This is why you don’t promote the nice-guy assistant. Because the players who’ve known him only as the nice-guy assistant will quit on him. And if you think the Hawks are still playing hard for Larry Drew, how are we to explain the misdoings of the past three weeks?
The Hawks have lost six home games in 18 days. (By way of comparison, they lost seven home games all last season.) Only one of these six losses has been by fewer than 13 points. Average margin of the six losses — 17.2 points.
On Friday they trailed Miami by 29 points after three quarters. On Saturday Al Horford convened a players-only meeting, which apparently enabled the Hawks to subdue the awful Detroit Pistons by eight points the next day. But the shelf life on players-only meetings, at least for these Hawks, is only 48 hours. On Tuesday they trailed Chicago by 29 points after two quarters. (They would trail by 47 before it ended.)
Even if we stipulate that all six home losses have come against good opposition, that excuses nothing. The Hawks are, or at least were, supposed to be pretty good themselves. They won 53 games last season, and they’ve won 40 this time. But they’re not nearly the team they were a year ago, and the reason is clear:
The Hawks might not have loved Mike Woodson, but they played hard for him most nights. When they stopped playing hard against Orlando in Round 2 of the 2010 playoffs, it was time for Woodson to go. But it took the Hawks six seasons to tune out their previous coach; they stopped listening to his successor after 60-some games.
They’ve won 40 games because they still have talent; they’ve lost 15 home games because they don’t care enough to apply that talent when application requires effort. Stop shooting their beloved jump shots? Start guarding somebody? Why bother?
Say it again: Fifteen home losses for a team that boasts two All-Stars, a third player of All-Star caliber and the league’s reigning sixth man of the year. Fifteen home losses, nine of them by double figures. The NBA’s worst team shouldn’t be getting hammered like this at home on such a regular basis, let alone one that has been to the playoffs three years running and will get there again this spring. (The irony of Tuesday’s loss was that the Hawks could have clinched a postseason berth; instead they looked like a team in the running to be first in line for the draft lottery.)
Apart from the subtraction of Mike Bibby and the addition of Kirk Hinrich — that trade hasn’t exactly had a catalytic effect, has it?– these Hawks are essentially the same as they’ve been. What’s different is the coach. Like him or not, Mike Woodson was difficult to overlook. His former team has found Woody’s nice-guy assistant all too easy to ignore.
By Mark Bradley