This off-season, when the Atlanta Hawks hired Lloyd Pierce, Brett Brown’s coaching tree grew its first official branch.
Pierce served as a 76ers assistant for the last five years, brought in as an original member of Brown’s first staff.
Demanding yet extremely popular among players, and a hands-on mentor who was never shy about jumping into drills with the scout team, Pierce ultimately came to run the Sixers’ defense while he was here.
The unit ended 2018 with the third-best defensive rating in the NBA – one of the signature traits of a club that experienced a breakthrough 52-win campaign.
Now, the 42-year old Pierce has the chance to lead a team all himself. The opportunity is one the San Jose, California native spent more than a decade preparing for.
The transition to the top seat on a bench seems to be coming to him naturally.
“You spend a lot of your time specifically here in Philadelphia trying to help Brett [Brown] – how do I help the head coach implement what he wants to implement?,” Pierce said Monday, when asked after Atlanta’s shootaround at The Center to describe the biggest differences between being an assistant coach and head coach.
“Now that I’m in that seat, it’s how do I put together a plan, a focus for our guys on the court, off the court; during practice, after practice; when we travel, when we’re home. You’re just thinking of so many things basketball-related, and a lot of things non-basketball related.”
A former teammate of Steve Nash at Santa Clara University, Pierce began his coaching career 15 years ago, at his alma mater.
His ascent since then has been relatively swift.
Pierce landed his first assignment in the NBA in 2007, with Mike Brown in Cleveland. LeBron James was still with his hometown squad at the time, and is someone with whom Pierce remains close.
Later, in 2010-11, Pierce moved on to Golden State Warriors (Keith Smart was then the head coach). It was Steph Curry’s second season as a pro.
The next two years, Pierce worked under Lionel Hollins in Memphis.
About a month and half before the start of the 2013-14 season, Pierce – having never before met Brett Brown – received a call from the Sixers. Pierce’s stint in Philadelphia furthered him towards his goal.
“I have to try and implement something that fits my personality, fits my belief, fits my coaching philosophy, and try to implement it,” said Pierce. “I think every coach tries to be true to themselves, and true to their coaching pedigree. I’ve learned from four different coaches, and I’ve taken four different approaches to a lot of different things. I’m just trying to combine it into what did I like, what didn’t I like, what can I use, what can’t I use.”
Lloyd Pierce says moving over a seat over on the bench makes a big difference. pic.twitter.com/qPVi78thXe
— Brian Seltzer (@brianseltzer) October 29, 2018
In the month or so that’s passed since the start of training camp, Pierce has already taken Atlanta on team outings – the type of thing Brown regularly does with the Sixers. Pierce also referenced the concept of “corporate knowledge,” an oft-used Brown phrase (which Brown took from Gregg Popovich in San Antonio) multiple times during Monday’s shootaround press session.
Pierce, after all, isn’t entirely unfamiliar with the current state of the Hawks. The franchise appears to be committed to rebuilding around a promising young core.
“I think he’s just the ultimate players coach,” said Atlanta guard Trae Young, the fifth pick in this year’s draft who paces all rookies in scoring and assists. “He gets each different player, every one of their tendencies, things like that. He’s just an outgoing person. He’s very big on being a family, being together. He’s an amazing coach and person to play for.”
The Hawks have won two of their first five games. Pierce acknowledged there will be added personal meaning to no. 6.
“This was home for me for five years, a special place. To come back here, to go against Brett and all the guys, I think it’ll be a fun night.”