It's Hawks Media Day and newly-minted Atlanta Journal-Constitution Hawks beat writer Chris Vivlamore has a post up that includes some quotes from Larry Drew. If you have read more than 5 consecutive words that I've written about the Hawks, you know I am not a Larry Drew fan.
I feel that his decisions in consecutive postseasons to play marginal players (Josh Powell, Jason Collins, Jannero Pargo, Willie Green) ahead of legitimate rotation players (Zaza Pachulia, Kirk Hinrich) prevented the Hawks from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. Other pundits have parroted each other over and over, saying the Hawks "reached their ceiling" in the second round. I disagree. I feel the ceiling for the Hawks was the conference championship series, and poor coaching kept the team from reaching it.
Nonetheless, I think this is going to be a good season for Larry Drew. Danny Ferry has jettisoned all of the scrubs from last season's roster and assembled a reserve unit that will put 2011-12's over-hyped bench to shame. Drew has more rotation players at his disposal than he has in any previous season. Consequently, he has fewer scrubs to misallocate minutes to.
Furthermore, Drew has taken the very significant step of travelling to Israel to exchange notes with highly-regarded Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt. Blatt played under Pete Carril at Princeton, where the "Princeton Offense" was created. With Joe Johnson and his ball-stopping isolations out of the way, Drew will have his best opportunity to implement his own motion offense with the Hawks.
In addition to loading the roster with rotation players, Ferry has also loaded up on shooters. This has the happy consequence of letting Josh Smith know that it's time for him to play near the basket and let more qualified players shoot from outside. With that as the main story line heading into camp, Vivlamore got a quote from Drew that really impressed me. Said Drew:
"I don’t think there is any question about Josh’s ability to be an All-Star. It’s up to me to try to get him there."I don't like Larry Drew as a coach, but I like the fact that he's acknowledging the central factor he will be judged by this year. Anybody who is more than a casual NBA fan knows that Josh Smith has been the most obvious All-Star snub in both of Drew's seasons as head coach. Savvy fans and writers also understand that Josh was not left off the All-Star team due to lack of talent. He was left off because he does not play the game of basketball the right way.
Drew's quote above acknowledges that getting Josh to play the right way is his responsibility. It acknowledges that Josh's failure to make past All-Star teams is a result of Drew's under-performance as an NBA head coach.
This is great. Larry Drew is taking responsibility. THAT is leadership.
I'm not going to use this to make any lofty projections, but it's certainly a positive sign. Many Hawks fans feel Drew is a lame duck coach and it's only a matter of time until Ferry replaces him. I'm not so sure.
I believe the Hawks, and Drew, are going to exceed expectations this year. I believe Joe Johnson's desperation to produce a scoring average that justified his contract kept the Hawks from being the team they will be in his absence. Smith and returning teammates Pachulia, Al Horford and Jeff Teague are team players who facilitate ball movement. With Johnson out of the picture, does anyone doubt Smith will have a career scoring year?
Josh Smith, Larry Drew, the stage is yours. This is your moment. Let's do this.