Improved his team’s record each of the past five seasons; just coached his team to the No. 3 in the East; has made the playoffs three years running; has won two playoff series, each in seven games.
If you’re the Chicago Bulls and you’re hiring for a coach, Mike Woodson would surely be at the top of your list. But the Hawks aren’t the Bulls, and they’ve gone as far with him as they can. And let’s not sell the man short: Under Woodson, this team rose from abject misery to win 53 games.
But the postseason just completed surely represented the end of the road for the Woodman. The Hawks haven’t yet said what they’re going to do, but if they weren’t willing to re-up Woodson when his team was winning 53 regular-season games, there seems no chance they’ll do it after his team lost a playoff series by an average of 25.3 points.
From Jamal Crawford, speaking between Games 3 and 4: “It was like an NCAA tournament game — they were the No. 1 seed and we were the 16. Except that they’re the 2 and we’re the 3.”
It’s possible the Hawks would have been swept with Zen Master Phil Jackson on their bench, but they couldn’t have looked any worse under any coach. This wasn’t a case of an opponent just being better. This was a stark study in what happens when good players stop listening.
Assuming the Hawks change coaches, the next man needs to be one capable of getting and keeping his players’ attention. As Woodson keeps noting, these aren’t the inept Hawks of 2004-2005. At issue now is finding the man capable of taking this team from Round 2 ignominy to Round 3 and beyond.
Avery Johnson’s name arises often, but word in NBA circles is that he’ll get the New Orleans job. Byron Scott is another possibility, but he has had the benefit of having two of the era’s best point guards (Jason Kidd, Chris Paul) in his two coaching stops and got fired from both. And there’s always sentiment to recycle some TV coach — Doug Collins, Jeff Van Gundy, Mike Fratello — but with such big names we must ask: If they’re so great, why aren’t they coaching?
The man I’d hire was interviewed for this job when Woodson got it in 2004. (Also interviewed back then: Mike Brown, who now coaches LeBron.) The man I’d hire is Dwane Casey, who’s currently being sought by other teams — he has interviewed with the Hornets — but might have a greater interest in these Hawks.
Casey worked under Rick Sund, who’s now the Hawks’ general manager, for five years with Seattle as Nate McMillan’s chief assistant. He’s currently employed as Rick Carlisle’s assistant with the Dallas Mavericks. Casey got a chance to be a head coach in 2005 with Minnesota, but it wasn’t a real chance. Kevin McHale fired him halfway through his second season. (Casey’s record was 53-69, which was terrific if you note how the T-Wolves have since collapsed.)
Casey isn’t an exotic coach. He’s not going to go all Don Nelson on you. Where he’d be an upgrade is in relationships. The Hawks died in the playoffs because they stopped trusting one another. (When in doubt, shoot a jumper.) The next coach must handle feelings as much as X’s and O’s.
He must convince Joe Johnson — assuming Johnson stays, which I believe he will — to share the ball. He must convince Josh Smith not to compete with Johnson jump shot for jump shot. He must convince Smith, whose defense in the postseason was terrible, to make the basic rotations and not always play for the film-at-11 block.
Asked Tuesday if the team had stopped paying heed to Woodson in these playoffs, Al Horford said: “I think that’s fair to say to some extent. Some guys had mentally checked out.”
No, that doesn’t say much for those guys: How can you stop caring when you have, as Horford put it, “a chance to do something special”? But it also says they’re not apt to listen to Mike Woodson ever again. I believe Dwane Casey can make them listen. I believe he should be the Hawks’ next coach.