NBA PM: The Key to Atlanta’s Unlikely Success
When the Atlanta Hawks traded away All-Star guard Joe Johnson, there was a feeling that the team was on the verge of a rebuild. Trade rumors encircled forward Josh Smith like sharks around a sinking ship and it seemed that new GM Danny Ferry might be preparing to cash in his chips to start over.
That’s not exactly what happened, however, as Ferry opted not to trade Smith and added some key pieces in an effort to revamp rather than rebuild. As a result of that approach, the 17-9 Hawks are currently sitting in the Eastern Conference’s third seed and appear to be at least as good as they were with Johnson, if not better.
One of the main reasons the Hawks have been doing so well is the addition of Lou Williams, who tried to bluff his way into a big contract with the Philadelphia 76ers and lost. Philly went in another direction, leaving Williams to fend for himself as a free agent. Williams had several offers, but ultimately chose to take the mid-level exception from Atlanta to avoid rebuilding elsewhere.
“I thought it was a group that was still capable of winning after Joe left, and the other offers that I had on the table were really teams that were rebuilding and I didn’t really want to go through that scenario,” Williams tells HOOPSWORLD. “I was in a situation in Philadelphia where I felt like that was a team that was turning the corner to be a pretty good team, so to have success in Philadelphia, and then leaving, I didn’t want to start over.”
Where the Hawks’ offense used to rely heavily on Johnson, there are now a lot of players at multiple positions who can create offense for the team. Williams believes that’s been a key to their early success.
“Really it hasn’t been different [for me],” says Williams. “I’ve been able to fit in well with this group. Surprisingly, we have a lot of guys in every position that we have that are very capable guys, and I think that works in our favor.”
While many were counting the Hawks out, Williams was never among those naysayers. He saw right away that his new teammates had the work ethic to be successful.
“Yeah, I kind of expected it,” says Williams. “Just working with everybody over the summer once I did sign, just to see the work ethic that everybody had, I’m not surprised at all.”
If anything, Josh Smith has expanded his game and become an even more important part of the Hawks’ team this season. Instead of playing like a guy with one foot out the door, Smith has been the consummate teammate and a tremendous competitor, none of which comes as a surprise to Williams.
“I’ve known Josh since he was 12 years old, so I’ve always considered him a very talented player,” says Williams. “I felt like he should have been an All-Star last year, but it didn’t work out in his favor. So, nothing he is doing is surprising; hopefully, he can continue to play well, we continue to win, he actually gets that All-Star this year.”
Williams chose the Hawks because he felt they would give him the best chance to win, and now that basically a third of the NBA season is finished Williams is confident that they can compete for a championship.
“Absolutely,” says Williams. “Again, we have a very, very veteran group. We have guys at every position that are very skilled, very talented players, so right now we’re in the thick of things, and we feel like we’re going to stay that way.”
Dunleavy Covets Nets’ Job
It might not have come as much of a surprise when the Brooklyn Nets fired head coach Avery Johnson yesterday, but the ensuing job opening could turn out to be a bit more dramatic. The home run hire would, of course, be former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, but the signals coming from Jackson’s camp make it unclear whether he is actually entertaining the idea of coaching Brooklyn. There are no such mixed signals coming from another candidate, as former Los Angeles Clippers head coach Mike Dunleavy appears to be chomping at the bit.
“I’m from Brooklyn. Coaching there would be a dream come true,” Dunleavy said on his Sirius XM Radio show, during which he also said he feels that the Nets are now a premier team since relocating to Brooklyn.
“The first thing you have to do as a coach is get (Deron Williams) shots in his comfort zone,” said Dunleavy of the first step issue a new head coach will face with the Nets. That, said Dunleavy, is the key to helping Williams get his confidence back and breaking him out of his current slump.
Williams, of course, has been struggling to find his game with the new-look Nets and under the ever-watchful eye of Avery Johnson. Johnson is a bit of a control freak when it comes to running an offense, reluctant to just turn his point guards loose and let them run the show. It’s entirely possible that once he is relieved of that duty, Williams will get back to being an efficient 20-points-per-game scorer. To this point of the season, he has taken a step back, averaging just 16.6 points and shooting under 40 percent from the field.
Whether or not Dunleavy is the next head coach of the Nets, he does understand the first order of business for the next coach, and that’s getting Williams into a comfort zone. Until that happens, the Nets are going to struggle to live up to their sky-high expectations.
Popovich Sounds Off In Defense Of Avery Johnson
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich isn’t much for talking to the media unless it’s on his terms and on a subject of his choosing. When the news of Avery Johnson’s firing came through he didn’t mind using the media as his own personal soap box, and here, courtesy of the San Antonio Express-News, is Pop’s reaction to the news.
“Of course, many of us were surprised to see what happened in Brooklyn. From my perspective, Avery’s not a good coach, he’s a very good coach. He’s a hell of a coach. He’s proven that. There aren’t too many of us out there who have ever won 67 games in a season. He’s taken a team to the Finals. If my memory serves me correct, he was Coach of the Month. It sort of shows what a fickle, volatile business we’re in. We all know that. Avery knows that, too.
“Often times, situations like that have nothing to do with the ability of the coach. It has more to do with circumstances. We’ve seen it before. I can’t help but think sometimes a little patience could go a long way.
“You think about coaches … I believe Dean Smith, they did a little effigy in his honor in the beginning when things weren’t going well. Johnny Wooden had a rough patch in the beginning. Mike Krzyzewski, arguably our best coach we have in basketball today, things didn’t go very well in the beginning. He had an AD who was smart enough to know what he had. He exhibited a lot of patience, so now you see where Coach K is. I think we all understand that. But circumstances, especially in the NBA, have a whole lot more to do with firings than how well or how poorly a coach did. It’s unfortunate. But we all move on, including Avery.
“I think that’s all all I want to say about that.”
Though it happens often, it is always interesting to see a coach fired shortly after being recognized as a Coach of the Month, as Avery Johnson was in November. Of course, the Nets went 11-4 in November before they lost eight of ten to start the month of December. When the expectations are as high as they are for the Nets, a rough patch like that is hard to justify, and the easiest way to keep the hungry Brooklyn fans at bay was to sacrifice the coach. It didn’t help the Johnson’s preaching – literally – and his micromanagement coaching style was starting to grate on his players.
Still, Johnson got a great deal more leeway than did Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown, who was fired just five games into the season, and Brown was missing an All-Star point guard at the time.
Deron Williams will shoulder his share of the blame for Johnson’s firing, as he did when the legendary Jerry Sloan abruptly quit his job as the head coach of the Utah Jazz before Williams was traded from Utah to Brooklyn. Williams can be difficult, and it’s undoubtedly true that he and Johnson were more like oil and water than a perfectly blended dough. Still, Johnson’s track record in the face of a losing streak is not good, and his penchant for shrill criticism likely had at least as much to do with his dismissal than anything Williams had to say.
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