The Hawks move to keep Larry Drew, and more hope fades

"Run the play where we shoot a jump shot. That'll work." (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

"Run the play where we shoot a jump shot. That'll work." (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

The Atlanta Hawks could have changed a lot this offseason without doing very much. They could have said goodbye to both general manager Rick Sund and coach Larry Drew without having to buy either out. By announcing Friday that they’ve chosen to keep Drew another season, the Hawks have again sent the message that they regard being pretty good as good enough.

Sund’s fate — his contract expires June 30 — is still unknown, but it seemed rather significant that he was the only one quoted in the we’re-keeping-Drew release. (Would a GM who’s actually leaving be allowed to vote yea or nay on a coach? These being the Hawks, maybe.) And if you wondered how long Sund would wait to invoke injuries as an excuse for remaining status quo, the answer was 25 words.

Then this: “The Hawks have reached the postseason in each of his years on the bench, and we feel Larry’s experience, expertise and dedication to the game were a key ingredient to our success.”

As we know, the Hawks reached the playoffs in each of Mike Woodson’s final three seasons, but that didn’t keep this crew, Sund included, from dumping him and promoting his longtime assistant. On the record, the Hawks have been worse in their first two seasons under Drew than in their final two seasons under Woodson, but apparently this, to Sund and presumably to ownership, constitutes “success.”

Which only goes to show: No matter how often this organization boasts of its commitment to excellence, all it’s really trying to do is not to look too bad. Would the Celtics or the Lakers — franchises that co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. suggested his team belongs alongside because all three happened to reach Round 2 of the postseason three years running — define “reach[ing] the postseason” as “success”? Could anyone look at the opportunity just wasted against Boston as anything but a reversal?

This offseason could have been — and still might, theoretically — a time for recalibration. The Hawks could have found a better coach (Nate McMillan would have been my first call) and a new general manager (Dennis Lindsey and Troy Weaver, assistant GM’s with San Antonio and Oklahoma City, would have been my starting points) and tried to reshape the prized Core Four to reflect the growing reality that Josh Smith, not Joe Johnson, is the key to brighter tomorrows.

Instead: Eight days after elimination, the Hawks moved to keep Drew. Why? Well, he works cheap. Beyond that, I really don’t know. To say he hasn’t been a disaster as head coach ignores the reason he was given the job: Drew convinced management he could improve on what Woodson had done. Two years later, he hasn’t.

Drew has de-emphasized Joe Johnson without finding a workable replacement for the Iso-Joes. (And the Hawks still do the Iso-Joes — just not quite as often.) One of the league’s better collections of youngish talent has become a crew dependent on the jump shot, which is utterly counterintuitive: You’d want a team so quick and agile to shoot driving to the hoop, not standing 20 feet away.

The most damning number on Drew involves, as do many damning Hawks numbers, Josh Smith: In his final season under Woodson, Smith took 263 shots of 16 feet or longer (this according to Basketball-Reference.com); in his first season under Drew, he took 526. The belief here is that Drew’s way of handling his most gifted player has been to let Smith do as he pleases, which benefits neither team nor player. The belief here is that Smith is less apt to listen to Drew in 2013 than he was in 2004 or 2011. The belief here is that, if the Hawks are ever to maximize Smith, they won’t do it with this coach.

Another sobering truth: The shortened schedule wasn’t exactly balanced. The Hawks played 25 games against the seven Eastern clubs who failed to make the playoffs, all of whom finished under .500. Boston and Chicago and Indiana each played 23 games against those seven; Miami played 21. Among Eastern playoff qualifiers, only the Knicks had so many games against the conference’s bottom tier. The Hawks played the minimum four games against the top four finishers in the West; every other Eastern playoff qualifier except Indiana played more.

The Hawks could have taken their first Round 1 elimination since 2008 as a signal that change is warranted. Alas, it comes as no great surprise that they pointed to injuries as the reason to stay a course that hasn’t really gotten them very far. Maybe they’ll fool us now by letting Sund leave and hiring someone to come in and bust up the Core Four, but in light of this offseason’s first big move there’s no reason to hold out hope. We’ve again been reminded that these are the Atlanta Hawks.

By Mark Bradley

258 comments Add your comment

ClemsonBrad

May 18th, 2012
4:33 pm

First on a Friday!! Have a great weekend Mark! That’s it for me!

