch Sportcenter explain it away.
I agree Jeff, Drew deserves a big raise.

supaficial

April 27th, 2012
5:45 pm

The Hawks are never mentioned because David Stern want the Hawks to be low key because he we are in for a serious run. Plus he mentioned that back when he was in Atlanta early in the season.

hbcuclassics

April 27th, 2012
5:52 pm

LD Coach of the Year!!! The force is with him…

Like him or not, the job he’s done is phenomenal…
Losing an Allstar in Week 2 and not miss a beat???…

Woody did a good job, but was set in his ways…
LD lobbied that he could get more out of them…
He was right…Josh blossomed, Teague pushed forward…

He frequently goes deeper into bench than ever seen…
Not without fault, i thought he cost us 3-4 games…
But his means to this end were calculated…

We need Hinrich playing well, we need Green, we need Collins…
TMac had to be shut down – he was out of line…
Ivan sent home and found his game…

He’s gotten a lil’ from everybody: Vladi, Pargo, TMac, ZaZa…
After thoughts on anybody else’s radar…

And that’s just what ATL needed…
We will never compete on payroll…
We have to massage wins outta what we have…

Always thought Woody could’ve gotten more, gone further…
Don’t feel that way this year…just the opposite…
LD has rung every drop outta this group, thus far…

Let’s see what Yoda has in store for the playoffs…

Remembering Roundfield

April 27th, 2012
6:01 pm

I hate to toot my own horn here as well, but I recall back a few years LD had a contract offer from another team and the ownership group refused to let him go. I said on I believe it was Sekou Smith’s blog that he would be the next head coach after M Woodson. As a matter of fact, I believe they promised him the job right at that point.I am glad that I was right, but I am even more pleased that he has done so well. I think this would be a good year for the Hawks to go to the east championship and even to the finals. I love our bench, and I think if those guys get to sniff a ring they won’t fail.

JSS

April 27th, 2012
6:11 pm

He gets out-coached at some of the oddest moments; but Drew got chicken you-know-what to believe it was delicious high end chicken salad! This is his most important playoff series. We’ll find out quickly if he learned the right lessons from Milwaukee last season. More importantly, we’ll see if his team will buy to the 4 quarters of defensive intensity needed to beat first a veteran team; then go on the road and still a series in the 2nd round!

Larry

April 27th, 2012
6:11 pm

“I was a little birdie on everybody’s shoulder.”

Wow! Such coaching magnificance!

Here’s a quote from a championship coach:

“The only correct actions are those that demand no explanation and no apology.” – Red Auerbach

Boston in 5…

Larry

April 27th, 2012
6:15 pm

Horford? Give me a break! He was virtually a non-factor in last postseason.

And keep it in perspective…40-26 is only a seven game swing from being a .500 team.

ag

April 27th, 2012
6:15 pm

Great article and I agree. Give LD three more years. He has accomplished a lot and this team was very exciting to watch. Last season we only won a game by 20+. It has been the norm this season.

Rick

April 27th, 2012
6:38 pm

Hey Larry get lost! Sick of haters like you. You are one of those fake fans who cheers for the other teams at all Atlanta sporting events, yet you were born at Grady. Kick rocks!

RA

April 27th, 2012
6:39 pm

I don’t only believe that Drew deserves a little credit. I believe that he should get some consideration for COY. He has done more with less than any other coach in basketball this year and it’s a shame that the only thing that some folks can do is bash him. Atlanta in six.

JSS

April 27th, 2012
6:42 pm

I’m going to defend McGrady a little. His practice habits aside, that “pick-and-roll” and his “pick-and-pop” have saved their butt on a couple of occasions this year. The last 6 minutes of the Clippers game were a prime example. It was maddening watching him trying to get first Pargo, and later Joe to run high pick-and-pops on either sides of the floor instead of dribbling out the shot clock. Funny, it was Ivan Johnson and Josh who came out top and did the best job in working with hom….

