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Lon Kruger failed to turn around the Hawks, but he learned a lot

BY MIKE BALDWIN, Staff Writer, Published: July 14, 2011

“Coach is great,” Terry was quoted during Kruger's first training camp 11 years ago. “He works you hard. He helps you learn. His practices are so organized that we get the most out of them. He challenges us. That's very good for young players.”

College coaches can address problem areas in practice. In the NBA, once the season starts most adjustments are made watching film.

“You play 82 games in roughly 165 days,” Kruger said. “You play every other day on the average. You factor in travel, and you don't practice as much in terms of quality practices.

“And, obviously, the other major difference is you're coaching people at different stages of their life. In college, all the guys are aspiring to get to the NBA or play after college. In the NBA, guys have agents. Some players have families. Without question, that's a major difference."

Kruger was fired by the Hawks the day after Christmas during his third season.

The Hawks finished 25-57 and 33-49 in Kruger's first two seasons. Babcock made a change when the Hawks started with an 11-16 record.

“You're disappointed, but that was healthy, too,” Kruger said. “Anytime you play almost 90 games a year you learn things.”

Following a trading deadline deal during the 2000-01 season, current Thunder forward Nazr Mohammed played for the Hawks all three seasons Kruger was in Atlanta.

“He's a good coach. He's an intense coach. He asks a lot from his players,” Mohammed said. “It was a collection of guys (that) hadn't meshed together. That can be tough on a coach.

“Both sides have to take some of the blame. But it was more on us the players. If we win games, he doesn't get let go.”

Now retired, Heard works with youth in Atlanta. He's stayed in contact with Kruger. They play golf together at least once a year.

“That team had some young guys, but it also had some veterans,” Heard said. “It's hard to change some veterans' ideas, to get them to buy into your program with a college coach coming in.

“Lon is the type of guy who always makes adjustments. Given time in Atlanta, he probably could have turned things around.”