Bradley’s Buzz: Coaching the Hawks means coaching Trae Young

Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young reacts after hitting a shot against the Indiana Pacers during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young reacts after hitting a shot against the Indiana Pacers during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

We who work in sports journalism have a saying, re: professional sports. “In baseball, it’s the general manager who matters. In football, it’s the coach. In basketball, it’s the players.”

This shouldn’t be taken as a dismissal of all else. Pitchers are useful. Quarterbacks are essential. And having a good coach, even in the NBA, never hurts. We mention this because the Hawks are again seeking a coach, Nate McMillan having gotten the gate Tuesday.

For part of his brief tenure, McMillan was pretty good. Then his players stopped listening. (We assume McMillan didn’t stop coaching.) The Hawks are 29-30, holders of eighth place in the NBA East. They’re 16th in offensive efficiency, 21st in defensive efficiency. They’re 21st in true shooting. Performance-wise, they’re mediocre on merit.

Player-wise, they shouldn’t be mediocre. This is a talented team. McMillan was good for the Hawks in that he insisted they try to defend, which they couldn’t be bothered to do under Lloyd Pierce. McMillan isn’t known as a builder of beautiful offensive sets – though his Hawks were second in offensive efficiency last season.

It could be that Trae Young needs the ball too much, though Young has never been reluctant to pass. (He’s second among NBA players in assists per game.) It could be that Dejounte Murray, acquired at high cost, needs the ball, too. It could be that John Collins no longer fits the model of an NBA power forward. Still, a roster with Young, Murray, Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovich, Onyeka Okongwu and AJ Griffin shouldn’t be sub-.500.

It’s believed the Hawks will speak with Quin Snyder, who did well with Utah but resigned after last season when it became clear the Jazz were about to rebuild. Snyder played guard and worked as an assistant coach at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski. He took Missouri to four NCAA tournaments. (In Round 1 in 2001, his Tigers beat Jim Harrick’s Georgia on a last-second shot.) Snyder quit in February 2006, Mizzou having landed on NCAA probation.

He was a Hawks assistant for Mike Budenholzer’s first season here. Snyder was named Utah’s head coach in 2014. The Jazz made the playoffs six years running, never advancing beyond the West semifinals. As we speak, he’s unaffiliated. In January, he served as director of the Basketball Africa League Combine held in Paris.

Were the Hawks to tap Snyder, I’d say, “Good hire.” Unknown is how much power the Hawks’ next coach will have. Last month, esteemed AJC colleagues Lauren Williams and Chris Vivlamore reported this was “a team in turmoil.” Travis Schlenk, hired by owner Tony Ressler to oversee a reset, had been pushed aside. Landry Fields, who’s 34, is the GM. Kyle Korver was named assistant GM. Ressler’s son Nick, who’s 28, is the director of basketball operations.

Nick Ressler is said to be close to Young, whom Schlenk acquired in a draft-night trade in 2018 for the now-legendary Luka Doncic, plus a 2019 Round 1 pick that became Cam Reddish, who was banished to the Knicks in 2022. Young’s relationship with McMillan began well enough. It ended less well.

In December, McMillan told Young to participate in a morning shootaround – Young was being treated for a sore shoulder – or he wouldn’t start that night against Denver. Young opted to stay home. The Hawks won without him. Afterward, Murray said in an on-court interview: “It’s going to be hard for you if you’re representing whatever team or organization you play for if you don’t trust your teammates.”

That was interpreted as a criticism of Young, who’s having his worst season – going by win shares, value over a replacement player and true shooting percentage – since he was a rookie. He didn’t make the All-Star team. When the Hawks reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2021 under McMillan, Young was the reason. He’s now viewed as the reason McMillan, not 20 months later, was fired.

Coaching the Hawks could be a great job. Thing is, coaching the Hawks – barring a major reversal by a front office in flux – means coaching Trae Young. Pierce couldn’t do it. McMillan managed, though only for a while. Maybe Snyder is the guy to maximize this point guard’s conspicuous gifts. Somebody had better be.

The above is part of a regular exercise, written and curated by yours truly, available to all who register on for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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