How the Hawks might get it right: Find a coach for Josh Smith

(AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

"Good luck in your next job, Larry." "Same to you, Rick." (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

As sometimes happens in the fast-paced world of 21st Century sportswriting, events have intervened. The Hawks announced at 1:59 p.m. Friday that they have exercised their option to keep Larry Drew as head coach. A new post will be forthcoming, but I’m leaving this up as a reminder that … well, that it wasn’t MY idea.

The other day, someone who follows the Atlanta Hawks in a journalistic capacity asked: “Do you think Josh Smith really wants to be coached?” That’s not just a great metaphysical question — it’s the key to this offseason and the seasons to come.

After thinking a bit, I said: “I think he does.” And right there I had my blueprint. At this moment in their strange history, what do the Hawks need to do?

Keep Josh Smith but find him a coach.

There are three major variables: Smith has one season remaining on his contract and has made noises about wanting out of here; the club holds an option on coach Larry Drew, and general manager Rick Sund is out of contract after June 30. Put simply, the Hawks have a chance this summer to change their dynamics without having to buy anybody out.

In place since June 2008, Sund has acquired two talents of the first rank: Jamal Crawford in trade in June 2009 but since gone to free agency, and Jeff Teague, drafted in 2009. Four of the Hawks who started Game 6 against Boston this month started Game 7 against the Celtics in May 2008. Think about that: A team that hasn’t gotten past Round 2 is still trying to make Billy Knight’s grand design work.

Drew arrived in 2004 as Mike Woodson’s chief assistant and was promoted when Woodson was shown the door after presiding over five consecutive seasons of improved results. Drew’s selling point to ownership was that he’d be able to get more out of the players than Mean Ol’ Woody, but all he has gotten is a (slightly) worse record and (many) more jump shots.

For the Hawks to get really good, as opposed to trying to stay pretty good a bit longer, they’ll need more dynamic management. They’ll need a GM who can stand up to ownership and swat away bad ideas. (Such as: Promoting the top assistant of the guy you’ve just fired.) They’ll need a coach who might actually make the players listen. But in both cases, they’ll need men who recognize that the Hawks’ future must revolve around Josh Smith.

And that’s scary. He could leave after next season. But the guess here is that Smith would look favorably on staying if he knew he, and not Johnson, would become the centerpiece. That’s scary, too. Smith can look like the best player on the floor and the worst player in the world in the span of 30 seconds. But he just finished his eighth NBA season and hasn’t yet made an All-Star roster, and he has arrived at a personal crossroads: He can either maximize his gifts and become a superstar, or he can continue to play at 70 percent capacity and be remembered as a guy who never figured it out.

I’m inclined to give Smith the benefit of the doubt, for this reason: In eight NBA seasons, he has known only two head coaches, and one of them has been with him for all eight. He didn’t play college ball. He’ll turn 27 in December, but I’m not sure Smith has really been taught how to play.

Woodson came the closest, but his manner grated. Say this for Woody, though: He had nearly convinced Smith not to hoist so many jump shots, but then he was gone and Drew offered free rein. In his final season under Woodson, Smith took seven 3-pointers; in his first season under Drew, he took 154.

I’m not sure Smith sees Drew as more than the nice-guy assistant, and Smith doesn’t need a buddy. He needs a firmer hand on his shoulder and a voice of experience in his ear. He needs someone who has been around the NBA, who has a reputation as being good with players without being an enabler. Dwane Casey, since snapped up by Toronto, would have done wonders with Smith. Nate McMillan, who’s between jobs, could have the same effect.

As for a new general manager: Start with the organizational charts of San Antonio and Oklahoma City. (Two assistant GMs worth knowing: Dennis Lindsey of the Spurs and Troy Weaver of the Thunder.) But here we come to great imponderable regarding the Hawks: Would anyone of consequence be willing to work for these owners?

For the sake of argument, let’s say someone would. (Given a suitable pay packet and the assurance that meddling would be kept at a minimum.) Let’s say there’s a rising executive who wouldn’t be afraid to tamper with the Core Four and a learned coach who would welcome the chance to turn Josh Smith into one of the best players in the sport. If so, these Hawks might yet have a future that’s not just more of the same.