JSS

April 27th, 2012
6:44 pm

@ Rick…
Nope, he just “dislikes” the Hawks… (Insert your own interpretation of the inner meaning to why here)…

Rick

April 27th, 2012
6:53 pm

Because he is a hater. Appreciate and respect our 4 seed

Jeff Schultz

April 27th, 2012
7:01 pm

Whopper Dawg — I can’t speak to why Hawks aren’t mentioned by other outlets, other than the obvious: The perception that they’re limited because of Horford and Pachulia injuries.

Jeff Schultz

April 27th, 2012
7:02 pm

P-Man — Agreed. Team has been prone to fewer emotional ups and downs.

Jeff Schultz

April 27th, 2012
7:02 pm

P-Man — Agreed. Team has been prone to fewer emotional ups and downs.

Jeff Schultz

April 27th, 2012
7:03 pm

JSS — Chatting with Cunningham today: If we knew Pachulia was healthy, I pick Hawks. Without both him and Horford, not sure. Just not that impressed by Celtics, especially if Ray Allen doesn’t plan.

JSS

April 27th, 2012
7:35 pm

I refuse to use my Android to post anymore (still = steal)… Yeah, ZaZa is good to have against the Celtics… You need fouls and physical play especially at home where generally get some calls… Because the ghosts of the Garden home cooking sure’s going to give you any calls!

Ted Striker

April 27th, 2012
7:47 pm

Larry — You sound like the character Frank Burns on M.A.S.H.

hawkfan

April 27th, 2012
7:48 pm

“40-26 is only a seven game swing from being a .500 team.”

@ Larry: Wow, talk about glass half empty. So if the Hawks win the NBA Finals (not saying that they would), we should keep it in perspective because a 7 game swing the other way would’ve knocked them out of the Eastern Finals?

Get a life.

WeBurn

April 27th, 2012
8:21 pm

Well done Larry Drew, you have earned respect. The Hawks are under appreciated in this town, and so are you. Good look in the postseason!

cdog

April 27th, 2012
9:13 pm

does he win more games than mike woodson? no.coaches has styles that varies.woodson was more successful.if he can get to the finals, then you can say who was best

doc

April 27th, 2012
9:55 pm

the very best move drew made was moving jj to the position he needs to play most of the time from now on, small forward. for years that was a move that should have been made. he was forced into it or was, because of the circumstances, able to sell jj on the move. yes, jj can play the two but he is better structured for the 3 spot going forward just as paul pierce plays that position as the best analogy of a switch that was successful in a star that helped his game rather than hindered it. in the long run it puts folks into their natural positions and marvin coming off the bench to play the role of sixth man.

Atl21

April 27th, 2012
10:23 pm

I am GLAD to read about the great job LD had done this year! He should be a condiate for COY,and Smoove for Most Improve Player! Hawks outlasts Celtics in 6!!!!

LakeDawg

April 27th, 2012
10:46 pm

I will agree that Drew has done a fine job. He’s gotten about as much hustle as one can out of this bunch. Alas, its all for naught. Does anybody truly believe that JJ has the kahonas to lead the Hawks past the second round? Does anybody believe that Smooove will play smart, clutch BB when the Hawks need it? I didn’t think so.

ag

April 27th, 2012
11:01 pm

I think the Hawks will surprise a lot of people. Looking at the ESPN “experts” only 1 of 8 says the Hawks can beat the Celtics. Only Chris Ford pick the Hawks. I am sure last season the Magic were picked by all 8. The Hawks have to play their game to beat the Celtics.. RUN, RUN RUN and hit the open three. If they slow down, work Josh down low or Joe down low. Also, have JT drive the basketball.

chris

April 27th, 2012
11:23 pm

great article jeff, and agreed on all points. Ive really been impressed with Drew’ equal hand in handling this season. By all expert’s predictions the Hawks were toast when Horford went down and they stepped it up. I enjoy watching teams with positive coaches who may have to get in players faces sometimes but they do it behind closed doors IN HOUSE not in the media as Woodson tended to do often which was a lack of professional class in my opinion. Drew does deserve COY honors. I believe the Hawks match up well with Boston and may surprise if they stay hot and JJ plays his game throughout the playoffs..Gotta play Defense!

