Q&A: Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce discusses expectations, looks ahead

The Hawks ended their season Wednesday night with a 135-134 loss to the Indiana Pacers, finishing with a 29-53 record. In the team’s final media availability Thursday, coach Lloyd Pierce met with the media to discuss team expectations, defensive systems and free agency, among other topics. Here are a few of the questions and answers.

Q: Do you feel like this team has exceeded your expectations?

A: No, because I didn’t place a ton of expectations on our group. Once you start you expect everything to go well, you want to win the game, you want to be efficient, you want your defense to be better. That’s day to day, you’re always trying to find ways to get better and win the day. 

Yes, because the expectations I really had was for us to make this an unbelievable place for our guys. I think we really exceeded expectations there. I think people know what they are going to get when they watch us play, and they enjoy watching us play. And maybe I’m just speaking to the right people, but I think we have an identity, and we wanted to create an identity that represented true to Atlanta, that represented the city of Atlanta. New staff, new ownership, new GM, all coming together in this year and new arena. And we felt it was the right time, right opportunity to really start this transition, start this growth, start this however everyone says rebuild, whatever you want to call it, it all came together and we were able to create an identity in that year. 

Q: Justin (Anderson) mentioned how he felt that you haven’t implemented your defensive system from your days in Philadelphia. Is there a reason why you didn’t implement it?

A: Not ready. And I say that, we implemented our system of what we want. You know, playoff basketball as you guys all know is different than regular-season basketball. And then when you go into playoffs, you’re able to use, you know I use post defense. There are six different blitzes that we can do with a post guy. There’s a lot of thinking and a lot of rotations that you have to work on. I just want us to be able to guard the post one-on-one first, and then provide a crowd behind it. And that takes a mentality for us to do, and we’re still implementing the mentality. We’re still trying to figure out the ability to get our foundation right, and can we get our foundation right. And that just takes time. 

I thought John (Collins) got better defensively as the season went on, but we struggle as a unit, and it took him a while to get going on that side. I thought Trae got better defensively as the season went on, but still relative of where we want him to be. And I’ll take the hit, and I’ll continue to take the hit on that. I want to do it right. I don’t want to just say we’re a better defensive team and we’re just going to throw out all kinds of different coverages and it looks good.  

Q: You have two unrestricted free agents in Vince (Carter) and Dewayne (Dedmon), I know it’s not entirely your decision, but do you hope that both of them can return to this team?

A: I’ll always say I hope it’s what is best for them occurs. Obviously Vince, a million times, has been unbelievable for us. And I can’t say it enough, as any great player that is at the near end of his career, he is going to go through and make the best decision for him at the end of the summer. Whatever that is, we love him, I’d love to have him here. It’s not an easy decision of how that all comes together. But he’s also going to do, and should do, and deserves to do, what’s best for him at that point. Dewayne is a guy that helped us create an identity. ... So, I want Dewayne, a new father like myself, to do what’s best for him and his family. If what’s best is here, I hope we get that conversation and I hope we are able to help him, because he has been able to help us. He’s been a part of this culture and growing this, and I appreciate all of that. I had him in Philadelphia when he first got to the league, and to circle back has been great. It still comes down to him taking care of him. That’s the beauty and power in being an unrestricted free agent, is you get to make that decision. So that’s what’s most important.  

Q: Where do you see your role in preparing for this upcoming draft?

A: Yeah, I go from head coach to assistant general manager, scout, whatever (general manager) Travis (Schlenk) needs of me. And I thought what we did last year which was great to come together. I brought in my staff, we joined with (assistant GM) Jeff (Peterson) and Travis and (vice president, basketball operations) Rod (Higgins) and everybody, and we just learned each other. And learned how to evaluate. They gave us projects on who to watch, we wrote in reports and replies, we sat in meetings. It was a great opportunity for all of us to spend time getting to know each other, so why wouldn’t we do it again. 

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