By Mark Bradley

127 comments Add your comment

me

May 18th, 2012
8:56 am

Josh Smith is and always will be a loser.

me

May 18th, 2012
8:58 am

Jay Bilas made the perfect remarks when the Hawks selected him in the draft. He saw the real Josh Smith. The guy has no heart, has a pathetic attitude and believes in his mind he is an All-Star. He’s DeAngelo Hall, or rather MeAngelo Hall. You can’t win with ME guys and Josh Smith is the ultimate Me guy.

Paul

May 18th, 2012
9:00 am

No decent GM comes to this team with that cap space.
As for Smith: How does he not learn from the tape? Nevertheless, he had a breakout season and clearly became the best player on this team. Remember the great record with Johnson AND Horford out in the middle of the season. Josh can carry a team.

NCBravesFan

May 18th, 2012
9:04 am

I think you are right on, Mark. But given a 180 degree change of course by the ASG in terms of resource commitment, it’ll never happen. Sad to say.

GTanner

May 18th, 2012
9:04 am

Fifth! Of bourbon.

GTanner

May 18th, 2012
9:07 am

Josh is my favorite player since Dominique. However, the ASG cannot afford a good coach … unless there’s an assistant out there who is seen by most as not quite ready, but really is.

kojak

May 18th, 2012
9:12 am

Josh is the dumbest player ever. 8 years of tape and EVERYONE else can see the problem but him. See ya! Unless we get Phil Jackson to coach him and that anin’t gonna happen.
Get something for him while you can.

Rickster

May 18th, 2012
9:12 am

Or… the Hawks could find the right team for Josh Smith.
Or… the Hawks could find the right owners for the team.

Treeofwoe

May 18th, 2012
9:22 am

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Josh will always think he’s a jump shooter and never work on his inside game or his jump shooting. He’s awesome in space and in defense. By this point if he hasn’t listened to instruction he’s not going to. It’s like teaching Joe to pass the ball with 2 people on him…he won’t do that either.

Sage of Bluesland

May 18th, 2012
9:23 am

Please. More rubbish from this out-of-touch writer. The key to the Hawks’ improvement rests with OWNERSHIP. I don’t know what you have always received from this organization to keep from telling the truth.

Wake up and stop confusing the real issue with this wretched organization.

If you had courage, Mark, you wouldn’t delete this message. But, I know you and what you’re all about.

kojak

May 18th, 2012
9:23 am

do you think Josh even knows who Dennis Rodman is? Josh could dominate on defense and rebounding and get 15 points a game by accident. Stop taking jumpers you big dummy!!!!
Thanks Mark for making me yell at the computer now instead of the TV, now that the season is over.

HawksFanSince'89

May 18th, 2012
9:29 am

Restructure Joe Johnson’s contract, bring in a true big man, and another B+ player, bring in a new GM, and make a championship run!!

HawksFanSince'89

May 18th, 2012
9:30 am

Bring in a new coach too!

kb

May 18th, 2012
9:31 am

This team needed a coach like Paul Silas (yea, that coach of the Charlotte Bobcats who has be castraited by that awful collection of players – thanks Mike) a couple of seasons ago. But the mgt of the Hawks didn’t want to be told they do know crap about basketball and how to develop it. What is worse the Hawks did not want to cough up the $$ for Avery Johnson. So the Hawks get what you get.

As for Smith, he needs to improve as a player. As for the team, it needs to be blown up. Keep Horford, Teague, and Smith and trade the rest. Johnson is a third team player been paid as a number one player….

ANOTHER GM

May 18th, 2012
9:31 am

The ASG will do nothing in the offseason unless their hand is forced by LD going to Portland or Sund retiring or leaving.

Actually, the only change that could be made with this roster to make a difference and stay under the cap is to trade Joe Johnson and he is getting a pretty good pay raise this year.

If you a fan of this team and expect major trades or changes its not going to happen. This is the team you will have next year with the exception of the bench and they will be all yard sale minimum salary players.

I would not be surprised in the least bit if the Hawks sell there first round pick (23rd) in the draft to avoid paying the rookie salary.

