There always was something unique about Lloyd Pierce compared with so many other players who rolled through the-long respected basketball program at Santa Clara.
The way he would take players aside and help them work on their game. The way he embraced a leadership role and rallied teammates. The way, even in later years after he had moved onto the NBA, he would work out college players who sought to take their game to the next level.
“I’m a big fan of the Boston Celtics’ coach, Brad Stevens, who I coached against when he was at Butler,” Dick Davey, the now retired Santa Clara coach, said by phone. “Brad’s really a great teacher of the game. Lloyd reminds me of him in terms of his ability to work with people.
“The Hawks got a brilliant mind and a great teacher. I think they’re really going to soar with him there.”
Davey can expect a phone call soon when the Hawks put him in charge of season-ticket sales.
There are never guarantees with first-time head coaches. Even established coaches don’t come with guarantees when you put them in a different city with a different roster at different stages of their career. But credit Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk with a well-reasoned and respected coaching hire. Pierce, who was hired by the Hawks on Friday and officially will be introduced at a news conference Monday, has exhibited all the traits of a young coach who is ready for this jump.
He is young enough – he just turned 42 on Friday – to relate to today’s players. His last job came with Philadelphia, which followed the tank-and-rebuild-with-youth blueprint the Hawks are replicating. He had a solid playing career at Santa Clara, where he teamed with a future Hall of Famer, Steve Nash, for two seasons, and later played four years internationally. He has had a steady climb through the coaching ranks: Santa Clara, Cleveland, Golden State, Memphis, Philadelphia. Along the way, he showed an ability to connect with and develop players and excelled at teaching defense.
Pierce also counts LeBron James among his friends. The two often worked out together in the summer. James has called Pierce, “One of my favorite coaches,” and during the summer league a few years ago said on social media, “S/O to my great friend Lloyd Pierce coaching for Philly in summer league. He's really good and is climbing that ladder. #LaFamilia.”
So the road is plowed: Getting James to sign with the Hawks should be easy now.
The Hawks were 24-58 this season, tied for the NBA’s third-worst record. It should go without saying they need more than the right coach. They need players. They have John Collins and Taurean Prince, who are young and definite keepers, a few other maybes. But Schlenk isn’t married to much of the roster. He’ll hope the numbers fall just right in Tuesday’s draft lottery, but regardless the Hawks own three first-round picks, including one in the first-to-seventh range.
Pierce “checks every box,” Schlenk said in a statement released by the team. There were three boxes: a coach who bought into rebuilding, could develop players and make in-game adjustments. The third one can’t ever be known with a first-year head coach, but after several interviews Schlenk and owner Tony Ressler came away convinced they had the right guy.
Others agree. Philly coach Brett Brown last week called the Hawks’ decision “a no-brainer.”
Some may have thought this search took too long. But it was just over two weeks, and look at it this way: The Hawks found a replacement for Mike Budenholzer before Mike Budenholzer found a replacement employer.
Schlenk said, “It was critically important to find a dynamic teacher who could connect with and develop our young core.”
Pierce expressed “great respect for Travis” and came away from his time with Ressler convinced that ownership has “a deep investment in and commitment to making this a model organization. This opportunity is a perfect fit for me, and I’m eager to get started.”
The first hire is always the perfect hire. Nobody has shot an air ball. Nobody has passed to a vapor trail in the corner. Nobody has had the ball bounce off their head. But this hire feels right and count Davey among the strong believers.
“I wanted to see him get the Santa Clara job when it opened, but his interest level wasn’t super high because he’s been in the NBA, and he likes that environment,” Davey said.
He added that Pierce “would be the first guy I would hire if I was looking to fill a job.”
Davey is retired and living the good life now in Maui. He still speaks to Pierce “two or three times a year,” but never wanted to phone him or Nash during the NBA season.
What was it like to have those two on one team?
“Come on, it’s all about coaching,” he said, laughing. “I was blessed to have kids like that. They kept me in my job a lot longer.”
Earlier on this subject
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