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Nate McMillan accepts job as Hawks’ interim head coach

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Former NBA player and veteran NBA coach Nate McMillan — who most recently led the Pacers to four straight playoff berths — will move up a chair and take over as the Atlanta Hawks’ interim coach the season.

This had been the likely outcome in the wake of Atlanta firing Lloyd Pierce as coach, but McMillan wanted Pierce’s okay before taking the job. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news, which has since been confirmed by the Hawks.

Pierce was fired on Monday after leading the Hawks to a disappointing 14-20 record despite an offseason spending spree by ownership that it thought would produce much better results.

McMillan was brought in as a top assistant to Pierce this season and a lot of people speculated the reason was exactly this — if the team wanted to move on from Pierce, they wanted someone who could step right into the job.

Pierce was the second coach fired during the season, joining Ryan Saunders of the Timberwolves. However, Minnesota did not interview their lead assistant brought in the past summer — David Vanterpool — instead choosing to hire assistant coach Chris Finch away from Toronto. That move was met with some backlash around the league.

Atlanta went the more traditional route. McMillan will have the job through the end of the season. Then a long-term decision will be made.

Pierce was originally hired two-and-a-half years ago as a defensive guru and player development guy who had helped The Process 76ers grow. Atlanta did see development from players such as Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, and Cam Reddish, but that progress had stalled out. And the defense did not improve (25th in the NBA in defensive rating this season).

McMillan has coached 1,249 games as an NBA head coach (.529 winning percentage) and has a reputation for keeping things simple and straightforward for his players, and getting them to hustle and defend. It worked in his most recent stop in Indiana, and before that in Portland. McMillan gets his teams to play hard.

Atlanta could use that if it wants to climb back into the playoff picture in the East. They enter Monday night as the 11 seed, but just two games out of the last play-in spot and only 3.5 games out of the four seed in a crossed middle of the East. As the Hawks start to get healthy, McMillan could lift this team into the postseason.