ClemsonBrad

May 18th, 2012
4:36 pm

Good Read. I am bummed about re-hiring Drew as well….but very typical Hawks…I think you are spot on with answering the question, why? Cheap and easy.

This to me also smells like the Hawks won’t be making many changes this offseason. But, with a new GM, I could be wrong. But doesn’t this look like the Hawks are going to give it ONE more year with “everyone healthy” before blowing big pieces of this team up?

The Tide is Rolling and Nothing can stop it

May 18th, 2012
4:37 pm

Like all Georgia teams, championships are once in a lifetime…

donte080

May 18th, 2012
4:37 pm

Mr Bradley, nice hatchet job on Larry Drew! I sure would like to be fly on the wall if you two ever are in an interview room together

Chris Goltermann

May 18th, 2012
4:38 pm

Ship em all to Winnipeg and give us the Thrashers back.

Reid Adair

May 18th, 2012
4:43 pm

Michael Gearon Jr. and Rick Sund are about as honest/trustworthy as Jonathan Vilma.

Maybe they’ll at least get rid of Sund, but as you said, Mark, that seems doubtful.

tide e bowl

May 18th, 2012
4:44 pm

Hey Bama trash, did you hear Georgia got a new zoo? We put a fence up around Alabama.

Mark Bradley

May 18th, 2012
4:44 pm

Thanks, ClemsonBrad.

Mark Bradley

May 18th, 2012
4:45 pm

For the record, I’ve never had a cross word with Coach Drew. He has always treated me professionally.

Bob in SF

May 18th, 2012
4:45 pm

Thank you once again Atlanta (Dis)Spirit.

TomB

May 18th, 2012
4:46 pm

The Smith family is back running the Hawks this time around. God help us!

TomB

May 18th, 2012
4:47 pm

I say Marion Campbell for head coach.

TomB

May 18th, 2012
4:48 pm

prime time

May 18th, 2012
4:51 pm

it only basketball, who care!!!!!

Harry Hawk

May 18th, 2012
4:57 pm

I think you hit the nail on the head, Mark. Drew is cheap. I can’t imagine any other reason why he’s still coaching this crew.

(Then again, I can’t imagine why anyone would look at the core of this club and think it could get better, but I’m not very imaginative, I suppose.)

Don

May 18th, 2012
5:03 pm

“Pretty Good”???? How bout average, at the very best?

donte080

May 18th, 2012
5:03 pm

For the record, maybe you could take a clue on Drew’s professionalism. Hawks won the equivalent of 50 games this season without their all-star center. Josh Smith pushed his game up to another level, and Jeff Teague proved worthy as a starting PG. Despite multiple injuries to key players, Hawks never gave up on their season. Drew deserves some credit for all of that.

Also, Nate McMillian had a losing record as coach of Trailblazers, a team with some similarities to Atlanta. In the 3 seasons in which they did make the playoffs, they had first round exits. Several players including former Hawk Jamal Crawford, wanted him fired as the team quit on him. And you think he is a better solution to Drew? Say what you want, this Hawks team never quit all season long.

Dr. No

May 18th, 2012
5:04 pm

Best franchise in Atlanta, right Najeh Davenpoop?! LMFAO

Dr. No

May 18th, 2012
5:06 pm

LMAOOOOO @ everything Donte80 just posted.

The NBA is LAUGHING at the Hawks, man!

Loki

May 18th, 2012
5:06 pm

Mark,

Theory: Ownership dumps Drew and Josh Smith after next year, then goes after some big name free agents in 2013. Then, they can bring in any coach to placate the player’s massive ego.

Thoughts?

Mike Jay

May 18th, 2012
5:06 pm

I think Sund did a great job shaping the bench this last year while having to stay out of the luxury tax. I also think he was coerced/forced by ownership to give Iso Joe that horrible contract. Sund has been around the game a long time and is not that stupid IMO. Drew also did a great job keeping the team focused and motivated with all of the injuries. They could have easily folded and managed to win a lot of games on sheer talent as there seemed to be a serious lack of X’s and O’s. You know what other coaches are good motivators and keep players focused? Assistant coaches. Why is that? Because the head coach is busy coaching. If only the Hawks had one of those…

cb795

May 18th, 2012
5:16 pm

Mark i agree with you 100%! When Drew was hired I felt the Hawks extended their coaching tree, rather than branching out for new ideals. Drew has not changed my opion on this. They should have kept the original instead of a very poor duplicate of former coach. These Hawks will always be a pertender

Oldmike

May 18th, 2012
5:19 pm

Why do we care? The owners sure don’t. The league cares even less. Blow it up and start over, please. Get rId of JJ.

