One of the many decisions to be made during this off-season is the one on the side of the court, the future of the Atlanta Hawks head coaching position.
The question is: Should Danny Ferry try to bring back Larry Drew as head coach?
I say, yes -- Yes he should.
1. Where the Hawks are, roster-wise
Potentially, there could be great change in the roster next season. Only Al Horford, Lou Williams and John Jenkins hold guarantees for next season, with DeShawn Stevenson, Shelvin Mack and Mike Scott holding non-guarantees for future season(s). The Hawks also hold restricted free agent rights to Jeff Teague.
So next season could be an adjustment with a lot of new players coming in to mesh with the holdovers. Kind of like this season, where as many as ten new players came into the mix, with at least seven getting significant minutes as a part of a to-date 44 win season and a playoff berth.
So why not bring back a coach who has already proven he can adjust to change to his roster and lineup? After all, the Hawks have run 28 different starting lineups this season and lost two key rotation players for the year to injury -- and still they hold the fifth seed in the playoffs to date.
2. His record of success as a coach
Stronger teams have faltered after changing head coaches as when Larry Drew took over for Mike Woodson three seasons ago, but Drew has become the second fastest Hawks coach to win 100 games (Lenny Wilkens is #1) and has done so with the changing rosters and major injuries.
As for the playoffs, where surely the jesters will perch, Drew came in and, during his first season as coach, beat the Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard one season after Orlando dispatched Atlanta in brutal fashion. In the next series, the gave the Bulls a good run before bowing in six.
Last season, without a healthy frontcourt (Horford, Josh Smith and Zaza were all injured), the Hawks battled again before losing in six to the Celtics - against an epic Kevin Garnett angry-revenge series.
3. Offensive execution is better than the Iso-Days of the past
One of the greatest parts of the summertime trade of Joe Johnson to the Nets was that it finally freed Larry Drew to use more motion and less isolation than when he had Johnson, who was at his best and most comfortable holding the ball and creating in that isolation set.
Some parts of a new roster helped, too -- as Kyle Korver, John Jenkins and Devin Harris being on the team to pair with Teague, Smith and Horford, brought more motion and ball movement naturally by the way in which those three wings play their game.
Overall, despite the departures of Williams and Joe, and the injury to Lou Williams, who was supposed to replace the efficiency/scoring Johnson left, halfway through the season, the Hawks offensive efficiency is still better than last year, by a smidge (102.8 to 102.4) and the assist ratio (19.1 to 17.7) and assist to turnover ratio (1.65 to 1.61) is better as well than the year before.
That may not seem like much but this was a team that was already fifth in the league in those categories with Drew the season before -- and they got better without two guys who had been part of the team/rotation for six seasons (Johnson was an all-star those years, in case you missed it).
There can be many reasons for that, from the maturation of Jeff Teague to the addition of better and more shooters to the team (Korver, Jenkins), but the emphasis on motion and ball sharing with Drew has had its desired effect in more assists and more offensive efficiency. And it's fun to watch.
Also, Drew is among the best in getting the Hawks into a great play coming out of a timeout. The sets with Smith and Horford are classic Hawks plays now -- And overall the Hawks are second in eFG% and fourth in True Shooting Percentage when leading or trailing by a bucket in the last two minutes. (Thank you, NBA Stats).
It's a surprise when the Hawks don't get a good play called late rather than the Woodson days when you just hoped Joe could make a very tough shot at the end of games.
4. This franchise is not championship caliber yet
If you make the argument that Larry Drew is not the coach to take you to a championship -- well, that's a case that could be made against most current and former coaches today.
Besides, there is a reason Ferry is making this roster over -- he aims to build a team to make a run, not tweak an already championship roster.
So what's the harm in signing Drew for two more seasons, if he'll take that little security, since you know you are going to get a solid effort from the bench while you put the roster in position to contend? If the time comes to push it to another level, take the time then to make a referendum on Drew's title capabilities.
5. What available coach would you take over Larry Drew for the next two seasons?
Part two of any coaching change discussion is who you can bring in versus the coach that currently occupies the post.
Given the cloudy nature of what this roster will look like next season and the season after, who will do a better job as coach of the Hawks than Drew, who has already successfully worked with the core players under contact?
None of the available coaches, including former NBA finalists Stan Van Gundy and Mike Brown, is a better fit, as I've laid out above, than Drew. And Drew is a free agent coach in the off-season -- there's no guarantee that he'll sign here if Ferry wants him, though you would have to think that he knows the Hawks are the best fit for him, as well.
If this franchise gets to a place where the roster is ready for a championship run but the performance is stagnant, then the time is right to look to make a change. But that's not where the Hawks are -- And barring a massive embarrassment in the first round of this year's playoffs or an off-the-court miscue that forces Ferry's hand, then Larry Drew is the best fit for the Atlanta Hawks.
If they can get him. Suddenly, my fingers are crossed.