Trae Young was already upset, justifiably so, after being left off USA Basketball’s 44 players eligible for Olympic play:
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt by seeing it. … Obviously I would have wanted to play on the team,” Young said.
But not having your head coach back your young superstar is never a good sign for a long-term relationship. These were Lloyd Pierce’s words in regards to the snub:
“No, because honestly I respect the league, I respect the levels and layers you have to go through. Trae’s having a great year. These guys have had great careers,” Pierce said.
Pierce backtracked on these comments, later saying, “His time will come.” On the one hand, some of the weaker names among the selected 44 were guys who had experience with the team. On the other hand, USA Basketball has made exceptions for exceptional young talents in the past, and Trae Young meets that criterion, given he’s a 21-year-old that is already a starter in the All-Star Game.
But the damage may already be done. While Young did not directly call out Pierce, he did seemingly subtweet about the situation, and his father Ray was having difficulties holding back on Twitter as well. Usually, when there is smoke, there is fire, and Trae and his dad have a unique bond. Ray is at most games, both at home and on the road. It’s unlikely that they are not on the same page about this, meaning there could be something more going on here than what meets the eye.
These things happen from time to time, and Pierce is in a predicament because he is also an assistant for Team USA, so he cannot be too critical. But for the coach of a team that is underachieving, these could be comments he will one day regret, and this is just the latest episode in what has been a rocky relationship seemingly all year.
Chris Kirschner of The Athletic believes there has been some disconnect between the two this season. Since there is a paywall for these articles, I won’t link the exact words, but Chris has seen a couple of different examples of Trae Young’s displeasure with his coach. I would strongly recommend giving the article a read.
Coach Pierce has earned the benefit of the doubt due to having a weak roster in his time in Atlanta. At the same time, many thought the Hawks would be better than 15-41 right now, even with the injuries and suspensions. He has not quite received the fair shake yet. But when Clint Capela returns after the All-Star Break, there will have to be obvious improvement to secure his future as the head coach of this team. Because if it comes down to Trae Young, the team’s first superstar in two decades, or Lloyd Pierce… Well, let’s just hope it doesn’t.
Frustrations are very high for this underachieving Hawks team, and winning solves a lot of problems, but this is something worth monitoring the rest of the way. If this relationship, or the Hawks as a team, do not improve, it would not be shocking to see Travis Schlenk look at external options at head coach. Mike D’Antoni, who reportedly could be available, has a proven track record of winning with high-paced offenses. The team’s performance over its last 26 games, the relationship between star player and head coach, and the options available will dictate the future of this franchise. For now, let’s just assume it is a speed bump along the road of the Atlanta Hawks’ rebuild.