Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Larry Drew Coming to Terms With His Job

When it was announced that the Atlanta Hawks would hire Larry Drew to be their head coach, I wrote the following:
Whatever the long-term success of hiring Larry Drew, it's an uninspiring decision in the short term and one that only reinforces the perception that the organization fears change more than it desires a championship.
On the occasion of his introduction as the team's new head coach, I wrote:
Hiring Larry Drew doesn't come close to solving this team's myriad weaknesses but, if he can convince the team's young talent to play differently (whether Joe Johnson returns or not) than they've grown accustomed, then the chances of him making a successful head coaching debut increase. The players got what they wanted but, in gaining a new head coach, they lost a scapegoat. Mike Woodson took the bulk of the blame for the team's (relatively) poor playoff performance. If the returning Hawks fail to give Drew a consistent, committed effort as he learns on the job (as he assuredly will) they'll find there's plenty of blame to go around when changes don't lead to improvement.
In the final installment of my season preview posts, I wrote about Larry Drew:
Larry Drew has been given a difficult task: use the same materials as his dismissed predecessor to improve on success. Nor is there a particular skill on which Drew can rely. He must bring along young players (Marvin Williams and Jeff Teague immediately, Jordan Crawford and possibly Pape Sy eventually), consolidate the development of the franchise's cornerstone talent (Josh Smith and Al Horford), minimize the effects of decline from two of the primary returning ball-handlers (Jamal Crawford and Mike Bibby), postpone the decline of the franchise's greatest investment (Joe Johnson), and overcome a worrying lack of frontcourt depth and talented defenders.

Further complicating matters, Drew is a different but not a new voice in the locker room. Can a familiar man in a new position enact fundamental change within an organization that prizes stability if not outright stasis? Will players accede to change if rewards are not immediate? If the players resist, will the organization give Drew greater support than his contract suggests?
For, I addressed the doubts over the hire of Drew:
It's easy to understand skepticism over the Hawks' hiring of Larry Drew as their new head coach. As with any first-time head coach, Drew carries a certain burden of proof. But a larger share of the doubt appears to be cast upon (and reasonably so) those who made the decision and the degree to which they've presented Drew an opportunity to succeed.
The above is not intended as self-congratulatory. It is intended to underscore the obviousness* of the realization with which Larry Drew appears to be grappling: It's damn hard to get the exact same players to improve on their success.

Larry Drew:
"We have, in my opinion, fallen into a bit of a comfort zone with everything. It may be time to do something just to rattle the cage a little bit.

I am not one to react on emotions but I have had this feeling for a little while. I have been in situations where it has been like this, where a team has had to do something just to shake the cage a little bit. It’s something I’ve been thinking about. Will I do it? I have a couple days to practice and make a decision.

I don’t think at this stage . . . at least I don’t feel comfortable, totally comfortable with where we are after 52 games. We have had some bad losses here at home. That may be a sign, I don’t know. I never want to throw out the possibility of making our team better.

At the end of the day, regardless of what happens [with trades], we still are going to have to go out there and improve our club. After last night’s loss, I do believe we do have to look at our situation very seriously and possibly look at a lineup change, possibly doing something that will jolt this team. Because I don’t want this team to get into a comfort zone. The minute we get into a comfort zone, what happened last night, that is the end result."
Other than Al Horford never, ever missing another game, or the possibility that "comfort zone" is code for "allowing Josh Smith to take horrible shots in great quantity on a nightly basis," it's hard to see how an internal lineup change will make any substantive difference. Maybe if Drew does a better job of mixing and matching the disparate skills of Mike Bibby and Jeff Teague, he could improve the team but that wish has as much to do with Bibby's poor play and/or Teague's inexperience as any extant evidence of untapped resources.

And even if such a change helps the team, doesn't the ability to get the most out of two below-average point guards seem an undernourished example of good coaching? Drew's done a good job of spotting Jason Collins this season and has used Damien Wilkins reasonably well to compensate for Maurice Evans's struggles to defend bigger wings off the bench but, again, the existence of such circumstances acts a bigger indictment of the roster's lack of quality depth than an example of how Drew can succeed as a head coach.

It's that same lack of depth, as well as the cost that's gone into putting together such a shallow roster, that makes a trade that seriously improves the team so implausible.

And all of this could have been predicted by anyone paying attention.

*I'm sure Michael Cunningham or Jason Walker or Kris Willis could compile their own versions of this post.


Adam Malka said...

It's hard to believe anyone in the Hawks' front office, let alone Larry Drew, is coming to terms with the problematic nature of this roster. The only thing to do, practically speaking, is deal Jamal Crawford for a young player, preferably a big to come off the bench and spell Josh Smith. That way you'd remove the logjam at guard and assure us we'd never see Josh Powell again.

Alas, these are the Hawks who gave a soon-to-be-over-the-hill Joe Johnson a max deal. They either think they're contenders or assume the fans are stupid enough to confuse their decent record with that of a contender. And so they won't deal Crawford, get hammered in the 1st round by Orlando, and then lose Crawford to free agency without getting anything from his valuable expiring deal.

Actually, check that last point: they'll probably re-sign him, because no-defense, aging two guards are what they need to win a championship.

Bret LaGree said...

Adam --

I was never a big believer is Jamal Crawford's trade value. Sure, he's got an expiring deal but the uncertainty regarding the new CBA diminishes that somewhat and let's not forget that with 2 years, $19 million left on his deal, he was worth Speedy Claxton and Acie Law IV's expiring contracts. It's a long way from that to a useful big.

Of course, all this supported not offering Joe Johnson a max deal, use Crawford as an inferior stop-gap at the 2 for a season, and build around Horford and Smith going forward.