The Atlanta Hawks hope Lloyd Pierce can duplicate the 76ers' turnaround in "The ATL."
That's why they hired him, as head coach, away from the Sixers on May 11 after a 24-58 season. Pierce had success running the Sixers defense as an assistant. But most important, he experienced the ups and downs of a rebuilding process.
In addition to that first-hand knowledge, Pierce apparently took the Sixers' trademark grit to Atlanta. He and the Hawks will bring a 2-3 record into Monday night's game against the Sixers (3-3) at the Wells Fargo Center. The matchup will mark Pierce's first game vs. his former team.
"I'm just reminded of how cold it is. I'm used to Atlanta weather now," Pierce jokingly said of playing in Philly after Monday morning's shootaround at the arena. "Nah, it's good. This is home for me for five years. It's a special place."
Villanova coach Jay Wright attended the Hawks shootaround, visiting former Wildcat Omari Spellman, the 30th pick in June's NBA draft.
Being back in Philadelphia reminded Pierce of Wright and the Wildcats' winning two of the last three NCAA men's basketball national championships. He also is reminded of the Eagles' winning last season's Super Bowl.
"So to come back here and go against Brett [Brown], to go against all of the guys, [it's] a lot of fun," Pierce said. "I think it's going to be a fun night.
"I expect a lot of trash talk from some players. I won't name any names, but Joel [Embiid] is probably going to talk all game."
Pierce also realizes that Monday's game is a business trip. A victory would give the Hawks their third win in their last four games. They boast one of the league's top rookies in Trae Young, a point guard averaging 19.8 points and 6.8 assists. He finished with career highs of 35 points, 11 assists and six three-pointers in a 133-111 victory over Cleveland on Oct. 21.
Young will be joined in the starting lineup by 21st-year veteran Vince Carter, Taurean Prince, Alex Len, and Kent Bazemore. The Hawks are known for playing hard — Pierce demands that. It's something the Sixers were recognized for during the lean years of the rebuilding process.
"Before you do anything, you got to be tough to the core of what you want to be. That's competition," Pierce said. "So playing hard, that's the recipe of competing. You can't just show up and compete because you are better they are.
"Even if you have the best talent in the league, you got to compete. You got to bring the energy, the effort, the toughness. You have to take the personal pride and put it all on the court."
Part of Pierce's job involves helping the Hawks understand that playing hard is the core of everything. He doesn't want Atlanta to be just the most talented team. The 42-year-old wants it to be the toughest and most competitive.
Pierce was on the Sixers' coaching staff from the fall of 2013 until May. The Sixers won a combined 47 games during his first three seasons. That includes their 10-72 campaign in 2015-16. They went 28-54 in 2016-17 before improving to 52-30 last season.
Under his guidance last season, the Sixers had one of the league's top defenses. They were tied for sixth with the Miami Heat in opponent field-goal percentage at 44.9 percent. The Sixers were 10th in the league in points allowed per game, averaging 106.
Before Pierce joined the Sixers, he had assistant-coaching stops with the Memphis Grizzlies and the Golden State Warriors. He also was the Cleveland Cavaliers' player development coordinator from 2007-10. But his experience in Philly is perhaps the most impressive thing on his resume.
Pierce met up with Sixers player development director Chris Babcock after the Hawks arrived in Philadelphia on Sunday. Chris' brother, Nate, is Pierce's special assistant.