Although Larry Drew has made the playoffs in each of his three years as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, there are rumors (via Sports Illustrated) that Atlanta management may be pursuing candidates to replace Drew in an effort to vault the team into the elite of the NBA.
Seeing the writing on the wall, Drew and his coaching staff have been interviewing for other positions in the NBA because most feel there is a slim chance of them returning to the Hawks bench next year.
The Hawks franchise has a great history of hiring elite coaches. Lenny Wilkens, Hubie Brown and Red Auerbach are just some of the names that have been at the helm of this franchise.
Although Atlanta is a franchise with tradition and one that has experienced regular season success over the past few years, it is not an easy place to win and this offseason will be crucial in determining the direction of the franchise.
With his probable dismissal of Drew, general manager Danny Ferry is making a statement that regular season success is not good enough. Ferry wants playoff success, and he does not think Drew is capable of bringing that to Atlanta.
Positives of the Job
The Hawks cap situation is attractive to any prospective coaching candidate. With the expiration of many high-paying contracts, the Atlanta Hawks will have plenty of cap space to pursue a solid free-agent market in the 2013 offseason.
The most notable contract that is set to expire is that of Josh Smith. Smith is currently making $13.2 million per year and is looking for more in his next contract.
Do not expect the Hawks to re-sign Smith. He has been a good player for the franchise throughout his nine-year career, but he is not worth superstar money.
Other Hawks players whose contracts will be coming off the books include Devin Harris, Zaza Pachulia, Kyle Korver, Johan Petro and Dahntay Jones.
With the expiration of these contracts, Atlanta will be saving $25.5 million. Considering Korver is the only player from that group who averages more than 10 points per game, the franchise will be in a position to get better value for its money.
It is likely that the Hawks will re-sign some of these players, but it also gives them the ability to have more freedom with their money and play a more active role in the 2013 free-agency scene.
This type of salary cap freedom would allow a new coach to put his own stamp on the team and allow him to sign the right players to fit his system.
The Hawks job is also attractive because there is talent. Yes, they will likely lose Josh Smith, but this is a team that has made the playoffs in each of the last six seasons. They have another frontcourt star, Al Horford, who is about to hit his prime.
Over the past two years, Horford has become one of the best big men in the game and with a number of teams transitioning to a more perimeter, outside-shooting approach, a skilled big man is a tremendous asset. Combined with Horford, a skilled backcourt and the potential to add significant talent in the offseason, the Atlanta head coaching position will be a highly sought after one.
There are far worse jobs in the NBA, and if Ferry can find the right man for the job, the Hawks could develop into a serious threat in the Eastern Conference.
Challenges of the Job
The two main challenges for the incoming coach will be winning over the fanbase as well as improving Atlanta’s defense.
Atlanta has always been a fickle sports town. Even during the Braves heyday in the mid-1990s, they suffered from low attendance.
Although things have improved in recent years for the Hawks, a new coach still has to come in a drum up support from the community.
During the 2012-13 season, the Hawks averaged 15,125 people per game which was good for No. 26 in NBA attendance. The Hawks have been a winning franchise for each the last six years, but last season’s attendance numbers finished behind the likes of such floundering franchises as the Bobcats and Wizards.
Winning does not necessarily mean people will come. If a coach is to succeed in Atlanta, he must develop a rapport with the fanbase.
The biggest challenge the new coach must resolve is fixing the Hawks’ porous defense. The Hawks have offensive firepower, but it became apparent in their defeat to the Indiana Pacers in the first round that they will have a tough time advancing in the playoffs if they do not develop a defensive identity.
In Games 1 and 2, the Pacers shredded Atlanta's defense as the barely competitive Hawks gave up an average of 110 points per game.
After returning home, the Hawks evened the series. But back in Indianapolis for Game 5, Atlanta returned to its porous defensive ways, giving up 106 points and allowing the Pacers to shoot 51 percent from the field.
Although the Hawks defense played well in a sloppy Game 6, it was not enough to stave off elimination.
The breakdown of this series is very simple. When the Hawks were able to play well defensively, they won. But when their defense struggled, they had no chance against Indiana.
Defense wins championships and, as constructed now, the Hawks defense is too suspect for them to go on a deep playoff run.