The Hawks fired former head coach Lloyd Pierce on Monday, which ends his tenure in Atlanta after three seasons with the organization. And while Pierce's time with the Hawks ended with a 63–120 record, his dismissal still drew criticism across the NBA.
"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," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told the media on Monday. "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 kind of things, but Lloyd is a guy that has had a profound effect on the landscape of social justice, particularly over the last 12 months."
Pierce was one of seven Black head coaches in the NBA prior to Monday's firing. He spent much of the league's COVID-19 hiatus working to fight against racial injustice and police brutality, participating in numerous marches, protests and voter registration drives in the Atlanta area. State Farm Arena in Atlanta was used as a polling station for the 2020 elections, a plan initiated in part by Pierce.
“It’s powerful to see the vulnerability, to see the efforts that we’ve initially started, with regards to proposing some action. Now, the action is the challenging part,” Pierce told All Hawks' Ben Ladner in June. “What’s going to be sustainable, what’s going to have a lasting impact?
“It’s gonna require appropriate education, it’s gonna require more work than we’re seeing with the protesting by the individuals. I think the emotional side is now. I think the effort and the work ethic and everything that’s required to actually impact and create change is what’s going to happen when the protests go away.”
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was among the coaches who praised Pierce following Monday's firing. Popovich noted Pierce is someone "you can build a culture around."
"He's the kind of guy you can build a culture around," Popovich said. "But there's got to be leadership enough that understands it takes time and continuity is important and that is not always available in our league as far as management and ownership are concerned."
Atlanta enters Tuesday night sitting No. 10 in the Eastern Conference at 14–20. Nate McMillan has taken over for Pierce in an interim capacity as the Hawks eye their first postseason appearance since 2017.