Four days after Larry Drew was replaced in Atlanta, the Milwaukee Bucks have swooped in to scoop him up.
The Bucks announced Friday that they have reached an agreement to hire Drew as their new head coach. General manager John Hammond said Drew’s track record in Atlanta and experience as an assistant coach and former player made him the right choice.
“We look forward to what he will bring to this franchise and we welcome him and his family to Milwaukee,” Hammond said.
Drew will replace interim coach Jim Boylan, who stepped in after the Bucks and Scott Skiles parted ways Jan. 8.
Drew was 128-102 in Atlanta, and the Hawks reached the postseason in each of his three seasons. But general manager Danny Ferry, who inherited Drew when he took over last year, opted to let the coach go after the season as he continues his overhaul of the Hawks.
Milwaukee made the playoffs this year for the first time since 2010, only to be swept by the Miami Heat.
The sweep was part of a late-season collapse that cost Boylan any chance of getting the Bucks job permanently. After being two games over .500 on March 19, Milwaukee won just four of its last 16 regular-season games. It was Milwaukee’s third straight year with a losing record, and eighth time in the last nine years.
Drew does not have the name recognition of Jerry Sloan or Stan Van Gundy, both of whom the Bucks tried to lure out of retirement. But he left Atlanta with a winning record, and consistently got more out of his teams than many expected. In his first season, the Hawks upset Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs, then took the Chicago Bulls to six games in the Eastern Conference finals.
His understated demeanor could be just what the Bucks need, too, after a tumultuous season that included Skiles’ departure, a midseason trade that sent promising young forward Tobias Harris to Orlando for J.J. Redick and the implosion down the stretch that many blamed on players being more concerned with their own futures than the team’s results.
Redick and Mike Dunleavy are unrestricted free agents, while Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent. Monta Ellis has until June 20 to exercise an $11 million player option.
Drew faced similar challenges in Atlanta, where Ferry was brought in to remake the team in the hope of reviving a stagnant franchise.
Despite going 84-64 in his first two seasons and reaching the playoffs both years, Drew was not offered an extension last summer. An assistant to previous coach Mike Woodson who moved up when his boss was fired in 2010, he was seen as part of the old regime. With his contract expiring June 30, Drew was essentially a lame duck this season — and having only three players who were under contract for the upcoming season didn’t help.
Still, Atlanta finished 44-38 before losing to Indiana in six games in the first round of the playoffs.
“I thought we had a really good season given what our circumstances were. They weren’t the best,” Drew said after the Hawks were eliminated. “Whether I’m back here or not, I don’t know. The one thing I will say is I’ve had a great run here.”
Ferry hired San Antonio Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer to replace Drew.
Drew inherits a Bucks squad that has plenty of potential — but two major questions in the status of Ellis and Jennings. The two led the Bucks in scoring — Ellis averaged 19.2 points per game, Jennings 17.5 — and combined for almost 37 percent of Milwaukee’s points. They also led the team in assists and minutes.
But the Bucks have good, young players in Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson, as well as the 15th pick in the June 27 draft.
Sanders made huge strides in his third season, more than doubling his scoring average (9.8 points) and grabbing more rebounds (672) than he had in his first two years combined. Henson, a rookie, showed his potential with a monster game April 10 in Orlando, flirting with a triple-double with 25 rebounds, 17 points and seven blocks.
Ilyasova averaged a career-best 13.2 points and seven rebounds, while Luc Mbah a Moute has emerged as a standout defender.
With more than $20 million in cap room, Milwaukee has money to spend on free agents, too. Now it’s up to Drew to do something with it.