This year was supposed to be different.
With shiny new toys like Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Danilo Gallinari in tow to complement John Collins and could-be superstar Trae Young, the Atlanta Hawks were primed to finally escape the basement of the NBA. But after stumbling to a disappointing 14-20 record—which means if the playoffs started tomorrow, they’d be outside the club begging the bouncer to let them in—the team has decided to rid itself of head coach, Lloyd Pierce.
“As we said at the beginning of the season, our goal was to have progress this year,” Atlanta president and general manager Travis Schlenk said in a news conference on Monday. “To move forward. And we just felt like that wasn’t happening as quickly as we wanted it to. These are not easy decisions. These are real-life decisions that affect multiple families, and they are not easy. But we felt like for the organization it was the best thing for us to do moving forward.”
What makes things especially awkward is that by all accounts, nobody had any indication whatsoever that his job security was even in question. Pierce was his usual self after Sunday’s loss to the Heat and even ran the team’s practice on Monday morning in Miami. So when news began to circulate that he was fired, Hawks players reportedly found out just like the rest of us did: from Twitter.
Assistant Nate McMillan will take over the reins as interim coach, but the question remains: Did Pierce deserve to be fired? Is this the latest example of yet another promising Black coach tossed to the wayside prematurely?
I think we can all agree that the “rosters” Pierce had to work with during his first two seasons were abominations. That falls on the general manager. And while this season’s roster has received its fair share of pricy upgrades, between a rash of injuries, COVID-19 still acting like an asshole, a leadership void the size of Antarctica, and uncertainty over Atlanta’s long-term commitment to Collins, the team the Hawks thought they were putting on the floor this season has yet to make a single appearance. Yet Pierce is the fall guy?
Make it make sense.
The Athletic seems to agree:
Pierce had to deal with the second-worst injury situation in the NBA — 143 man-games lost through the weekend, second only to Orlando’s 181. An established winning team might be able to absorb that better. Golden State is 19-16 despite 122 games lost — third most — but Steph Curry has played every game and the organization has won three championships and went to five straight NBA Finals. The Hawks went 20-47 last season. Ressler made a huge financial commitment to getting better by bringing in Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondo. But Dunn has yet to play, while Bogdanovic has missed 25 of 34 games, Rondo 19 and Gallinari 12.
In a perfect world, Pierce would be provided the opportunity to prove his mettle after the team returns to full health and is able to successfully elude the coronavirus. But instead, another qualified Black coach now has an ugly stain on his resume due to circumstances beyond his control.
If only Pierce received the same grace that’s been reserved for the Brad Stevens, Nick Nurses, or Erik Spoelstras of the world.