Karl Malone

May 18th, 2012
9:32 am

Jerry Sloan is the answer.

Paddy

May 18th, 2012
9:34 am

Since the ASG has never made the right move, your good suggestions, Mark, fall on a broke and uncompassioned ownership group. Good players refuse to consider Atl and ASG won’t pay for a quality coach. Not much to look forward to, is there?

leon

May 18th, 2012
9:35 am

I have to agree with you. I have said this all season. We need a coach that hold not just Josh Smith, but the entire team accountable for all they do. Until we have that we will not go any further. However we also need to figure out how to make this team marketable or we never get a call either. Coach makes the team go. Selling tickets make the league take notice.

GT

May 18th, 2012
9:36 am

A little of the Falcon format. Get rid of deadwood management and bring in leading edge people who have been successful other places. Braves have done that for years too. That part works.

What I don’t buy is Smith. He is the M. Vick of the Hawks organization to me. Looks like the real thing but I truly believe, he is dealing with too much mentally to succeed. I think he can’t grasp the fundamentals, very much like Vick.

Just like Vick running out of the pocket looks great but confuses receivers who are running disciple patterns, Smith’s teammates have not got a clue what Smith is going to do, which makes them under perform. Someone the other day accused Teague of being the problem. Imagine being a point guard with a loose cannon Smith deciding he is going to take the ball down the court and dish off to whoever he comes up with or just launch a three with 15 seconds still on the clock. The whole offense is off balance like they are guarding Smith trying to anticipate what he is up to when Smith doesn’t even know himself. No coach in the world can coach this guy and the press turns up the heat acting like he is a keeper.

Arthur Blank got rid of his press made keeper,Vick. I always though Blank might have turn him in to the authorities for the dog thing. Vick had a long term contract, he was ridiculously popular with the element in Atlanta. The criminal thing cleared Blank to unload him and bring in a quarterback who was not playing for his gangster social circle, and rebuilt a whole winning program in Atlanta like the football has never seen. It made him look to the public like a victim, yet he got exactly what he wanted, brilliant. Same situation with Smith and the Hawks. The Hawks need to find some dogs dump them off at Josh’s and call the police.

GT

May 18th, 2012
9:37 am

The Hawks need to find some dogs dump them off at Josh’s and call the police.

Jesse

May 18th, 2012
9:39 am

He’ll want out anyway. Trade him for Biedrens and Dorrel Wright.

ANOTHER GM

May 18th, 2012
9:39 am

Actually the ASG will do nothing unless their hand is forced by Larry Drew leaving or Sund leaving/retiring.

The only roster change that could be made in regards to the salary cap is the Hawks dealing Joe Johnson. Joe gets a pretty good raise this coming season and not many would be willing to take on his albatross salary unless the other team wants to dump a big non-productive salary. So the Hawks are stuck with their lack of basketball skills in dealing with players contracts.

I would not be surprised to see the Hawks actually sell their first round pick (23) this year so they dont have to pay the rookie contract.

If your a Hawks fan that things will happen in the offseason I would be shocked based on current history if the Hawks do anything. They will have to sign free agent minimum salry scrubs for the bench and roster to be filled, but these players will be yard sale buys.

Paddy

May 18th, 2012
9:40 am

Hawks fan since ‘89…….Joe Johnson will not agree to restructure his contract. Why should he? He is going to take advantage of the ASG stupid contract and leave basketball a very rich man. More power to him. It is the American way.

Astro Joe

May 18th, 2012
9:44 am

Mark, you assume that the new GM would be allowed to break up the sacred core that has produced 6 home playoff games in 3 of the past 4 years. I would also point out that one of Josh’s buddies (Dwight Howard) has most recently resented being “coached up”. On the other hand, maybe Josh sees how his former high school teammate (Rajon Rondo) has benefited from some very robust coaching. Hard to tell. Josh clearly has the drive to be a better player we just don’t know if it has to be on his terms (like hoisting more long 2-point FGAs than Durant this past season) or if he is willing to have someone in his ear for around 240 days/year? Dude can walk in around 14 months so the ASG needs to either guess right or move him before August.

Bill

May 18th, 2012
9:44 am

Between ASG and Liberty Media we all better hope the Falcons can be something special.

