The Hawks have hired Spurs’ assistant Mike Budenholzer, meaning that Larry Drew is out as head coach.
The Hawks were 128-102 in three seasons with Drew as the head coach. Drew had been with the team since 2004, when he was hired by Mike Woodson as an assistant.
This really doesn’t come as a surprise. Drew’s contract was slated to end after this season, and one would figure that GM Danny Ferry would want to bring in his own hire for however he plans to rebuild. Drew has also been under fire by fans for his entire head coaching tenure for the leash that he allowed Josh Smith to operate on.
However, that shouldn’t be what Drew is remembered for in Atlanta. Drew arose to the head coaching in a hot situation; Woodson was fired after being swept for a second consecutive playoffs and the then assistant took a shot in the dark to earn his first head coaching position.
Drew had his work cut out for him; he was essentially guiding a team with three guys (Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford) that would ideally work as a second option. To compound this problem, the best player out of these three, Horford, was the one who didn’t assert himself to be the number one guy, leaving Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford (!), and Josh Smith hoisting the majority of the shots.
The Hawks experienced mild success in their first season. Despite a lackluster performance in the regular season, Drew did what Woodson never could: win a game in the second round. Despite the 4-2 loss to the Bulls in that round, Drew showed an astute ability to adjust and draw up plays that demonstrated he could successfully be a head coach.
The next two years presented a greater challenge for Drew. Obviously, Josh Smith’s shot selection was often used as a barometer for how Drew was doing his job. Seeing that LD was Josh Smith’s vent when Woodson was head coach, the two had a hard time adjusting to the new roles that they needed to fulfill between each other. It was a relationship doomed to fail; while Smith highly respected Drew, LD wasn’t able to corral Smoove’s shot selection like Woodson had been able to do. Essentially, Drew had become too much of Smith’s friend for Josh to be fully able to take orders from him.
Despite this, the Hawks still did well in the final two seasons. After Al Horford’s injury in the 2011-12 season, the Hawks were able to achieve a 40-26 record in the lockout shortened season, a record that easily could have been 50 wins in a full season. The injuries were too much in the playoffs, however, as the Hawks fell in the first round to the Celtics.
Finally, Drew was given one more season by new GM Danny Ferry to see what he could do. Amid more injuries and the lack of a go-to scorer after the Joe Johnson trade, the Hawks still managed to finished sixth in the East, and gave the Pacers (now in the ECF) a bit of a fight in the first round.
After the end of the season, Drew was left in limbo. He had proven to Ferry that he was a worthy coach, but Ferry was still interested in bringing in his own connections. Thus, Ferry hired former co-worker Mike Budenholzer as the new head coach.
Drew should be remembered for what he was: a stop-gap for the Hawks’ when future decisions were unknown. Joe Johnson’s contract was in doubt, Josh Smith was always in trade rumors, the owners of the team were always battling each other in court, and then-GM Rick Sund’s future with the organization was in severe doubt. In a way, Drew had the most concrete footing of a team that was seemingly falling into a trench. Amid the catastrophe, Drew was able to hold his ground.
Larry will get another job; he’s already in heavy talks with the Milwaukee Bucks. While I wish he could get a job with a more stable organization, Drew deserves this. If anything, he could use the salary increase.
For more on the Budenholzer hiring, click here.