Add Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle to the growing list of NBA coaches who were shocked that the Atlanta Hawks fired Lloyd Pierce on Monday.
Carlisle expressed his dismay before Monday’s 130-124 victory over the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center.
“I know that Black History Month officially ended yesterday, but on the way over here on the bus I heard about the dismissal of Lloyd Pierce in Atlanta,” Carlisle said. “This is a shocking development to all of us in the coaching world.
“The timing seems odd. The team had injuries — a lot of those kinds of things.”
The Hawks are 14-20 overall, 3-4 in their last seven games, and in third place in the Southeast Division. They also own victories over Philadelphia and Brooklyn – the top two teams in the Eastern Conference – plus a win over the Los Angeles Clippers, who are seeded third in the Western Conference.
“It sucks,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said when asked about the firing of Pierce. “He’s done a really good job. He’s a tremendous person. Yeah, this is a hard one.”
Clifford and Carlisle believe it’s even harder considering when NBA players were fighting for racial justice and equality in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd last May, it was Pierce who led the NBA coaches in that fight.
In fact, when the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association announced a new National Basketball Social Justice Coalition in late November that featured key players and owners, the only coaches on that coalition were Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers and Pierce.
“Lloyd is a guy that has had a profound effect on the landscape of social justice, particularly over the last 12 months,” Carlisle said. “He was the chairperson in the Coaches For Racial Justice. He was the guy that was the first guy in the entire NBA to facilitate his local arena as a voting center in Georgia, and that triggered a chain of events that led to 22 NBA arenas being certified as voting centers.
“As we’re all well aware, the state of Georgia — in very large part because of Lloyd’s work and his commitment — went from being a traditional Republican state to a Democratic state not only in the electoral college vote in the presidential election, but also in the runoff elections in January, which has massively changed the landscape of our country. “
Since he’s also the president of the National Basketball Coaches Association, Carlisle likely has a more in-depth relationship with the other 29 head coaches than do some of the other coaches. That likely explains why he was bothered by the news of Pierce’s dismissal.
“Lloyd is a great young coach, he is a friend of the Coaches Association and I just really feel for him and his family,” Carlisle said. “He just had a baby last week. This is just insane!
“(He’s) one of the real bright shining lights in our association. And once again a great young coach who I’m sure will have more opportunities, but very surprising the way that’s developed.”
Guiding Luka: Since Luka Doncic entered the NBA in 2018 already packed with so many exceptional skills, coach Rick Carlisle was asked how he’s been able to teach him so that he can make his own name in the NBA after his long tenure coaching Dirk Nowitzki.
“It’s been more about guiding him,” Carlisle said. “This kid was so well prepared for NBA basketball with how he was developed by his coaches through his teenage years and into age 19, 20.
“I think the important thing for us as a franchise and me as a coach, I was able to study enough things about cultivating greatness in players that had that kind of ability to allow him to play and to allow him to be creative, to make mistakes, to encourage aggression and those kinds of things.”
It’s “those kinds of things” that Doncic does that have flustered many a coach.
“He’s first is usage in the NBA, he’s first in drives into the paint, he’s between eight-to-nine free throw (attempts) a game, 28.5 (points),” Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “He’s an incredible player.
“There’s nothing to me that you can do in his pick-and-roll game that’s going to slow him down or slow them down for any period of time. You have to have two or three things, and you have to be able to switch it up during the game, and if you can’t do that, he’s seen it all already even at a young age and he’s just too good.”
Clifford also explained that trying to use a double-team to trap Doncic is usually an exercise in futility.
“If you’re not up as the screener so that you at least give him immediate resistance when he comes off the pick and roll, it’s over,” Clifford said. “Once he starts going downhill and he does all those dribble seals, he literally stops the game right where he’s dribbling the ball, and he’s so wide and so strong and so skilled that you’re at his mercy.
“There are some really good players that if you double-team them, they’re not that good any more. He still is. He drives away from the pick-and-roll, if he knows the double-team is there he’ll split it, if the guy’s not up he’ll drive around the big, and then you talk about the left side of the floor. That’s his side, obviously. That’s where he makes most of his threes from.”
And that’s one of the spots where he makes life miserable for opponents.
“There are many things to love about Luka Doncic,” Carlisle said. “His flair for the game is obvious. He has great charismatic, attitude, and people are drawn to the level of joy that he plays with.
“I think as this goes on there’s so much that’s been placed on his shoulders and yet he wants that responsibility and he’s willing to take on more. As we move into the future, it’s nothing but exciting.”