That said it is clear the Hawks have gone as far as they can.The old definition of insanity applies here.Major changes need to happen.

Keep JT.

Get what you can for Josh.

If Horford comes back healthy he can bring good value.

Get what you can for Marvin though it won’t be much.

Top Gun

May 18th, 2012
9:46 am

Brian Shaw is the former assistant to Phil Jackson and the Lakers and now an assiatant with the Indiana Pacers, and would be the perfect fit for the Hawks. He has championship experience and knows what it takes to win and I think the players will respect him because of that.

JSS

May 18th, 2012
9:49 am

Look, unless you’re going to build a real staff with a true accruement for getting team ready to play it really does not matter. The X and O’s are adjustments to that base. Get rid of Tyrone Hill and work on getting this righted…

heartofdarkness

May 18th, 2012
9:50 am

“… [B]ut I’m not sure Smith has really been taught how to play.” That is an profound insight, not only applicable to JSmoove, but to a large portion of the NBA. The sport wrestles with how to get control of its supply of talent from the fast buck artists who start promoting players while they are still in grade school. Basketball has the potential to become what boxing has become, a secondary consideration to the perpetual hype machine that collects and distributes the dollars. At some point in a player’s career, the talent evens out and the difference comes down to the ability to compete, to adjust, to perceive weakness and strength, and to exploit. It is no surprise that players today look to join an all-star assemblage where weaknesses can be covered up and the quality of the opposing talent can be diluted. It is difficult to imagine Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain conspiring to join forces to win a championship. I think their personal competition meant more to them than the championship.

JM

May 18th, 2012
9:53 am

Exactly Bradley,

Start at the top with a good GM and qualified proven coach. Then consider roster moves. Even if they still move Josh, a good coach is need. Top tier coach. Sloan, Zen Master, Nate McMillan, VanGundy. Start looking and offering top dollar Hawks!

JM

May 18th, 2012
9:54 am

Yeah, Shaw too.

JM

May 18th, 2012
9:55 am

Wayne Johnson

May 18th, 2012
9:58 am

Your suggestion is a recipe for disaster-it has been tried before.

Air PR

May 18th, 2012
10:07 am

I agree with Karl Malone Bring Jerry Sloan! End of story..

gregpatrick

May 18th, 2012
10:14 am

The REAL truth is Smith has been in the NBA for 8 years. Where is is personal responsibility as a professional? It’s not coach Drew’s fault if Josh Smith and Joe Johnson don’t see the value and endgame of playing as a team. There were lots of injuries this year as well. We have major problems with attitude. Ultimately, you can blame Drew if you want, but these guys are grown men getting paid millions and should show some degree of personal responsibility toward ASG, Drew, and most importantly, the fans that show up and make sure they get paid.

Say It Aint So

May 18th, 2012
10:21 am

Wow, 7 3pt-ers Woody’s last season as coach and 154 3pt-ers last season. There is the problem. With Josh’s dad in his ear saying shoot that s*+t, he believes he is Reggie Miller reincarnated. No coach of worth wants the head ache of Smooth and the ownership of ASG. Blow it up and start over from front office to the court.

mark

May 18th, 2012
10:22 am

we need new owners, plain and simple. a well establish coach would do the trick. Its about time you wrote something that makes sense.

BravesFan79

May 18th, 2012
10:27 am

Jerry Sloan would turn this Hawks team into NBA finals material! I loved watching his hardnosed / very smartly run teams wipe the floor with the lakers and everyone else except the Bulls back in the 90’s! Also i like Jeff Van Guny, his Knicks/ Rocket teams were tops in the league in defense. And im sure hed have no problem jumping down refs throats, or jumping on Josh after a stupid shot. I actually think Sund has done a good job as gm. Bringing in Tmac, Green, etc… were all good moves. Dampier… not so much.

Mike

May 18th, 2012
10:28 am

I think the first thing we need to find out if Josh even want to stay, bring a new coach isnt going to change the fact that ASG is still running the show and this team cant make any changes because they are already commit 61m to six players unless somebody is trade or release somebody, then we get Vetmins on the bench, then its wash, rinse, repeat for next season.

