Report: Hawks players the main reason for Pierce’s dismissal

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Yesterday, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce was relieved of his duties after a 14-20 start — an unsurprising end (unless you ask Pierce’s fellow coaches) to an underwhelming tenure as a first-time head coach. His final record in Atlanta was an unsightly 63-120, but perhaps even that could have been overlooked had he developed a better relationship with his players, particularly his star point-guard Trae Young.

Chris Kirschner, Sam Amick, and David Aldridge recently went behind the scenes of what ultimately led to Pierce’s dismissal. If you have not read it and have a membership to The Athletic, I strongly suggest you do so. And if you don’t yet have a subscription, what the hell are you waiting for? The detail they continuously provide throughout the year in every sport is second to none, and this story is just another perfect example.

Even though the Hawks came into this season with a playoffs or bust mindset — as they should have after Travis Schlenk doled out over $150 million to veteran players in free agency to fill in around Trae Young and John Collins — Pierce probably would have been able to survive a 14-20 start most years, given how many injuries Atlanta has suffered this season.

Kris Dunn has yet to even make an appearance; Bogdan Bogdanović is scheduled to return tonight but has not played in ten games this season; meanwhile, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Danilo Gallinari, Tony Snell, and Rajon Rondo have also missed significant time. For the most part, the Hawks haven’t played with a much better roster this season than Pierce had in the last two, and they’ve been able to rack up 14 wins in their first 34 games — an improvement from the previous seasons. However, minuscule improvements can be easily overlooked when it becomes apparent that the coach is losing the locker room.

From The Athletic, “And the primary reason for it all, sources say, is that several players — from Young on down — were eager to hear a new voice.”

Trae Young’s displeasure with Pierce has been well-known, dating back to last season. However, the article describes a positive offseason conversation between the two that had the pair in a good place entering the new campaign. Unfortunately, that unraveled quickly and then began to trickle down to other players.

Collins was among those who voiced his displeasure with his head coach after Pierce called him “selfish” for wanting a more substantial role in the offense. But it was this story regarding Cam Reddish, who is undoubtedly one of the most talented players on the team, that was most disconcerting to me:

Sources said Reddish felt like he was being “picked on” behind the scenes when it came to mistakes the second-year player made. There are a few players on the Hawks’ roster who feel like Reddish’s potential is higher than anyone on the roster but that Pierce’s input was stunting his development.

Unsurprisingly, the Hawks players were also upset with Pierce’s in-game management, particularly late in games. Atlanta has blown an unfathomable 11 fourth-quarter leads this season and is just 6-13 in contests decided by less than five points. On top of the abysmal outcomes in these tight games, many Hawks were also frustrated with the way Pierce pointed the finger at others for the team’s struggles. He often showed no problem leaving the players out to dry with the media, rarely taking any of the blame himself, causing even more distrust.

From this article, it’s evident that Pierce approaches the game with a hard-nosed, tough-love style. He clearly doesn’t believe in favoritism and thinks that every player should have a team-first attitude. On paper, that sounds like a message that every head coach should be sending. Unfortunately, Pierce’s words were not getting through to the players, and he was well on his way to losing the entire locker room. Couple that with the team’s recent skid and ownership’s desire to reach the playoffs this season, and there was no reason for Travis Schlenk to let this marriage continue for any longer. We will see if Nate McMillan, who has continued to praise Pierce for his coaching style, has any better luck turning this ship around.

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Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire



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