On Monday, the Atlanta Hawks introduced former Philadelphia 76ers assistant Lloyd Pierce as the 29th head coach in franchise history. Pierce and Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk met with the media and answered questions regarding Pierce’s addition to the team.
Here were five of the most striking things the two had to say as the Lloyd Pierce era in Atlanta officially begins:
‘The timing is right’
The 42-year-old Pierce is getting his first chance to be a head coach, but that opportunity wasn’t the only reason why he’s coming to Atlanta. Pierce started the press conference by detailing several of the Hawks’ characteristics that drew him to the team and convinced him to leave Philadelphia after five years.
“Travis and I spent a lot of time communicating the vision of what he was looking for when he approached me about the position,” Pierce said. “[There’s] a talented, young roster with a lot of opportunities in the draft to advance the program and the organization. The timing is right. You look at the facility [the Emory Sports Medicine Complex] that we’re in now. It’s a beautiful practice court.
“The renovations that are occurring down at [Philips Arena], bringing the G-League team [to College Park] a year from now and bringing everything together, I can’t think of a better opportunity to grow and start my career as a head coach.”
When Schlenk knew Pierce was the one
Monday was Pierce’s first time in the spotlight, but Schlenk also provided his share of insight from his side of the coaching search.
Schlenk and Pierce knew each other from having worked together for one year with the Golden State Warriors, and Schlenk said the two already had a comfort level. Still, Schlenk and assistant general manager Jeff Peterson began the coaching search with a wide net to decide who would replace Mike Budenholzer.
Schlenk said on Monday that Peterson had trepidations entering the search since he had never been part of one before. Schlenk, who went through the process with the Warriors, explained to him they would know when they had found their next head coach.
According to Schlenk, that moment occurred when the two sat down with Pierce for the first time.
“When we were meeting with Lloyd in the luxurious Philadelphia Airport Marriott, about halfway through the process I just wrote on a little piece of paper and slid it over to Jeff,” Schlenk said. “I said, ‘I told you we’d know.’ We both knew.
“The one thing that Lloyd said that kind of stuck in both of our minds is ‘Good days add up.’ That’s a mantra that he had. Going through this process, we realized we’re not going to win every single game, but good days add up. That really stuck out.”
Pierce gets advice from a Hall of Famer
Pierce has worked with some of the top players in the NBA such as Golden State’s Steph Curry, but it was actually one of Pierce’s college teammates who made a major influence on his coaching style.
In the early stages of a Basketball Hall of Fame career, eight-time NBA All-Star Steve Nash spent four seasons at Santa Clara, where Pierce also played. When Pierce joined the NBA as a player development coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Nash offered advice on how to effectively worked with basketball players at the highest level.
“The first thing he told me when I got to Cleveland as a player development coach was, ‘Just be true to yourself. The players, they’ll take to that. It’s important in our profession that you’re authentic and you’re genuine,’” Pierce said. “If you establish relationships, that’s how you build credibility. Once you build credibility, I think players start to buy into anything that you’re giving them, as long as they know you care about their growth and their development.”
Pierce’s first steps
Pierce joked about how overwhelming the last few days have been, saying he was ready to throw his phone away as it constantly blew up with calls and text messages. While the first few days of a hire of Pierce’s magnitude are often time consuming, Pierce already has a plan for what he wants to accomplish as he hits the ground running.
In Pierce’s mind, priority No. 1 is filling out his coaching staff.
“I won’t be able to do this alone,” Pierce said. “Travis and I, we’ve communicated and talked. We’re going to spend more time making sure we have the right people here. As we talk about culture and we talk about this organization and we talk about the advancement of this organization, it’s making sure the right people are here and making sure the right people understand what Tony’s vision of this organization is and we mirror that.
“As we continue to talk and we’ll move into a lot of different elements of what that means — I first have to build a staff and keep a staff together that’s going to be best for these players.”
Pierce and Schlenk said the assistants from Budenholzer’s staff will be considered in the process.
Steady growth over superstars
It’s no secret that the NBA is a superstar-driven league. Players like LeBron James consistently push their teams deep into the playoffs, while other teams with the less-heralded players are often left on the outside looking in.
Pierce is only in his third day as Hawks head coach, but he was asked whether he felt there were potential superstars on his roster. Pierce wouldn’t put a ceiling on his new players’ potential, instead stressing how important the growth of each team member will be.
“Just knowing the guys from the last year and looking at some of the draft picks that eventually we’ll have on this roster, I think this is where it’s just about the development,” Pierce said. “As Travis said, good days will add up, and that’s going to be our focus as we move forward. I don’t think any of the guys on the roster are going to tell you they’ve played their best basketball yet.
“I know each guy as we talk and we communicate, it’s all going to be able focus on their growth. How can I help them? How can they help us? How can they help teammates? Superstars and all those other things, we’ll worry about later. It’s just (about) how can we get better and how can we get better now?”
Pierce will be helped by the fact the Hawks have four of the first 34 picks in this year’s draft, including three in the first round.