I dont really think any respect head coach or GM wants to come here at all, as long those guys are in control.

Mark I dont know if you know this but How does the ASG feels about all of the negative they are getting right?

BravesFan79

May 18th, 2012
10:32 am

Funny how some idiots say “blow it up”… who do you want us to be for the next 5 years? The Nets, the Wizards, the Warriors? No thanks, ill take a team that constantly gives us a chance to win and gets to the 2nd round of the playoffs constantly. Lets get a top headcoach, and see what he can do!

BravesFan79

May 18th, 2012
10:34 am

Btw… yall r probably the same ones who were saying “blow it up” about the Braves after last year. 1st place baby! future NL East champs.

Paddy

May 18th, 2012
10:34 am

Just guessing here but Jerry Sloan, if offered, would turn down this great assignment.

12 years and counting on this 5 year plan to make this team work!

steve brown

May 18th, 2012
10:38 am

Just a pathetic column on Smith and Drew. Drew led the Hawks to 40 wins with as many or more injuries to key players than any team in the regular season. He also led Smith into emerging with his best season by far and as the best player on the Hawks (and I have been a Smith hater in the past). If the Ref’s in Boston had not blown 3 calls in the last minute the Hawks might still be playing. What the hell else did you expect Drew to accomplish. Oh yeah, Teague and Zsa Zsa also emerged as real players under Drew.

Perhaps what we need is a replacement for you Mr. Bradley, and that shouldn’t cost us more than a second round pick, if that.

Mash

May 18th, 2012
10:40 am

Mark, I absolutely agree. Keeping Josh Smith and harnessing his incredible talent should be the number #1 priority for the Hawks.

Spyro

May 18th, 2012
10:44 am

There was this piece on Hoopinion a while back on why A) Woody was a better coach than LD, and B) why the right coach could possibly fix Josh.

http://www.hoopinionblog.com/2012/02/smoove-criminal-whos-to-blame-for.html

DP

May 18th, 2012
10:47 am

You can coach Josh Smith all you want, but as long as he’s teamed with the ball hogging sour faced cancer Joe Johnson (whose resigning to a massive and absurd contract was applauded by Mark Bradley) he’s not going to be much better than he’s been. Put him on a team of unselfish players with a point guard who is allowed to handle the ball and push the tempo and we’d see what Smith is capable of. I hope the inept Hawks ownership will trade Smith to a team where he has a chance to play to his potential.

Mike

May 18th, 2012
10:48 am

1) tell the owners not to give bulletin board material for the other team next time.

2) get healthy. The Hawks dont lose to Boston this year if they had Smith, Horford, and Pachulia for the whole series.

This Hawks team, much like Indiana, is good enough to beat teams like Boston or a shorthanded Miami or Chicago. Unfortunately, if Chicago and Miami are healthy, the Hawks and Indiana cant match up. Just having a team full of very good players doesnt cut it when going against a team loaded with future hall of famers (Miami), or a team full of very good players that also happens to have at least one elite player (Chicago, San Antonio, Oklahoma City).

Mike

May 18th, 2012
10:49 am

@steve brown

I think you need to understand, the reason why Drew might not be here no more isnt because his win totals or anything like that. First of all, you see him always get into Teague or Zaza about stuff but have you see him ever in Josh face for shooting too much or Joe face when he cant pass out from a double team? Number 2, he can get a better contact from somebody else like Portland who might go after him.

End of the day, the Hawks needs a coach is not going to be all buddy-buddy with them but have them play good basketball, not this swish-mash type of offense that they run with ISO-joe. Unless you like the Hawks contiune been a laughing stock.

DP

May 18th, 2012
10:49 am

Bradley, you advocated resigning Joe Johnson to a long term contract and the Hawks still have years of suffering left because of that idiotic decision. Why on earth are you still giving them advice?

Delbert D.

May 18th, 2012
10:58 am

Would any top candidate relish the idea of coaching Josh Smith in Atlanta? I think not. Smith will almost certainly not sign another contract with the Hawks. Trade him for value and let the new GM rebuild his way.

PMC

May 18th, 2012
10:59 am

and that mans name is Greg Popovich.