After 28 games, the Atlanta Hawks aren’t in the position that many envisioned and, after a dismal performance in a 23-point loss to the New York Knicks on Tuesday, the whispers are reportedly getting louder with regard to head coach Lloyd Pierce.
Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reports that Pierce is “is not on the hot seat” at the moment. However, he writes that “frustration in the locker room has been building for some time as teammates have complained to each other about selfishness, not putting in the necessary work to turn things around and players not being held accountable.”
Within the same report, Haynes brings word from sources that “there is work that needs to be done to strengthen the connection with a few significant players.”
Haynes does not include specifics on which players have a damaged connection with Pierce but, while indicating that the head coach is not currently in danger, he suggests that “if the Hawks’ play and attitude continue to erode, the heat on Pierce will start to rise.”
It should be noted that, prior to the team’s recent five-game losing streak, an additional report emerged from Shams Charania of The Athletic citing “frustration” in the locker room and what he described as “an emotional locker room scene” involving Trae Young. Chris Kirschner of The Athletic later noted that his sources did not agree with the characterization of an “emotional exchange,” but there is a pattern emerging.
Following the disappointing showing in New York, Pierce took some of the responsibility for the team’s performance in addressing the media.
“As expected, a very frustrated room,” Pierce said in his opening comments after the loss. “It’s tough when you come off an effort you have Sunday against the Lakers. You come here, and we didn’t hit first. We played on our heels. We let a lot of things affect our effort. That’s the biggest thing. I keep talking about competitive spirit and trying to find that effort. We don’t have it right now. That’s always going to come back to me. I’ll never put it on any of our guys. It’s going to come back to me. We have to find it.”
The elephant in the room is that John Collins, currently in the midst of a 25-game suspension, would presumably help the team on both ends of the floor. In fact, Haynes went as far as to write that Collins is “one of the primary factors in the organization remaining patient with Pierce.”
Still, that would seemingly add to the urgency level when Collins is able to return on Dec. 23, even with Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk publicly indicating that the team’s internal projections envisioned only 30-31 wins for Atlanta before the suspension of Collins.
Atlanta’s locker room does have Vince Carter as a vocal leader but, at this stage, he is not an impactful on-court presence. The Haynes report indicates, from sources, that “a true vocal leader who commands the respect of his peers is missing from the roster.”
It is always intriguing to estimate where some of the frustrations could be coming from, with a few highly-paid veterans out of the rotation and young players forced into roles they are not ready to fully assume. Still, there was visible frustration echoed in some of the team’s comments after the loss in New York.
“We have to figure this (expletive) out,” Kevin Huerter told Chris Kirschner of The Athletic after Tuesday’s blowout loss in New York. “We just have to come together. We have to stop making excuses for each other. We have to be on guys. We have to challenge one another. If guys aren’t bringing what they have, we have to bring different guys in. We have to continue to challenge each other. We’ll get John back, and he’ll be a guy we can throw in. It has to be a group effort, though. It’s not going to be solved by one guy. It’s not going to be solved by two guys. You don’t beat anyone by giving up (143) points.”
Huerter also told The Athletic, in reference to Collins, that “one guy coming back isn’t coming back to save us.” That sentiment is warranted in that Collins simply won’t fix every issue that haunts the Hawks right now and, if the expectations are that the ship will be righted immediately upon his arrival, Pierce’s sledding could be rough.
Ultimately, there is some expectation that a team with a 6-22 record — and a 2-16 mark in its last 18 games — would have built-up frustration that could lead to public discussion. Still, that is something different from the level of smoke currently emanating from the locker room at this stage, and it was enough to warrant two reports from national sources within a two-week period.
The Hawks return to action on Thursday evening against the Utah Jazz and return to New York to face the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday. Collins is then able to return to the lineup on Monday, Dec. 23 when the Hawks take on the Cleveland Cavaliers.