The Hawks introduced head coach Lloyd Pierce on Monday at one of those overcooked Hawks press conferences where family and friends far outnumber actual media. He said the right stuff, at least the parts that could be heard. The first microphone he was handed didn’t work. (Same ol’ Hawks.)
He spoke of the similarities between his new job here and his previous posting as assistant coach for the 76ers. The Hawks are rebuilding via tanking. Half the league is. Philly did it first and fastest.
Pierce worked in Cleveland under Mike Brown, who’d worked in San Antonio under Gregg Popovich. He worked in Memphis under Lionel Hollins, the point guard on a famous Portland team for Dr. Jack Ramsey. He played at Santa Clara alongside Steve Nash, who became an MVP in Phoenix under Mike D’Antoni. Pierce would have been a solid candidate if he’d never worked in Philly. He became the obvious choice because he worked in Philadelphia serving The Process, as it became universally known.
Anytime a team hires a new coach marks a significant moment. We would, however, be less than forthright if we didn’t emphasize that Pierce’s introduction Monday will be only the second-biggest Hawks news of these 48 hours. What transpires in Tuesday’s draft lottery will have a greater impact on everything that happens next.
Said Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk: “Our plan hasn’t changed. We’re going to try to continue to develop our young players. We’re going to maintain our financial flexibility. We’re going to continue to accumulate assets. Our plan hasn’t changed. We just have a new coach.”
Having a good coach never hurts. (On the contrary, it always, always helps.) But NBA coaching is a function of the players provided. That’s the point of The Process. The Sixers tanked as blatantly as any team ever has, and today they have the league’s best young duo – Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – plus Markelle Fultz, last year’s No. 1 overall pick who scarcely played as a rookie due to injury.
Asked how it was to work within Philly’s Process, Pierce said: “There was the outside perception, and there was the internal reality. Our job as coaches was to develop the players on our roster.”
There was a time when that roster was so thin – remember, Nerlens Noel (No. 6 overall pick, 2013), Embiid (No. 3, 2014) and Simmons (No. 1, 2016) sat out their rookie seasons; the Sixers could afford to wait – that Philadelphia lost 26 consecutive games. But there were also glimmers. “With Joel, his talent superseded everything,” Pierce said. “The rest of the league had no idea how good he was. We knew that as soon as he got healthy, we had something special.”
Then there was T.J. McConnell, an undrafted free agent from Arizona by way of Duquense. He had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists against Boston in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semis. There’s your player development. Said Pierce: “He embodied everything you could ask for.”
Earlier, Pierce had said: “It’s all about the development … It’s all going to focus on their growth. Superstars on our roster we can worry about later.”
Later? Like … Tuesday night?
Deandre Ayton is a massive man. Marvin Bagley III is a major talent. Luka Doncic might be Simmons-like, only with a real jump shot. The Hawks could wind up picking anywhere from No. 1 (meaning Ayton or Doncic, probably) to No. 7 (meaning maybe Michael Porter Jr. or Wendell Carter Jr., or even Trae Young). This is the Hawks’ first lottery pick since the Al Horford/Acie Law III combo platter in 2007, which immediately preceded a run of of 10 consecutive playoff appearances. The bounce of the ping-pong balls could turn this franchise. Or not.
Winning the right to pick Ayton/Doncic wouldn’t mean these Hawks are home and dry. Philly’s Process took so long that its architect resigned after three years. (Today the absent Sam Hinkie is hailed as a civic hero in a city that hates everybody.) Said Schlenk: “You can’t skip steps in the process, not to use their word. We have our plan.”
Landing a coach versed in The Process and on board with the plan -- unlike grumpy Mike Budenholzer, now gone with the wind -- is a deft move, and Pierce is an impressive guy. But he’s in for a lot of losing no matter how the ping-pong balls fall Tuesday. He knows that. Still, as he told Schlenk in their first interview at the Philly Airport Marriott: “Good days add up.”
Monday was a good day for a team coming off a lousy-by-design season. If Tuesday night works out, the number of bad days this plan/process will require could be trimmed by several hundred.