Harpie

April 27th, 2012
11:23 pm

Drew is an idiot, and anything good that the Hawks have done has been in spite of him. Let’s get a real coach!

indyhawk12

April 27th, 2012
11:25 pm

the bench is a huge factorin the playoffs,but even more important this year with the sardine packed schedule and how beat up so many players are around the league…free throws are gonna make us or break us, mark these words

indyhawk12

April 27th, 2012
11:31 pm

the best coach ive ever seen up close in an nba game was M Jordan…hard to explain but such a leader that i’ll never forget him, yes i know he was a player and not a coach,but what im trying to get at is respect has alot to do with coaching and being effective in my opinion. LD has made some questionable moves no doubt,but im sensing something more has been going on behind the scenes and LD still has the players respect..that says ALOT with ATL’s history of players not playing hard..of late ive seen alot more effort..hawks in five

mt783

April 28th, 2012
2:11 am

I think we need to show Josh Smith some love!!! He’s turned in to one hell of player! As Josh Smith goes the hawks go.. We don’t show him enough love. We complain at what he does wrong. We need to support this young fella and let him know we are behind him and he can carry us!! Thanks folks

corporate tv ball sux

April 28th, 2012
2:12 am

9 to 5. just might be the hawks time.

john drew

April 28th, 2012
2:25 am

Jeff: Though there are many naysayers he has done what the Spirit(a total mess) has hired him to do! Like they’re postseason opportunities!

Blahblahblah

April 28th, 2012
6:58 am

He has earned the right to come back for season #3, to see what he can do with a (hopefully) healthy roster.

Jimmy The Geek

April 28th, 2012
7:28 am

Here’s my analysis of this series:

F**K BOSTON.

That is all.

Will

April 28th, 2012
7:49 am

It’s not only ESPN that hates the hawks, TNT, NBA TV, all of them. If the hawks beat the celtics, they’re excuse will be that the celiics are getting old, if the celtics beat the hawks, a great veteran team took care of business. I believe the hawks need to win the east finals, not only will that mess up their brackets, but also put a boot in some of these big mouth commentators negativity, and in most cases they don’t even mention the hawks. The hawks win the east, they will start talking.

Steve

April 28th, 2012
9:01 am

I have enjoyed watching this Hawks team play this year! I think there are some games they should have won but they have definitely brought back an excitement that hasn’t been here since Nique was playing. Kudo’s to Coach Drew and the Hawks! Thank you for bringing Hawks basketball back to Atlanta!!!!

ToeKnee

April 28th, 2012
10:45 am

D-Man

April 28th, 2012
11:39 am

Agreed 100% – Drew is the man! Keeping this squad together through all these injuries (keep ya head up Horf!) makes me wanna say this is the best coaching I’ve seen with these Hawks in a lonnnng time. Nothing would be better than smashing those old Celtics to pieces and making Charles Fart-ley cheat on his Weight Watchers diet by making him eat his words. As far as ESPN goes, they hate everything Atlanta, so forcing them to give us props once we blow them old wheels off those old men in green would be sweet too…GO HAWKS!!

4Jacks

April 28th, 2012
12:24 pm

held them together for what…another lousy season and another first round loss…why don’t the sorry azz hawks leave town and take that God forsaken ownership with them. The ownwership of this group and what use to be the Thrashers are a bunch of scum and not worth spending time and money on their Hawks…you know the ones they are trying to sell. What a disgrace for ownwership.

Round1

April 28th, 2012
1:15 pm

the hawks will go out in round 1, as usual!! Overpaid players, average coaching—it never changes in this city.

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Dave s

April 28th, 2012
3:18 pm

Drew and these hawks have done an awesome job. Playoff situation concerns me though: no horford and possibly no Zaza first round will be very tough in the playoff atmosphere. If anyone can get it done though, these guys have proven its them

Dave s

April 28th, 2012
3:19 pm

Folks undervalue zaza’s performance this year. He was awesome when called upon after horford went down