ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce was fired less than halfway into a season that began with heightened expectations but was beset by injuries.
Hawks president Travis Schlenk announced the move on Monday.
The Hawks are 14-20 and 11th in the Eastern Conference, following a 109-99 loss at Miami on Sunday night. It was the Hawks’ 11th loss after holding a fourth-quarter lead. The teams play again in Miami on Tuesday.
Pierce, 44, gave no indication that he thought he was in trouble after Sunday’s loss. He ran the Hawks’ practice on Monday morning in Miami.
Perhaps most disrupting to the Hawks’ progress was the loss of emerging star De’Andre Hunter to knee surgery. Hunter, who had emerged as a scoring complement to Young and Collins, has missed 16 games.
The injuries were not enough to overcome management’s disappointment with the slow start. This was supposed to be the season the Hawks returned to the playoffs, and Pierce acknowledged before the season it was time to win.
“It makes it more challenging, but we’re not going to sit here and blame the injuries for where we are, either,” Schlenk said.
Atlanta went 20-47 last season and finished in a virtual tie for last in the Eastern Conference, percentage points ahead of Cleveland.
The Hawks were one of eight teams excluded from the NBA’s restart.
Other NBA coaches were surprised by Pierce’s firing.
Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers said he was “really shocked” and “really disappointed.”
“I just talked to him, I want to say five days ago,” Rivers said. “He just had a brand-new baby. This is a tough business, boy. It’s tough. I’ve always thought it was really difficult in a rebuild. … Most of the rebuilds unfortunately go the way of Lloyd Pierce. You’re in the middle of the rebuild and then you blame the coach for the losses that you had no chance to win. Unfortunately that’s just the way it’s worked in the league.”
Pierce has agreed to serve on San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich’s staff with the U.S. Olympic team.
“He’s one of the fine young coaches,” Popovich said. “Just a really knowledgeable guy, a people person, very mature. A sad day to have somebody lose a job like that. Now, we all know it’s a volatile environment and that type of thing, but you don’t want to miss on people like him. It’s like missing on a really good player in the draft or evaluating somebody wrongly.”
Denver coach Michael Malone said he was “completely shocked” Pierce was fired “at this point.”
“His commitment to the Atlanta Hawks and the city of Atlanta was inspirational,” Malone said.
Pierce, hired in 2018, was 63-120 (.344) with the Hawks, missing the playoffs in each of his two completed seasons.
AP Sports Writers Dan Gelston, Tim Reynolds and Andrew Seligman and AP freelancer Raul Dominguez contributed to this report.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports