HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Every time the music stops in this latest game of NBA coaching musical chairs, former Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew finds himself looking for a seat.
And yes, he is now officially a “former” Hawks coach as of Tuesday afternoon. That’s when the Hawks announced that they hired Mike Budenholzer, the longtime assistant to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, to take over Drew’s old job. Budenholzer joins Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix) and Steve Clifford (Charlotte) as assistants who move over to the first chair next season. And there are still several more big-name assistants — Indiana’s Brian Shaw is the biggest, and he is not being allowed to interview for other jobs during the Pacers’ run — who could be in line to move up.
There are still vacancies in Milwaukee, Detroit, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Los Angeles (Clippers) that need to be filled. Drew is a candidate in Milwaukee (he’ll interview for a second time this week) and is interested in the Clippers’ opening.
But as of this morning he’s still twisting in coaching no-man’s land after the Hawks filled his job without ever officially severing ties with the man who led them to three straight playoff appearances during his tenure. Drew was a Hawks assistant for six seasons before that, the final three of those culminating in playoff trips under then-coach (and now-Knicks coach) Mike Woodson.
Drew’s contract expires June 30 and he went into this process with a complete understanding of what Hawks GM Danny Ferry was doing. It’s not like someone snatched the rug from underneath him. Ferry is going for the complete franchise makeover, complete with 12 or 13 roster spots to fill in addition to Budenholzer and whatever staff he can put together.
Ferry made it clear that while he didn’t mind dancing with the coach he inherited last summer when he took over Atlanta’s basketball operations, he was going to keep an eye out for his own guy. His history with Budenholzer, both as a player and executive with the Spurs, was an obvious connection.
Drew understood that the chance of him returning to the job he did so well the past three seasons was slim at best. He fielded questions about his status all season, never once bristling at a process with an outcome that many of us saw coming the day Ferry was hired. All that said, it’s still bizarre for some to see a coach under contract, at least for another month, replaced by someone whose current job (at that time) required him to help prepare the Spurs for another long playoff run.
Bucks general manager John Hammond has to make the next move where Drew is concerned. His pool of candidates to take over in Milwaukee shrinks every time the music stops. Clifford and Budenholzer were reportedly on Hammond’s short list before being taken off of the market. And now Drew and Houston Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson are believed to be the finalists.
Drew has 128-102 record as a coach and those three playoff appearances in three seasons working in his favor … not that it served him very well in whatever attempt was made to keep his job with the Hawks. Sampson has history with the Bucks, having worked as an assistant under former coach Scott Skiles for three seasons.
Drew’s coaching experience is going head-to-head with Sampson’s connection and the trend of assistants being elevated to top jobs. How much longer Drew remains on the coaching carousel depends on the which set of factors carry more weight in Milwaukee and perhaps elsewhere.
The coaching vacancy landscape can change in an instant — just ask former Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro. The Memphis Grizzlies have to decide what they’re going to do with Lionel Hollins, whose contract is up. He’ll be a hot candidate for several of these remaining openings if he and the Grizzlies decide to part ways.
That’s why if you are Drew, you want a seat now … before that music stops again.