ATLANTA (AP) -Atlanta Hawks president Bernie Mullin said Mike Woodson will return for his fourth season as coach despite another dismal season that ended with the team missing the missing the playoffs for the eighth straight year.
Mullin said the Hawks' ownership group has not yet met in a ``formal sit-down,'' but he said the message from the owners was that Woodson deserves another chance after enduring a season-long battle with injuries.
``Clearly they feel that a change in Mike Woodson's status at this point in time would be completely unfair,'' Mullin said.
``Obviously he didn't have a fair chance with the talent being out as much as it was this year. We had catastrophic injuries.''
The projected top five - guards Speedy Claxton and Joe Johnson, forwards Josh Smith and Marvin Williams and center Zaza Pachulia - started only four games together due to a series of injuries that began in training camp.
``It's four games,'' Mullin said. ``How do you fairly judge a coach when your projected starting five only plays four games together? What kind of rhythm, what kind of flow can you get into when your top players don't play together?''
The Hawks finished 30-52, a slight improvement from their 26-win season in 2005-06. The Hawks hit bottom with a franchise-worst 13-win season under Woodson in 2004-05.
Woodson is more than 100 games under .500 - 69-177 - through three seasons.
One of the owners, Michael Gearon Jr., already has said Woodson deserves to return.
``I don't think it's fair to judge Mike on our record this year,'' Gearon said. ``I think he's done a very good job being patient with young guys.
``He's been patient. He's been a mentor. I think under the circumstances he's done a pretty good job of keeping this team together. It's not fair to judge him when he had half a roster.''
Hope for improvement in another season under Woodson is based on the progress of the team's youngest players.
Johnson was the team's first All-Star since Shareef Abdur-Rahim in 2002. Johnson, Smith, Williams, Pachulia and Josh Childress set career highs in scoring.
Even so, there wasn't enough depth to overcome the injuries.
Claxton suffered a broken hand in a workout before training camp and he missed 36 games with a sore left knee.
Claxton, signed to a four-year, $25.5 million deal, started only 31 games.
Much of how the Hawks approach the NBA draft and free agency may depend on Claxton.
``We knew he was injury-prone,'' Mullin said. ``We hoped he'd play 55 games. Obviously he's got to go get himself healthy.
``I think he's going to come back and surprise a lot of people. He's committed to us that he's going to come back and have his best season ever in the NBA, and I think he will.''
Mullin said Woodson also was hurt by lack of depth and consistent play at center.
``We really didn't give him any strength at (point guard and center),'' Mullin said. ``We didn't have any depth.''

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