This has been a Hawks’ preseason written in pencil. Five starting lineups in five exhibition games.
While that partly can be attributed to a player injury or the whims of head coach Larry Drew experimenting with new pieces, it’s also a fair gauge of where this team is at right now. Nobody is mourning the departures of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, both of whom forever earned places on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore of failures. But now Drew is trying to find a starting lineup with an entertaining but undersized roster and in less than ideal circumstances.
He is, as he put it, “trying to bring cohesiveness as fast as I can.” Of course. Because while nobody can be certain how long this rebuilding project by general manager Danny Ferry will take, things are less fuzzy concerning Drew. He is in the final year of his contract.
Nothing like the pressure of working without a net while trying to impress the new boss.
The Hawks exercised the option on Drew’s contract before they hired Ferry (who was just fine with that). There has been no extension and there likely won’t be until after the season, if then. The two didn’t really know each other before Ferry was hired and, let’s face it, this isn’t like a personnel guy looking at tape of a player and saying, “Let’s get him.” The coach-GM relationship is just that — a relationship. So Ferry doesn’t feel comfortable yet giving his head coach any job security.
Drew has been pretty successful in his two seasons. Ferry acknowledges as much. But Drew now has a lesser cast of players than before, with no stated win total he must hit or round of playoffs he must reach to extend his employment. It would be understandable if he felt a little bit uneasy, but he’s doing his best to downplay the situation.
“The situation is what it is, the contract is what it is, the timing is what it is,” he said. “I have a contract I have to honor and I’m going to do that. I’m going to come out every day and give it my all. I know it’s not the best situation to be in, but I look at it as a challenge. It’s an opportunity.”
Ferry managed to get rid of Joe Johnson’s contract. He gets the benefit of the doubt for the next decade.
But there’s some risk here. When a coach is in the final year of his contract, it has the potential of undercutting his authority in the locker room, particularly a locker room where there’s so many new players. The I’m-in-charge-message can get a little lost.
“I won’t allow that,” Ferry said Thursday. “I’ll be supportive of Larry throughout the year. … Our relationship has been positive. It’s been productive as far as getting to know each other and getting ready for the year.”
Drew took over for the fired Mike Woodson. The Hawks took a step back in regular season wins – we can partly blame Woodson not taking the albatross, Mike Bibby, with him — but upset Orlando in the first round of the playoffs and took Chicago to six games. Last season, despite missing Al Horford for much of the season, Drew’s winning percentage in the lockout season rose from .537 to .606 (40-26) but the Hawks lost to Boston in the first round. (Reasonable excuses: Horford wasn’t in playing shape when he returned; Josh Smith missed a game with a knee injury; Joe Johnson was his usual postseason worthless self.)
It’s no secret the Hawks had a somewhat dysfunctional locker room, and Drew should get credit for enduring despite that. He obviously would have liked a little more breathing room, but he dealt with this situation as a player. “I tried to not look at it as a negative,” he said. “You don’t let it consume you. Some people might not able to handle it but I’m here to prove otherwise.”
Josh Smith and Al Horford are back. The rest of the lineup will be heavy on speed and shooters: Devin Harris, Lou Williams. Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, John Jenkins.
“We have guys who can make shots and get up and down the floor,” Drew said. “But we’re not going to play street ball. We’re going to be well organized. We’re going to be relentless on the attack and on defense.”
He has a plan — but not much time to make it work.
By Jeff Schultz