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Hawks fire Lloyd Pierce; will Nate McMillan replace him as head coach?

The Hawks entered the 2020-21 season with playoff expectations after spending lavishly in free agency. It’s now clear they felt Lloyd Pierce wasn’t taking them in the right direction.

Atlanta announced Monday that it has fired Pierce amid a rough stretch in which the team has lost 12 of its last 17 games. Pierce, who was named the head coach of the Hawks in 2018, leaves Atlanta with a 63-120 overall record.

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“We would like to thank Lloyd for his work and commitment to not only the Hawks organization but the city of Atlanta,” Hawks president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk said. “He and his wife, Melissa, are tremendous people who have made a positive impact throughout the city. We have high expectations for our team on the court and we believe by making this change now that we can have a strong second half of the season.”

While the Hawks stumbled out of the gates to a 14-20 mark (11th in the Eastern Conference) this season with Pierce at the helm, it should be noted that he dealt with a brutal run of injuries, particularly with offseason acquisitions Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn, Danilo Gallinari and Rajon Rondo missing significant time. Atlanta has lost the second-most games to injuries in the league behind only Orlando, per Spotrac’s injury tracker, giving Pierce little chance to build any sort of chemistry with this group.

However, the Hawks also consistently put themselves in position to win games, only to fall apart in the closing minutes. Perhaps it’s unfair to pin all of those failures on Pierce, but as is often the case in the NBA, the coach is always the first person pushed out of the door when a team is underperforming.

11 of the Hawks’ 20 losses this season have come when the team has had a lead in the fourth quarter.

— Chris Kirschner (@ChrisKirschner) March 1, 2021

So where does Atlanta go from here? The Hawks are “hopeful” Nate McMillan will make the transition from assistant coach to interim head coach, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. McMillan has been “fiercely loyal” in his support of Pierce, per Wojnarowski, so it’s not out of the question he will turn down the job. McMillan previously served as the head coach of the Pacers for four seasons before joining Pierce’s staff.

As of Monday, Atlanta is only two games out of a spot of the play-in tournament, and there is still plenty of time left to turn this season around. Whether it’s McMillan or another candidate, the pressure will be on the next head coach to lead the Hawks back to the postseason for the first time since 2017.

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