ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks were poised to hire Larry Drew as their next head coach, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press Friday.
Drew was picked after a search that also included interviews with former Minnesota coach Dwane Casey, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the team was still working out details of the contract. Casey was thought to have inside track because of his ties to Hawks general manager Rick Sund.
Instead, the Hawks went with the lead assistant under former coach Mike Woodson, who was let go last month after six seasons in Atlanta.
Woodson had guided the team to an improved record each of the last five seasons, as well as three straight playoff appearances after a nearly decade-long postseason drought. But the Hawks were blown out in the second round by the Orlando Magic, who won four straight by an average of 25.3 points for the most lopsided sweep in NBA history.
The front office felt new leadership was needed on the bench after the Hawks' season ended for the second year in a row with a second-round sweep. They decided on someone who was familiar to the players by sticking with Drew, whose choice was first reported by Yahoo.com.
The team held talks with Casey, who coached the Timberwolves for 1½ seasons before he was fired in 2007. The decision fell into place quickly after another person thought to be on the Hawks' wish list, ex-Dallas coach Avery Johnson, reached an agreement with the New Jersey Nets.
The official announcement of the Hawks' new coach is expected be made early next week.
The 52-year-old Drew is a former point guard who played in the NBA for 10 seasons. He was an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit, Washington and New Jersey before he joined Woodson in Atlanta.
The Hawks went 13-69 in Woodson's first season, but they steadily improved through free-agent signings (Joe Johnson), the draft (Josh Smith, Al Horford and Marvin Williams) and trades (Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford).
This past season, the Hawks finished 53-29 — their most wins since 1996-97 — and claimed the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. But they were no match for the Magic in the playoffs, and Sund decided to head in a different direction.
"Woody has been here six years and had basically been the only voice that many of these players had heard," the GM said at the time. "The shelf life for coaches and management in the NBA is short, particularly for coaches, maybe two or three years. In Woody's case, he has gone six. The compelling thought for me was maybe it's right for a change."
Sund believes a new coach might be able to take the Hawks to even higher levels, though he acknowledged it was a risk to dump someone coming off a playoff appearance.
"Sometimes in professional sports, change is good — not only for the individual, but for the organization," he said. "Hey, it was a tough decision any way you go. If it doesn't turn out, it's the wrong decision. If it turns out, maybe it was the right decision, I don't know."
The hiring of Drew will surely be popular with the players, and the Hawks may be hoping that keeping a familiar face on the sideline will help them re-sign Joe Johnson and smooth the transition for the rest of the roster.
Johnson is set to become a free agent this summer, part of a star-studded class that likely will include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The Hawks have indicated they want to bring Johnson back, but a poor showing in the playoffs might make them reluctant to offer the maximum deal it likely will take to keep the four-time All-Star. Johnson didn't sound enthusiastic about coming back, either, after a run-in with the fans over a 30-point home loss in Game 3 against the Magic.
Johnson said he didn't care if the fans showed up at all for Game 4. They responded by booing him repeatedly during the season-ending loss.