The Atlanta Hawks became the second team to part ways with its head coach this season on Monday, opting to fire Lloyd Pierce amid a 14-20 start to the year. Injuries had played a major role in that record, but Atlanta came into this year with postseason aspirations, and unfortunately for Pierce, those aspirations came with expectations that the squad just was not meeting.
Beyond that, there had been rumblings about friction between star guard Trae Young and Pierce for some time, and a coach bumping heads with their star player has been a pretty common way for that coach to lose their job. Thanks to a report on the circumstances that led to Pierce’s dismissal by Chris Kirschner, Sam Amick, and David Aldridge of The Athletic, we learned of one of the areas of disagreement between the two, which popped up in a rather unusual place.
Pierce, during a call with the NBA’s Competition Committee earlier this season, openly griped about Young’s ability to grift, saying that he greatly disliked how he was able to get officials to call fouls.
During a league office Competition Committee call on Dec. 30, Pierce was among a couple of members who spoke out about the way certain players are able to draw fouls and, at times, bait officials into making foul calls. Multiple sources said he spoke about how he “hates” the shots Young takes at times and the fouls he’s able to draw on them. It was perceived as an interesting comment for several people on the call because Pierce’s star player has seemingly taken advantage of drawing fouls and getting to the foul line. But it was made in the broader picture of how players are drawing fouls by manipulating their bodies.
As we’ve said in the past, Young is among the best players in the league at getting the referees to blow the whistle and send him to the free throw line, which isn’t always the most aesthetically pleasing approach — James Harden, for example, got hammered for this during his tenure in Houston, as he was outstanding at getting himself into a rhythm by shooting a billion free throws and seeing the ball go in. But of course, there is a big difference between the seemingly franchise-wide agreement that Harden should do that in Houston and the fact that Young’s now-former coach wasn’t on board with this style, even if it appeared to be part of a much-larger gripe about the prominence of this particular tactic.