First stop, Atlanta Hawks Head Coach, Mike Woodson. I wanted to get a sense of where the Hawks were heading into the season’s final turn. Four years in and with early pressure from fans and media to get him out of there, Woodson has persevered and as a result, Atlanta is one of the most feared teams in the NBA. I like Woodson’s pregame pressers. There usually aren’t any cameras and he conducts them in the coach’s locker room. Mike sits down and a couple of writers throw him questions. Very chill.
Michael Tillery: Obviously, you are a coach and a professional, but are you encouraged by the maturation process of the team under your tenure?
Mike Woodson: Oh, I’m very very proud. I couldn’t be more pleased with the basketball team. Considering where we started and I knew at the time we would struggle because we were eighteen and nineteen year old kids trying to play a man’s game. We grew. Ownership was patient and permitted my staff and I continue to teach, push our system we believed in and we are starting to reap some of the benefits.
MT: A lot of coaches and organizations (want to be diplomatic) and take baby steps but why not want to win it all?
MW: Oh, I agree. When I came to Atlanta, I just came off of winning a title (Pistons under Larry Brown) so hell, I thought I could win it that year with eighteen and nineteen year old young men and that was so unrealistic.
You gotta be in it for one thing man and that’s to try and win a title. It’s such a short lived job as a player…as a coach. Not everybody gets that opportunity.
Sure, I’m pushing these guys. That’s the end product man in winning a NBA title. Those thirteen guys don’t wanna do that, they don’t need to be wearing a Hawks uniform. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.
Josh Smith’s put back bang gave the Hawks a victory over Orlando…which was a big win. I wanted to talk about the absence of dunks at the buzzer with coach.
MT: Coach, this is something that dumbfounds me (I’m thinking back to Bulls/Suns NBA Finals in ’93 when KJ should have thrown the lob to Barkley at the end of Game 6 and instead got it packed). Why don’t more games end on an alley oop or a dunk?
MW: Normally it’s in a player’s hands like a Joe Johnson, Kobe, LeBron, Wade…guys like that. They are gonna decide the game. Ain’t gonna be no throwing a lob. Smoove’s (Josh Smith) had two this year where there’s been a missed shot and he’s been able to put it back in. That’s what Smoove’s supposed to do. You know the bigs…when Joe shoots it or Bibby shoots it from the outside and the clock is running, you gotta crash the boards and hope like hell it comes off to get a piece of it and put it back in. You don’t see a lot of lob dunks to win games unless it’s from out of bounds.
MT: Isn’t that play always there?
MW: Noooo. Man if it was always there everybody would be winning on them (we laugh). No it’s not always there. Smoove…it was just a helluva athletic play that he made from the backside. Normally when you shoot from one corner, 90% of the time it’s gonna come off on the other corner if you miss it and he was right there to clean it up which was kinda nice to see.
MT: How do you challenge this team to not get complacent this time of year?
MW: We haven’t done anything (he chuckles). Last year we made a positive step based on two years ago when we finally got into the playoffs and took the Celtics to seven (Celtics title year). We were able to host first round last season and win a first round playoff. Now this year, the next step to me is winning your division and getting to the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s the next step. We haven’t done anything. Orlando? They’ve done something. Cleveland? They’ve got the best record in the league the last two years. We still have a ways to go to learn how to win at a high level. As a coach I gotta continue to push ‘em.