ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks obviously have a comfort level when hiring a first-time head coach, regardless of who owns the club.
How else to explain the Hawks tapping five consecutive members of the First-Timers Club, dating back to the 2002-03 season? And if you want to get really technical here, the listing stands as six straight first-timers when including Lon Kruger—one of the most decorated leaders in college basketball history (taking five different schools to the NCAA Tournament ... Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV, Oregon)—getting his first taste of NBA action way back in 2000.
Now, we can debate the merits of rolling with a first-time head coach versus the high-profile pursuit of an experienced headliner all day long. Something out of the realm of Lenny Wilkens in the early 1990s. However, paraphrasing the iconic words of Hyman Roth from The Godfather series, "This is the business the Hawks have chosen."
They're apparently happy with the crucial pairing of a first-time head coach (the club introduced Lloyd Pierce on Monday) and first-time general manager (Travis Schlenk, formerly of the Warriors). They're apparently happy to pluck an up-and-comer from the assistant ranks, in hopes they'll lead the franchise to unprecedented heights—at least since relocating to Atlanta in 1968.
Perhaps you've heard the 50-year tale of the Hawks in Atlanta? During that span, the franchise modestly boasts just five division titles, one conference finals appearance and zero trips to the NBA Finals.
Put another way, we're talking about 40-plus years of Atlanta fans being disappointed with the club before Memorial Day Weekend; and for the admirers of the Dominique Wilkins/Doc Rivers/Tree Rollins/Kevin Willis/coach Mike Fratello era (read the 1980s), it's been nearly 30 years since the Hawks captured the city's sporting attention with four consecutive campaigns of 50-plus victories.
Fast forward to the present: With the Hawks coming off a 24-win season and likely having zero chance of landing the reigning NBA Coach of the Year (Toronto's Dwane Casey, who was fired on Friday), the club moved quickly to hire Pierce as the 15th coach in Atlanta history.
"It was critically important to find a dynamic teacher who could connect with and develop our young core, while instilling the culture and high standards we feel are necessary in a successful program," said Sclenk in a statement, immediately following his first coaching hire. "Lloyd Pierce checks every box, and we couldn't be more excited to have him leading the Atlanta Hawks into the future."
Prior to Monday's announcement, Pierce, whose college playing career intersected with two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash at Santa Clara (1994-98), had been an assistant coach with four NBA franchises (Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Warriors, 76ers).
At the various landing spots, Pierce had the opportunity to coach/mentor the likes of LeBron James, Zach Randolph, Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons—this season's presumptive NBA Rookie of the Year.
Another point of interest: Pierce was part of the Cavs and Warriors before conference titles and NBA championships became commonplace in Cleveland and Golden State; and the 76ers—who won a grand total of 75 victories from 2013-17, prior to this season's 52-win breakout—could easily be on that "championship" track down the road, assuming they maintain the core of Simmons, Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Dario Saric.
At Monday's press conference, Pierce embraced the comparisons involving the old 76ers and the Hawks' current situation. "There are a lot of pieces in place," said the 42-year-old Pierce. "I feel confident in what (the Hawks) are doing."
Of course, there's a fine line between being confident and being realistic about the state of the Atlanta franchise. The 25-and-under core of John Collins, Taurean Prince, DeAndre' Bembry and point guard Dennis Schroder has terrific upside, but it's not deep enough to make imminent playoff proclamations.
Regarding the draft, the Hawks momentarily possess four picks in the top 33 choices, with one lottery selection—current mathematical odds of No. 4 overall—going as high as No. 1 ... or as low as seventh.
And then there's this surprise: On Monday, Schroder upstaged the Hawks ... by reportedly hinting at a trade request, while conducting a press conference in his native country of Germany.
Surely, Schroder knew that Atlanta had a big to-do scheduled with Pierce's arrival; but now, the media has justifiably shifted its focus to Schroder entertaining the notion of being dealt to the Pacers, Bucks or any other club on the imminent path to championship contention.
"I will be 25 in September and of course you want to win a title some time. In my prime—25, 26, 27, 28, 29—I want to compete (for a championship)," said Schroder at his press conference, according to international basketball reporter David Hein. "I cannot be second-to-last in the Eastern Conference. That's why I will have talks with the Atlanta Hawks."
Schroder's flair for rhymes aside, his passive-aggressive announcement certainly puts a damper on Pierce's official indoctrination. But it may only be a temporary slight, given how Pierce has already begun the mental process of changing the Hawks' every-day culture.
He even joked of occupying his mind with new defensive drills, while getting past the pomp and circumstance of Monday's announcement.
"That's who I am. I'm trying to develop a culture here: What can you control? What kind of effort can you give? How will you attack the day?," said Pierce, while conducting a de facto pep talk for the media.
Pierce then relied on a finishing flurry of campaign-like promises, citing "defensive DNA," the act of "developing while we're growing" and "competition and repetition (are components) we'll preach every day."
Yes, Pierce may be a first-time head coach in the NBA—or any level of basketball—but he's laser-focused about improving things on the defensive end.
It's certainly the business path he has chosen.