Lloyd Pierce has represented the city of Atlanta with nothing but class ever since becoming the head coach of the Hawks in May of 2018. His character has shined bright despite his team’s losing ways, and he’s been a critical figure in the community — especially during election season. However, being a good guy can only take you so far in the sports world (just ask Dan Quinn). The Hawks are no longer rebuilding. Money has been spent to make this a team a contender as early as this season, and it’s Lloyd Pierce’s job to drive this bus to the playoffs. If he doesn’t, he may be filling out applications at season’s end.
In Pierce’s first year with the Hawks, they had no chance. John Collins had yet to breakout, and nobody knew what to expect out of Trae Young as a rookie. However, those two budding stars were reason for optimism, leading some to believe the Hawks were on the verge of competing for a playoff spot as early as 2020.
Unfortunately, Atlanta’s — some would call — lofty expectations crashed down to earth once John Collins was served a 25-game suspension right when the season was getting underway. That put the team behind the eight-ball, and injuries to other key pieces didn’t help matters either. Before Collins could even return, the Hawks had already dug themselves into a hole too deep to climb out of. The season got cut short and Atlanta was left outside of the bubble, leading to a nine month layoff. Something happened between now and then…the team has undergone a total transformation.
With so much money coming off the books after last season, the Hawks were expected to be one of the few big spenders in free agency. They did not disappoint. Right when free agency opened, Travis Schlenk inked Danilo Gallinari to a three-year contract worth over $60 million. He then added critical bench pieces like Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondo before snagging Bogdan Bogdanović from the Kings, who refused to match the Hawks offer sheet of four years, $72 million.
On top of that, Schlenk also added rim protection in the form of Clint Capela, who he traded for before the deadline last season. Unfortunately, a foot injury prevented him from ever appearing for the Hawks, but all signs are pointing to him being ready for the start of the season. Schlenk also went big in the draft by selecting USC’s Onyeka Okongwu, who is a skilled center that plays much bigger than his 6’9″ frame.
In the span of a month, the Hawks went from a top-heavy squad that was way too reliant on Trae Young and John Collins to one of the deepest teams from top to bottom in the NBA. Every minute on the floor will be fought for an earned. It will be up to Lloyd Pierce to figure out how all these new pieces work together. He won’t have as much room for error as usual with the league shortening the schedule to 72 games this season.
The national media may not have caught on yet, but the Hawks are far too talented not to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference this year. If they don’t, everyone in the organization might lose their job — including Travis Schlenk, who I believe has done a fantastic job as general manager. Atlanta’s goal shouldn’t be simply to make the playoffs; they should be competing once they get there. Pierce has proven he can help develop young players — now is his opportunity to show ownership he can pull the necessary strings to succeed in the postseason. If he can’t do that, the Hawks will likely move on after the season.