Jean Claude Killy

May 18th, 2012
5:19 pm

Well thats just great.

Spyro

May 18th, 2012
5:20 pm

Mark, did you borrow those J-Smoove shooting numbers (the ones from his last year under Woody and the first under LD) from the Hoopinion article I linked in the previous article?

donte080

May 18th, 2012
5:45 pm

Dr No….what kind of name is that? FYI, NBA is too worried about Heat getting their arses handed to them by Indy to be worried about Hawks.
And we both know this…..Neither you nor Mr Bradley would have been touting Pacers head coach Frank Vogel before this season.

chuck

May 18th, 2012
5:45 pm

The best two players on the team by far are both PF and neither should be playing anywhere near big minutes at another position. I have nothing against Josh Smith BUT he is the one that needs to go. The best thing that could happen to Josh is to get traded to a team with some veteran leadership. Smith needs a head coach and a teammate enforcer that will tie him to the basket and not let him get away. What could we expect to receive for Josh Smith? We need to hopefully get a small forward and a legitimate center thru a trade for Josh and the draft. Play Marvin off the bench.

W.R. Terrell

May 18th, 2012
5:47 pm

So tell me, will the JOSH improve under LD’s 3rd year? I think not.

WooYeah

May 18th, 2012
5:51 pm

Mark: good article, but I don’t completely agree. “Donte080″ makes some pretty valid points.

Here’s my take:
–Hawks lose their only viable big man, yet stayed competitive. That is coaching.
–Joe Johnson showed his age; Josh Smith, for a moment, grew up; Jeff Teague shows he can start. At the end, Horford showed why he’s the guy to build around.

What needs to happen:
–Admit we’ve maxed out and retool.
–Trade Josh Smith: His value has never been greater. He does not know how to win (see the end of last game).
–Keep Horford and Teague. Everyone else is trade bait.
–Do not dwell on Joe Johnson’s contract. We are stuck with him, like it or not.

The right move:
–Keeping Drew. He is not the problem. Believe it or not, the players responded to him.

Harry Hawk

May 18th, 2012
6:02 pm

Josh Smith has played in 646 regular season and playoff games. I can’t imagine him improving as a player. He has one year left on his deal. He has to go.

STRETCH

May 18th, 2012
6:03 pm

“The Hawks could have taken their first Round 1 elimination since 2008 as a signal that change is warranted. Alas, it comes as no great surprise that they pointed to injuries as the reason to stay a course that hasn’t really gotten them very far.”

Mr Bradley…your best article….EVER!!!

smitty derf

May 18th, 2012
6:04 pm

As much as I find Josh difficult to coach, he did make some improvement under Drew. However I don’t have much faith that it will continue. he is the quintessential, superstar athlete who gets you beat and the coach fired. He led the team in turnovers, more than teague or heinrich . There is no excuse for that from coach or player. I also dont have any faith in ownership that includes Michael Gearon, he showed why. Historically the hawks have suffered from any guidance from him or his father, who wasnt worth the One dollar a year. There is reason to listen to all four of the TNT crew
who continually scoffed at the Hawks attitude and inconsistency.

abby normal

May 18th, 2012
6:10 pm

Bradley, old boy, did you really expect anything else from this management group? Drew was the cheapest and easiest option.

jfreak13713

May 18th, 2012
6:12 pm

To suggest that a coach who has gotten “less” out of the same players than the previous coach should retain his job is silly. To suggest that coach Drew is the right fit for this team is stupid! I don’t blame coach Drew because its not his fault that his has a really low basketball IQ team but I also will not give him credit for getting less out of the same team. Josh Smith is talented and likely the best player on this team but isn’t that the problem? If he were with a true star who wouldn’t mind getting in his immature face at times his game might get to another level. But here in Atlanta with a no leadership on the coaching staff or in the locker room Smith has a limited ceiling.

Joe Johnson is the Joe Mauer of basketball. Average player with superstar contract and will hurt this team for years to come. Not his fault as he did what we all would have done and that is take the money but the end result is what we have today. A team good enough to be 4th – 6th seed but likely gets bounced in 1st or 2nd round because they don’t have THAT GUY on their team and no Phil Jackson to demand respect from the players.

