Hawks show definite signs of hope, but still rebuilding
ATLANTA (AP) — As the Atlanta Hawks head into the third year of a massive overhaul, there are definite signs of hope.
They might even have a shot at the playoffs in the wide-open Eastern Conference.
But, as the team prepares to open training camp with an intriguing core of young players, those in charge aren’t in any hurry to rush the process.
“We haven’t done anything,” coach Lloyd Pierce said Friday. “I don’t want any our guys thinking we’ve accomplished anything just yet.”
Indeed, the Hawks won just 29 games a season ago, so this is still very much a long-term project.
But general manager Travis Schlenk has taken major strides in constructing a totally new roster, one that follows the blueprint laid out by his former employer, the three-time champion Golden State Warriors.
Trae Young and John Collins have already established themselves as two of the NBA’s brightest young prospects. Kevin Huerter made big strides during his rookie season. De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Bruno Fernando were drafted this year to further bolster the roster. Former No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker was signed in free agency.
None are older than 24.
“We need to see what this little young core can do together,” Schlenk said. “Do they fit together? We certainly think they’re going to fit together nicely. That’s the plan. But we haven’t been able to see it yet. We need to see those guys in action. That doesn’t mean a month. I’m talking about seeing them together for a whole year.”
Schlenk will concede there are no certainties in the rebuilding game, that much of the process is just gut instinct hopefully coupled with a lot of luck.
When he was at Golden State, no one knew that Stephen Curry would develop into one of the NBA’s biggest stars. But the front office began to sense something special was happening when a sixth-seeded team won a playoff series and took San Antonio to six games in the second round in 2013, so the decision was made to pursue a risky trade for Andre Iguodala.
Two seasons later, the Warriors won the first of what would be three titles in a run of five straight trips to the NBA Finals.
Remembering how the Iguodala trade fell into place, Schlenk said, “We could continue to go with these young guys, but we have a veteran who wants to come play with these young guys. We knew that would speed up the timeline, but we felt like we had a chance with that acquisition to become a really good team.”
The Hawks aren’t in that position.
Not yet anyway.
The big push could come next year, when expiring contracts will free up some $64 million for free agency or trades.
“We’re not going to really know until we see this young group play together,” Schlenk said. “I can’t sit here and say today, unless you’re one of a handful of teams, that we have a chance to be special.”
When training camp begins on Tuesday, the Hawks will be keeping a watchful eye on several of their young players.
Collins is dealing with a right hip strain, so his workload will be limited during the preseason. The same goes for Huerter, who returned to Atlanta late last month complaining of a sore knee. An MRI showed no structural damage, but the Hawks won’t take any chances.
Then there’s Reddish, the No. 10 overall pick out of Duke. While he has been fully cleared to resume on-court activities after undergoing core muscle surgery, the team will carefully monitor his workload leading up to the regular season.
Pierce said it’s vital that the Hawks keep everyone healthy if they’re going to take the next step in their development.
“It’s hard when you’re putting a team together, especially a young team, if you can’t see them all out there together,” he said. “It’s really hard to see what to expect moving forward and having that breakthrough moment. That’s part of the reason why we’re being cautious and will remain cautious with every guy. We’re in no rush to advance anyone. We don’t want to skip steps. Health is at the forefront of everything we do, then take it from there.”