For Hawks’ Drew, longer wait could bring better news

Monday passed without any news on the fate of Hawks coach Larry Drew. 

As general manager Danny Ferry promised in a press conference on Saturday, he would take some time to decide the fate of the coach whose contract is set to expire in the coming days. 

For his part, Drew did not seem optimistic on Friday after the Hawks were eliminated in the first round of the NBA playoffs in six games by the Indiana Pacers, saying, “This will probably be the last time this group, including myself, this is the last time we’ll probably be together.” 

Still, one has to think that the longer that Ferry goes without making his decision, the better chance Drew has of receiving a new contract from the organization. As in any situation in which a general manager is looking for a new coach, the best approach is to make a decision right away.

That gives the organization a head start on others who might be looking to make a similar move and it has the added benefit of serving to advertise the position. Potential candidates tend to be reluctant to pursue a job while the incumbent coach has yet to depart formally. However, once a job opens officially, ethical compunctions no longer stand in the way. 

Parting ways with a coach sooner, as opposed to later, also gives the GM the advantage of time. If, for example, a rival organization advances to the second round of the playoffs but, for whatever reason, chooses not to retain its coach once it is eliminated, a competitor whose season ended sooner could have fired and hired a replacement before the end of the second round. 

It’s hard to evaluate the degree to which any of this might be weighing on Ferry, who, thus far, has remained relatively quiet. It’s possible that Ferry could have a candidate in mind who is not on the radar of media or other teams who also are searching for a coach such as Brooklyn and Philadelphia. 

“I’m not going to address the future yet as for organizational direction, as far as player decisions, coaching decisions, Larry’s situation,” he told reporters on Saturday. 

Nonetheless, it’s possible that Ferry might have been impressed with the job that Drew did amid trying circumstances (one of which would be having to coach in the final year of his contract, a circumstance that can erode a coach’s authority over players). For one, the coach’s winning percentage of .557 ranks third in franchise history (since relocating to Atlanta) behind Mike Fratello and Lenny Wilkens.

This past season, Drew had to deal with a revamped roster and a slew of players who were operating in the final years of their contracts. That can lead to self-interested, and not team-oriented, play on the part of the players. 

Finally, Drew had to deal with the losses to injury of Zaza Pachulia, who would have proved a huge addition in the Pacers series, and Lou Williams, the team’s top scoring threat off the bench (and who, for a time, led the team in fourth-quarter scoring). 

For the last nine seasons, the Hawks have had relative stability in the coaching ranks with Mike Woodson at the helm for six and then Drew, who has served for the last three seasons. Drew has received praise from at least one key player in Al Horford, one of three players who has a guaranteed contract for next season. 

Going back a few years, to the dusk of the Pete Babcock Era, Lon Kruger served for two full seasons and then 27 games into the 2002-03 season before he was fired. Terry Stots finished out that season and then coached the entire next one, earning but 28 wins. By the time Billy Knight hired Woodson in 2004, the Hawks had gone through four coaches (Wilkens, Kruger, Stots, Woodson) in five calendar years. 

Whomever Ferry hires, one would think it will be for the long haul. 

“We are going to take some time,” Ferry told reporters on Saturday. “Give some distance, some space from the season and the playoffs, from the emotion of that and then we will make the decisions we feel best for the short-term and long-term future of the team.” 

The more time passes without a change, the greater the chances that Drew could become that short-term and long-term solution as coach.