MILWAUKEE (AP) - Larry Drew could have sulked during his last season in Atlanta, complained to anyone who would listen about being a lame duck despite a winning record and three straight playoff appearances.
He never did.
“When you stay in this game as long as I have, the most important thing is you don’t take a negative situation and keep it negative,” Drew said. “I thought I would get something positive of it.”
That came Monday, as Drew was introduced as the new coach of the Milwaukee Bucks six days after his awkward tenure with the Atlanta Hawks ended with the hiring of his replacement. Drew has a three-year deal with the Bucks, and the team has an option for a fourth season.
“I am very, very excited about being here, I really am,” Drew said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to put this group together as fast as possible, to making us competitive, to making sure these guys are in tune with each other. If I do that, chances are we’re going to be a pretty good basketball team.”
If not, he’ll have to answer to his uncle.
“I’m very proud of him,” Johnson added. “I hope he continues his good work. I think he will.”
Drew was 128-102 in Atlanta, and the Hawks reached the postseason in each of his three seasons. His first year, they upset Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the first round and then took the Chicago Bulls to six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They reached the playoffs again last year despite having Al Horford for only 11 games.
And he did perhaps his finest job this season.
Despite knowing he would be out of a job at the end of the year as new general manager Danny Ferry remakes the team, losing All-Star Joe Johnson to an offseason trade and seeing Lou Williams and Zaza Pachulia go down with season-ending injuries, Drew led Atlanta to a 44-38 record. The Hawks took Indiana to six games before losing in the first round of the playoffs.
“I feel very good about who I am as a coach,” Drew said. “You give me some guys who are willing to play hard every night, who are committed to playing for one another, who are committed to playing for the city, I guarantee you I’ll give you a group you can be proud of.”
Drew repeatedly stressed the importance of building relationships with his players, a quality general manager John Hammond had made a priority after Milwaukee’s late-season collapse. The Bucks lost 12 of their last 16 games to finish with a losing record for a third straight season, then were swept by the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, losing all four games by double digits.
Teaching Xs and Os is no longer enough, Drew said, and one of the things he was most proud of during his time in Atlanta was that his players always knew he had their backs. In fact, as Drew was flying to Milwaukee on Sunday, he got a congratulatory text message from Atlanta guard Kyle Korver.