Schultz: Even if Nate McMillan’s firing was justified, the Hawks’ problems go beyond coaching

Just two years and three months ago, Nate McMillan took over defenseman Lloyd Pierce as interim coach of the Hawks and made it clear to his players that they were part of the problem.

“Everyone needs to point the finger at themselves on what they can do better,” McMillan said later in his interview with the team. “Lloyd took the hit for all of us. I know that applies to the region. But you have to look at yourself and see what you do about it.”

What is not old is new again. McMillan was fired on Tuesday night. The coach took a blow to the player and the organizational failure. But welcome to life in professional sports, where it’s easier to get away with one’s contract than it is for many.

Macmillan’s exit was not a shock. Owner Tony Ressler has been thinking about it for a while. Talks between Ressler and General Manager Landry Fields escalated after he dragged the Hawks to the All-Star break with back-to-back losses to the Hornets and Knicks that left the team 29-30 and greatly ruined hopes of avoiding another Play-In run. McMillan might have been fired days ago, but the professional sports leagues generally frown on signing ceremonies like All-Star Games that are eclipsed by unsightly things like shootings, and Mondays are off. So the ax fell on Tuesday night, the eve of the players’ return to training.

“It was something where I felt like I needed to light a fire underneath,” Fields said. the athlete. Our goals have not changed this season.

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Absolutely – what better way to ensure personal accountability for players than to fire a coach. But let’s get back to that.

To be clear, there are legitimate reasons to support Macmillan’s exit. After going 27-11 and guiding the Falcons to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2020-21, and landing the “permanent” job, his record over the next two seasons was pedestrian 72-69. Atlanta underperformed for her talent, even if the talent was probably exaggerated and definitely mismatched.

Macmillan’s letters are solid and consistent. He’s not the intimidating master trainer that Einstein made it out to be on social media. A guy who doesn’t coach 1428 NBA games and win 760 unless he knows his way around the rings. He is smart, personable and most of all professional. The job he did two years ago, calming down a group of exhausted, somewhat whiny players and leading them to the Knicks and Sixers’ playoff games, was remarkable. But McMillan is old school, and he falls short in important areas, particularly offensive creativity and youth player development. The Falcons are 16th in offensive rating at 113.7, take way too many jumpers from midrange, are terrible at shooting 3s and remain terrible defensively.

Barring a breakthrough and a miraculous playoff run, McMillan was likely to be fired after the season anyway, with one year left on his contract. Ressler had already stripped power from former team boss Travis Schlink, effectively excommunicating him from the organization. Three other members of the basketball team were expelled. He saw no reason to delay Macmillan’s exit. The regulatory upheaval and influx orchestrated by the combustible Ressler was sure to continue.

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Fields is the top name in basketball operations, but Ressler runs the show. Fields, when asked how long Macmillan’s shooting had been discussed, told athlete, “It’s something I’ve been watching. For the show we’ve had (this season)… I don’t want to exaggerate the last two games with Charlotte and New York, but those were definitely important, and we’re not seeing enough progress.”

Of the impending search for coaching, Fields said: “We’re looking for a fresh voice the rest of the way, and we’re starting our search immediately and aggressively. So we’re giving ourselves the advantage with 23 games left to progress in (the search) and see if we can land on someone who makes sense for us.” Evolution Huge on our priority list, as well as the personality of our coaches and accountability with the players, the need to get our offense and defense into the top 10. That’s the only way I see progress on the basketball court.”

The issues are a much bigger picture than that, and they may or may not be addressed in a press conference on Wednesday. Ressler started out as an owner who said he would leave basketball decisions to basketball operations, but morphed into something other than that after an unexpected — and misguided — rise to the Conference Finals.

It led to front office dysfunction that included Ressler’s son basking in the loudest room, owner John Collins turning down a deal, three first-round picks being dealt to Dejounte Murray over Schlink’s objection, and a self-imposed salary. – the problems that effectively forced the team to deal with Kevin Huerter.

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Equally important was the often fractured relationship between McMillan and guard Trae Young. The player’s apparent lack of leadership skills—and, fair to say, situational awareness—was problematic. McMillan even traveled to Oklahoma City in the off-season to talk to Young about improving communication between them this season. But if it helped, it was insignificant.

Possible candidates to replace McMillan could include three former Hawks assistants — Charles Lee of the Bucks, Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson and former Jazz head coach Quinn Snyder — as well as Kings assistant Gordy Fernandez, Spurs assistant Mitch Johnson and Miles Simon of JSouth Bay. Ressler will probably shoot high. But with cap issues and few future draft picks, this is not an attractive mailbox for candidates.

It is fair to assume that Macmillan will not fix this. It’s also fair to assume that the problems extend beyond training.

(Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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