The Hawks had plenty of reasons to fire Nate McMillan. Back-to-back disappointing seasons. A poor track record of player development. An old-school offense that feels completely out of place in the modern NBA. The Hawks were justified in changing coaches purely based on what happened on the court, and yet, it’s hard to overlook what happened off of it as a possible motivator for McMillan’s ouster.
In December, Trae Young missed sat out of a game against the Denver Nuggets. The Athletic later reported that his absence was due to a disagreement with McMillan. Young, dealing with a shoulder injury at the time, missed that morning’s shootaround to receive treatment. McMillan reportedly gave him two choices: come off of the bench against the Nuggets, or sit out the game entirely. Young apparently chose the latter, and did not attend the loss to Denver.
There is no greater coaching sin in the modern NBA than angering a star. Coaches are replaceable. Star players are not. So as we consider possible replacements for McMillan, we not only need to consider how those coaches might work with Young on the court, but how comfortable they would be with Young off of it. Relationship-building is the most important strength a coach can have in 2023. With that in mind, here are the best candidates to replace McMillan in Atlanta:
1. Quin Snyder
Quin Snyder tops this list because Quin Snyder is going to top every coaching candidates list this cycle. That’s what happens when you win nearly 59 percent of your games for the small-market Utah Jazz. Snyder has built winners around multiple perimeter ball-handlers in Utah, and his pick-and-roll heavy system is a match made in heaven for Young. If the Hawks can land Snyder, they probably should.
But competition for him is going to be fierce. It’s unclear which jobs are going to open up this offseason, but at the very least, there are going to be teams in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes that are looking for a new head coach, and those teams are going to appeal to both Snyder and Wembanyama, given Snyder’s experience with fellow french big man Rudy Gobert. Snyder just spent a decade trying to compete for a championship without a championship-caliber roster in Utah. If the Hawks are going to convince him to try again, they’re going to have to sell him on a roster that, right now, is struggling just to reach .500.