Yesterday, the Atlanta Hawks shook up their coach staff. Joe Prunty was promoted to top assistant, filling the role of Chris Jent, who went to serve on Darvin Ham's Los Angeles Lakers staff. Additionally, the organization hired Mike Longabardi to serve as an assistant coach.
As I quickly recapped yesterday, Longabardi is an NBA lifer. He's worked as an assistant coach on six other teams since 2003. He's been a part of two NBA championship squads and part of almost every coaching tree imaginable. Even better, Longabardi is billed as a defensive-minded coach.
However, the Hawks new hire has had varied results when coordinating team's defensive schemes in the past. Different fanbases from around the league quickly reminded Hawks fans that Longabardi had overseen three of the nine worst defensive teams of all time.
The 2018-19 Cleveland Cavaliers (117.6) have the worst defensive rating ever. The 2019-20 Washington Wizards (115.5) have the seventh-worst defensive rating. Lastly, the 2021-22 Sacramento Kings (115.3) have the ninth-worst defensive rating in league history.
There is no sugar coating it; Longabardi's recent track record is cause for concern. But with all things in life, context is crucial. The Cavaliers team was in the wake of LeBron James leaving for the Lakers. The Wizards were at the beginning of a rebuild. And the Kings, well, they're the Kings. They let head coach Luke Walton go after 17 games and retooled the roster at the trade deadline.
At the beginning of his NBA coaching career, Longabardi was closely attached to Tom Thibodeau. The two worked on the same coaching staff in Houston and Boston, where both teams found success thanks to Thibodeau's innovative defensive system. Unfortunately for Thibodeau, his defensive schemes have aged out as the game sped up.
Back to Longabardi, the Phoenix Suns' record and defensive rating got worst each year from 2013-2015. History repeated itself with the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2016-2019. During Longabardi's time with the Wizards, the team went from worst in the league to 19th. Then, of course, last year was historically bad for the Kings.
That said, it's unfair to pin a team's shortcomings on one individual - let alone an assistant coach. Most of the teams Longabardi coached had deficient rosters. Undoubtedly, he will do better with players like Dejounte Murray, De'Andre Hunter, and Clint Capela.
One thing for sure is the Hawks must improve defensively. Throughout most of the 2021-22 season, they had the league's best offense and a bottom-five defense. A top-ten net rating is a prerequisite for a team to win an NBA Championship. The front office has signaled that it's officially in win-now mode, so the temperature under the seat of every coach on the Hawks bench has increased this summer.
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