Let me preface this by saying I think Lloyd Pierce is a great guy, and I’m sure he’ll land on his feet somewhere. Pierce was instrumental in the community and was one of the best coaches off the court or field Atlanta has ever seen. Not only is he a good guy to have in the locker room, but he also did a good job of developing some of Atlanta’s young talent. Pierce wasn’t given too much to work with initially, but that’s not why the clock ran out on him. 2021 hasn’t gone as Hawks fans had hoped, and Nate McMillan’s success in his absence really made this decision “easier” on management. I wrote here about how hot Pierce’s seat was, and it outlines a lot of what went wrong over the past month in particular. In reality, it’s a culmination of many factors.
Injuries & Expectations
Were Hawks fans wrong to have sky-high expectations in 2021? Absolutely not. All of the pieces were in place, and after a thrashing of the Bulls on opening night, Atlanta fans SHOULD have been excited. However, almost everybody on the team has missed time with injuries, and the recent free-agent acquisitions have made up a bulk of this time. Kris Dunn has yet to debut, Bogdanović tore his knee up, De’Andre Hunter is out, Gallinari had a sprained ankle, Capela missed the start of the season, Reddish has missed time with a knee injury, Huerter has missed time, Rajon Rondo had a tweaked ankle… the list goes on and on. That’s out of Lloyd’s control, but when your interim coach comes in and wins two games against excellent teams with the same roster you were working with, it isn’t a good look. Injuries may be what finally doomed Pierce, but there was much more that went into this dismissal.
Blown fourth-quarter leads:
Atlanta has been horrific when it comes to finishing games this season. Atlanta has led 19 games this season in the fourth quarter, and they have lost 11 of those. That’s absolutely unacceptable, and it boils down to coaching. Players have to hit shots, but Lloyd has fielded some questionable lineups in crucial situations that have put the Hawks at a disadvantage. Injuries have played into a lack of depth, but even when the Hawks were fully healthy, there’s a common denominator when the team is losing — coaching.
Overall failure to win and poor defense:
The Hawks went through some lean years, but Pierce’s 63-120 record and 34% winning percentage would qualify him as the 11th-worst coach of all time by record. It’s unfair to judge him by past years, but the losses this season have been far too egregious. The Hawks have been better defensively this season, but they have been horrific over the past few seasons. It just wasn’t good enough.
Pressure to make the playoffs:
Ownership made it very clear this offseason that it was postseason or bust for Pierce and Travis Schlenk after cutting some serious checks this offseason. With John Collins and Trae Young reportedly arguing during the season, Atlanta has more money issues on the horizon. In a terrible Eastern Conference, the Heat are at the fifth seed at 17-17. Atlanta still has a chance at the playoffs as they’re only two games back of the eighth seed. You have to imagine with Schlenk’s own job on the line; he had to act now before that grew any larger. The Hawks can still right the ship, but sadly, cutting Pierce was the right move to do that. If you (ridiculously) turn those eleven losses with a lead in the fourth quarter into wins, the Hawks have the first seed in the Eastern Conference at 25-9. That’s not the world we live in, but it just goes to show the position the Hawks could be in. It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing, so maybe McMillan can inspire this group, and they’ll come out like live dogs for a playoff push.