I would trade Josh Smith if I could get a true center but its likely you would not be getting equal vaule back. However, sometimes less is more. Teague was good and should bet better. Horford will not likely miss so many games and Jonhson is still 20 point scorer in the right system. They will not beat the Heat, Bulls, Pacers, or Celtics as they currently are.

Go Hawks!

beone

May 18th, 2012
6:26 pm

Three chances to make a difference for next season – GM, Coach, Player(s). One is now blown. Just shoot all the fans now and put them out of their misery. You can start with me.

Matt

May 18th, 2012
6:39 pm

I am so glad I’m more of a baseball fan than a basketball fan.

Are you serious?

May 18th, 2012
6:39 pm

Bummed – YES. Surprised – OH HELL NO!

As long as the ASG has ownership, the only surprise will be if they do something RIGHT!

Whatever

May 18th, 2012
6:43 pm

You first have to have hope in order for it to fade.

Larry

May 18th, 2012
6:46 pm

Mark,

Spot on!

And anyone that posts an opposing view here don’t give them a second thought. They either possess a double-digit IQ or they have been asked to come here by “the little birdie on their shoulder.” Larry Drew. And there’s only one person more dumb and ignorant than they…whomever buys Hawks Season Tickets for next season!

Jimmy Crack

May 18th, 2012
6:48 pm

Drew is a players coach, and he probably plays a fine rendition of Great Balls of Fire.

I hear after he retires Drew is going to write a book entitled “Innocent Bystander”.

Jesus Christ

May 18th, 2012
6:52 pm

What’s with the LeBron hype? He is a nice player but nowhere close to being among Jordan, bird, magic, Moses, Duncan, Kobe and Shaquille. Lebron is more in a category with Iverson, Nique, Barkley, etc. Not a bad category to be in, but he and Dwight Howard have to be among the 2 most overrated players of all time. In 2001′ Iverson took Eric Snow, Ty Hill, George Lynch and Deke to the finals. Don’t know if Jordan could have accomplished that.

Stinger 2

May 18th, 2012
6:53 pm

So Mark, you and Coach Drew have had a professional relationship up to now.
How about after these two blogs today? Do you think it will remain the same?

Runner-

May 18th, 2012
6:53 pm

Great stat on the jump shots Mark, we need to either trade Josh or get a tougher coach, and since the latter isn’t going to happen, the trade does

Harpie

May 18th, 2012
6:58 pm

Larry Drew sucks!

go-BRAVOS

May 18th, 2012
7:15 pm

The Atlanta Hawks are a joke of an NBA franchise. Excuses are all this franchise are good for, oh and absolutely choking in the playoffs.

Beast from the East

May 18th, 2012
7:20 pm

Even though I think Drew did an admirable job holding things together with all the injuries, he will never take them past the second round. At this point, I am hoping Horford gets traded to a franchise that doesn’t just spew BS, but truly puts forth the effort to win championships. This bunch ain’t it!

Hasadiah Jones

May 18th, 2012
7:23 pm

LD did a good job this year and last.joe is the problem.

UGAGOLFER

May 18th, 2012
7:31 pm

Laughable. Someone dare take a poll of who attends Hawks games. Bet you couldn’t find 200 people from outside the Perimeter. Call me racist (the usual response) or whatever, but we just don’t care, and that will be reflected by ticket sales for 2012-2013. They can move the team and we STILL won’t care. In fact, why did I bother to read this story?! LOL. Would be nice to see an organization committed to winning something for a change. The Hawks need an improved bench and a belief they can actually win SOMETHING.

Disgusted

May 18th, 2012
7:43 pm

LD was not the problem.

He has gotten as much out of this team that was injury riddled most of the season. He also got them to the second round last yr.

I do want to see what they can do with everyone reasonably healthy next yr.

This is not a likable team, with even more unlikable owners. Maybe they too can go to Canada and for my liking I would take the Thrashers back. Yea, fat chance.

They did play a competitive series vs the Celtics save for one game, but Hawks fans are tired of that.

We are stuck with the unlikable Joe Johnson for 5 or 6 more yrs, and that is not good.

Disgusted

May 18th, 2012
7:45 pm

I wonder what kind of player and guy Josh Smith would be if he went somewhere that had a true commitment to winning and an ownership that had a clue.

I would like to see Al Horford and Teague get a shot going somewhere where they had a real chance to make a long playoff run.

Joe Johnson keeps this team down.