Friday, May 14, 2010

Hawks Will Not Make Contract Offer to Mike Woodson

Sekou Smith reports on

Woodson was informed in a Friday morning meeting with Hawks' management that that he would not be offered a new contract after leading the Hawks to three straight playoff appearances in his final three seasons.

The team is expected to make an official announcement this afternoon.

Woodson's contract expired Monday, forcing the Hawks to make a quick decision. Woodson is now free to explore his options with a half dozen coaching vacancies around the league, while the Hawks embark on a search of their own for his replacement.

My end of season piece on Woodson, originally seen in The Daily Dime:
Mike Woodson coached his 521st game with the Atlanta Hawks Monday night. The 14-point loss completed a sweep at the hands of the Orlando Magic and might have been his last game with the team, capping a remarkable, unlikely run in charge.

Woodson's tenure is remarkable because he got a second contract after winning 106 games in his first four seasons in charge and because he's unlikely to get a third contract offer after winning 100 games over the past two seasons while taking the Hawks to the second round of the playoffs in consecutive years, a feat last accomplished in Atlanta by Lenny Wilkens in 1996 and 1997.

Last season's second-round sweep could be (fairly) blamed on injuries as much as Cleveland's superiority. This season's sweep demonstrates just how far the Hawks, despite their slow, consistent improvement under Woodson, have to go to compete for a championship. With the contracts of both Woodson and Joe Johnson expiring, an era may be over in Atlanta.

It would be unduly charitable to view Woodson as a victim of his own success. This team, in perhaps its last week together, revealed the consistent weaknesses of the Woodson era: an overreliance on jump shots created off the dribble and in isolation, lots of talk about defense but little in the way of results, and a lack of depth. The first two problems are directly related. Though Woodson retains, from his association with Larry Brown in Detroit, a defensive reputation in some circles, the Hawks never finished better than 12th in the league in defensive efficiency largely because Woodson was most comfortable turning the offense over to veteran point guards.

Tyronn Lue, Anthony Johnson, Mike Bibby, Flip Murray and Jamal Crawford each took their turn spotting up on the weak side while Joe Johnson had the ball. Each also took his turn guarding the opposition's least-dangerous offensive player as Woodson cross-matched in an attempt to hide his point guard from quicker players.

In time, this effort to hide, on the defensive end, players deemed essential to the offense turned the Hawks into a fully predictable team, one that switched almost every screen, both on- and off-the-ball, in an effort to maximize the involvement of its two good defensive players (Josh Smith and Al Horford) in each possession.

In the playoffs -- especially on the road, where the Hawks lost 12 of 14 games under Woodson -- opposing teams took advantage of this defensive predictability to create whichever matchup they desired and/or to pull Smith and Horford away from the basket. It proved just as damaging as the more-publicized isolation-heavy offensive sets which too often failed to trouble sound defensive clubs in the postseason. It was damaging, because the Hawks never appeared to have any other options, either in terms of tactics or personnel, at their disposal.

Woodson has become, over the course of six seasons, quite competent at installing a game plan. However, he has failed to make successful adjustments when teams foil that plan. If this is the end, it may be the similarity, more than the number, of Hawks defeats that convinces the organization to hire a new head coach.
Change might and if to was and when.


jrauch said...

Maybe now they'll actually pass the ball around next year. Or draw up some post plays.
Or any plays for that matter.

Though there is an element of the "devil I know being better than the devil I don't" to all this.

Matt said...

I am completely convinced that the Hawks' growth over the last 4 years has everything to do with personal changes and the individual development of the young players and nothing to do with our coach, who is terrible from a tactical standpoint and has a poor understanding of both grammar and the particular strengths and weaknesses of the Hawks as currently constructed.

Unknown said...

Hey Brett: Who would you like to see replace Woodson?

It's a little scary when you see the available list of former-NBA coaches.

I hear Isaah Thomas is available...just kidding.

Bret LaGree said...

Arif --

Dwane Casey's probably the best realistic option with head coaching experience.

I'm intrigued with Tyrone Corbin bringing the Utah offense to Atlanta. It makes a lot of sense, but then so did hiring an assistant of Larry Brown's staff.

Unknown said...

I keep wanting to add an extra "T" to your name, I don't know why. Sorry, you deserve better.

Bringing Utah's offense would be sweet. Do you think the team, as is, could make that work? Would we need to bring in another point-guard...I don't think Teague or Bibby could make it work like Deron.

Bret LaGree said...

There are going to have to be personnel changes regardless of who the next coach is and what his system is like at least as long as the team is interested in playing better defense.

jrauch said...

I've got a bias towards Tom Thibodeuax in Boston, just because of the phenomenal defensive scheme they've got there, though a good chunk of that credit goes to the personnel as well buying whole hog into the idea of defense first. (Being able to throw two 7 footers on the floor doesn't hurt either.)

Casey would probably be a good pick, given how his T'wolves teams responded well and overachieved relative to their expectations.

Bret LaGree said...

Thibodeau's well-known enough now that he may be too expensive for ASG. No sarcasm.

Boston's also a good example (since I've been thinking about predictions this week) of the way players interact with each other in (perhaps) unexpected ways. Once Garnett and Allen arrived and lessened the offensive load on Paul Pierce, he became a much more active and productive defensive player.

Sort of the inverse of how I overrated Jamal Crawford's defensive limitations with him coming to a team with a defensive system designed to have him defend as little as possible. Were he capable of getting back on defense, Crawford would have been no worse than Bibby on that end this season.

The Minister said...

I freely understand that Thibodeaux is something of a pipe dream, since he's already one of the highest paid assistants in the league.

But isn't that what the offseason's for? Unrealistic hopes the working poor Hawks ownership group somehow figures it out?