‘We are fortunate to have him:’ Hawks owner Ressler on Nate McMillan

Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan confers with Trae Young during a time out after falling behind 57-41 against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second quarter of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday, June 25, 2021, in Milwaukee. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan confers with Trae Young during a time out after falling behind 57-41 against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second quarter of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday, June 25, 2021, in Milwaukee. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Nate McMillan led the Hawks on a huge resurgence in the second half of the season.

ExploreHawks reach agreement with Nate McMillan to continue as coach

He took over for Lloyd Pierce as interim coach March 1, and a team that started 14-20 ended up making the Eastern Conference finals. The Hawks learned how to win games in the fourth quarter, their Achilles’ heel in the first half, and found a consistent rhythm after the coaching change. In a long-awaited move, after an McMillan’s exceptionally long job interview, general manager Travis Schlenk announced Monday that he’d be the Hawks’ next head coach.

It may end up going down as one of the greatest interview periods ever in sports, principal owner Tony Ressler said Tuesday when meeting with the media, adding that how the Hawks started the season wasn’t what he expected, and a change was necessary.

“When people say did you want to re-sign Nate, I’m like, listen man, our job was to figure out how to force that issue as quickly as possible, and that’s precisely what we did,” Ressler said. “So it was not a very hard decision. I think Nate is one of those guys that not just has experience, but as I think we talked about a little earlier, do people evolve, does ownership change the way they try to lead a franchise depending on who’s doing what.

“Does a coach adjust his style based on who he’s coaching and where they are in their lives and what age group he has in a group of players and does he have a group of young players, does he adjust? Nate’s done all of the above. I think we are fortunate to have him. I think this is the way we create some stability. And yes, this was among the easiest decisions I’ve been asked to be a part of.”

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Hawks general manager and president Travis Schlenk (left) and owner Tony Ressler take in the scene as Hawks star Trae Young takes the court for warmups before playing the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals on Friday, June 25, 2021, in Milwaukee. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Hawks general manager and president Travis Schlenk (left) and owner Tony Ressler take in the scene as Hawks star Trae Young takes the court for warmups before playing the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals on Friday, June 25, 2021, in Milwaukee.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

caption arrowCaption
Hawks general manager and president Travis Schlenk (left) and owner Tony Ressler take in the scene as Hawks star Trae Young takes the court for warmups before playing the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals on Friday, June 25, 2021, in Milwaukee. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

At the time of Pierce’s departure, the Hawks were No. 11 in the Eastern Conference standings, one game out of the play-in tournament. They surged in the second half and nabbed the No. 5 seed.

ExploreMark Bradley: From journeyman to the Hawks’ magic man

The timing of Pierce’s firing was a bit odd, as he had coached practice and addressed the media earlier that day, and only two games remained before the All-Star break. The Hawks were in the middle of a road trip.

Ressler addressed that, as well: “I wish I could remember the coaching practice question or the timing, but I know this. The franchise was 14-20. And as I think we said, and I certainly believed, that we were a far better team than 14-20. I don’t think there was a view that I was able to find in our organization from a player, from a front-office person, from an executive, from a fan, I don’t think anyone expected 14-20, myself included. And we felt a change was absolutely needed. … I do know, the concept of having it before the All-Star break and having that period of time to adjust and decompress, I thought that was important.

“I should say, (Schlenk) and his front office felt that was important. So the timing of pre-All-Star, but we felt, no, we didn’t feel, we knew a change was going to be required so that our franchise could live up to what we thought it was capable of. Our team. And we stand by that decision. I’m not sure it could ever be done as appropriately and as effectively (as you’d want); firing people is always hard, especially people that mean and attempt and try their best.

“But firing is just hard in (this business), in every business, this is not a unique case, but we knew a change was required. We knew not just a new voice in the locker room, we knew we needed to make a change. We saw that. And this season with this team, we just felt we could be doing much more, and I’m going to argue as hard as it was, I stand by the decision, and I think it was best for our franchise, and best for the overall organization.”

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