Leading the Atlanta Hawks Into the Future: Lloyd Pierce

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

The first time that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers started an NFL game, his buddy and then-Cleveland Cavaliers player development specialist Lloyd Pierce sent him a text message of congratulations. 

While Rodgers had played a near-perfect game – completing 18 of 22 passes, throwing for one touchdown and running for another – his performance was also notable for a less-than-flawless Lambeau Leap as he attempted to jump into the stands and celebrate with fans in Green Bay. 

Pierce, a native of the San Jose area, included one zing from their days together playing pickup basketball in the Bay Area.

"No one is ever going to believe you dunked on me after that poor effort on the Lambeau Leap," Pierce texted Rodgers, who is now a minority owner in the Milwaukee Bucks franchise while remaining as the starting quarterback of the Packers. 

After a decade of work as an assistant coach in the years since that text message, it's now Pierce's turn to jump into the limelight. The Atlanta Hawks hired Pierce on his 42nd birthday to become the 13th full-time head coach in team history. 

“This is a day I’ve been working towards for a long time and it’s an honor to be the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks,” Pierce said in a statement released by the team. “I have great respect for (General Manager) Travis (Schlenk) and strong belief in his plan to bring a championship to the city of Atlanta. After spending time with ownership, it’s clear they have a deep investment in and commitment to making this a model organization. This opportunity is a perfect fit for me, and I’m eager to get started.”

Schlenk made no secret of the fact that hiring a coach with a strong track record of player development was a key priority.

“As we set out to find a new head coach for our team, it was critically important to find a dynamic teacher who could connect with and develop our young core while instilling the culture and high standards we feel are necessary in a successful program,” Schlenk said. “Lloyd Pierce checks every box, and we couldn’t be more excited to have him leading the Atlanta Hawks into the future.”

Building a reputation as a player-development guru

Pierce got his start in the NBA in 2007 as the player development specialist for the Cavaliers after a five-year term as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Santa Clara. Pierce also played four seasons in the 1990s for the Broncos, where he teamed with two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash to help Santa Clara to a pair of appearances in the NCAA tournament.

It was in Cleveland where Pierce's knowledge and dedication first started to earn the trust of players around the league, including LeBron James, then still in his first stint with the Cavaliers. 

In 2010, Pierce moved onto an assistant coaching job with the Golden State Warriors, where he worked with the Warriors' young players like Steph Curry and helped coordinate the pre-draft workouts that culminated with the Warriors selecting Klay Thompson in the 2011 Draft. This year was also the one where Schlenk, then the Director of Player Personnel in Golden State, got his best first-hand look at Pierce's style.

When Pierce was between jobs during the NBA lockout in the summer of 2011, he worked with James, Dwyane Wade and other NBA players looking to keep sharp during the longer than usual offseason.

After the lockout, Pierce was hired to be an assistant coach specializing in player development under head coach Lionel Hollins. In those two years in Memphis, center Marc Gasol made his first All-Star game in 2011-12 before winning the 2012-13 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. Pierce also served as head coach for the Grizzlies' Summer League entry in Las Vegas in 2012. 

Pierce again got a Twitter shoutout from his friend James in 2013 when hired by the Philadelphia 76ers as an assistant coach under head coach Brett Brown. A year later, Pierce coach the Summer 76ers to victory in Orlando's Summer League. 

As he did in his previous stops, Pierce worked with blossoming young talents like Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Robert Covington, helping them expand their skill sets and earning their collective respect in the process. 

In Philadelphia, Pierce also picked up a well-deserved reputation as a defensive specialist, a fact noted by Brown a week ago when he was asked about Pierce's readiness to be a head coach. 

"It’s a no-brainer. I would hire Lloyd Pierce yesterday," Brown said before a 76ers playoff game. "He's tremendously connected to the league. He's defensively oriented. It's a no-brainer in my eyes. I feel thrilled to be able to be able to help him. I don't think it's a far-reaching push. All you have to do is pay attention."

The Atlanta Hawks hired Lloyd Pierce as their head coach yesterday, and they now look to him to lead them into their tomorrows. If his track record is any indication, Pierce is the right man for that job today.