The opening statements from Atlanta Hawks general manager Landry Fields were nothing short of eloquent in describing the type of reverence former head coach Nate McMillan has, not only from him but also around the league. That message quickly shifted to focus on the talented roster McMillan leaves behind, mind you, with a 99-80 record overall and an Eastern Conference Finals berth.
“This was my decision, “Fields said via the atlhawksfans YouTube channel. “It’s not something that I don’t just put on Nate. I absolutely believe that no matter who is in that lead role, that voice has got to be partially who they are. But also just with our players and the accountability that they must have. At the end of the day, they have got to own their stuff, they’ve got to own their roles, their own professional habits. Take accountability towards one another. It can’t just always be on the coach.”
He was later asked whether or not there was any input from players.
“They did not have any role in this decision,” he clarified. “I would not ever go to players for something like this. This was solely my decision at the end of the day. As far as a new candidate, to me, our objectives and our values are clear. And players fall in line with those as well. So, don’t necessarily need their feedback on who that would be.”
“Whenever you see that in the past, those are definitely areas that you want to maintain a focus on. But, for us, it’s not a huge concern. And to place any emphasis on Trae in these matters is totally unfair to him, in my opinion.”
That does not mean that there is not an additional level of responsibility on Young.
“I’ve communicated that with him,” Fields said of the burden as the highest-profile (and paid) player on the team. “He understands what position he’s in on the team. He understands where he needs to grow. And that’s consistent with us being a development culture and wanting to be more of that. It’s about support but it’s also about challenge. And those conversations had to be had. We’re very clear with him on what we want from him and need him to grow in.”
He later said that McMillan and Young’s relationship did not impact the decision pointing it to a lack of connection to the roster in general.
Fields said that there have been meetings with players and remaining staff – Joe Prunty will act as interim head coach white McMillan’s son Jamelle McMillan will remain on staff. But he still believed that there was “slippage” and that a change was needed. He added that it was “on his radar” for the last month highlighting the losses to the Charlotte Hornets and New York Knicks as “strong indicators”.
Those two losses came in the Hawks’ final two games before the break disrupting 4-2 stretch that seemed to signal they were turning the corner.
Then those losses happened and it turned into eight losses in 13 games.
Coming off of a five-game winning streak and still jockeying for positioning in the Play-In Tournament despite their blockbuster trade for Dejounte Murray this past offseason – which played a part in the departure of former team president Travis Schlenk – McMillan’s future plans were expedited.
“He never expressed that to me,” Fields said. “If he expressed that somewhere else, that would be a question for him.”
Fields noted that they are “immediately and aggressively” looking at candidates noting that the search could last into the summer. But there are already some early favorites including former Hawks staffer Quin Snyder.
This was a sure assertion of power from Fields who confirmed that they have already had talks with candidates even going so far as to confirm Snyder as a candidate. But this was also a move that owner Tony Ressler wanted, per Jeff Schultz of The Athletic (subscription required) who notes that it was Ressler who greenlighted the trades for Murray and Kevin Huerter while overruling Schlenk on a trade that would have shipped out John Collins.
Fields was clear he expects more from this group and still believes they are capable of achieving that. But with just 23 games remaining, there figures to be at least some further changes coming this summer to the roster no matter who they hire.