The Atlanta Hawks aren’t going to catch anyone off guard this time around after the best season in franchise history.
They’re hoping to produce similar results, though, despite a new face in the starting lineup.
Atlanta opens its season Tuesday night against the visiting Detroit Pistons, who are merely seeking their first playoff berth in seven seasons.
The Hawks’ 60 wins in 2014-15 were a club record and the most in the Eastern Conference, and they won 19 in a row from December-January. They were dumped from the playoffs in unceremonious fashion, however, losing by an average of 13.3 points while being swept by Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals.
"Last year was just a step," said Kyle Korver, who shot 49.2 percent from 3-point range to lead the league for a second straight year. "It ended up being a lot bigger step than we thought it was going to be. But it was just a step. We weren’t there yet. We weren’t the champions."
Atlanta is tasked with replacing the only non-All Star from its starting lineup in DeMarre Carroll, who signed a $60 million deal with Toronto. Kent Bazemore, who averaged 5.2 points last season, will start in his place alongside Korver, Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague.
Carroll averaged 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals and shot a career-best 48.7 percent, serving as a Swiss army knife of sorts for the Hawks.
"He was somebody that everybody enjoyed being around," coach Mike Budenholzer said. "He had a real caring way about him. And that’s how he played. He cared about those around him. He gave us a heck of a two years."
Budenholzer also has additional responsibilities after being promoted to president of basketball operations in June.
"I’m sure there’s a lot to be proven," the third-year coach said. "I’ve got to carry on the leadership, carry on the vision. A lot of good things happened the last two years. It’s a great challenge."
The Pistons haven’t reached the postseason since 2009, though they showed some progress last season. The 32 wins were their most since that year, and they went .500 over their final 54 games under first-year coach Stan Van Gundy.
That was with Greg Monroe averaging 15.9 points, though, leading the team in scoring for the third time in four seasons. He left for division rival Milwaukee, and 22-year-old center Andre Drummond is poised to supplant Monroe as the team’s new cornerstone. That’s what Detroit is hoping for, at least.
"I hate losing. I can’t stand it. It’s the worst feeling," said Drummond, who is 84-139 in his career. "People laughing at our team, that’s not a good feeling. I want to rub it in somebody’s face that we’re a great team."
Drummond took a step back in terms of efficiency last season, though. Though he increased his scoring and rebounding averages to 13.8 and 13.5 – the latter good for second in the league – he shot 51.4 percent compared to 62.3 in 2013-14. Drummond was again a defensive force with a career-high 1.9 blocks per game.
The Pistons also added Ersan Ilyasova and Marcus Morris, and signed Reggie Jackson to an extension. Jackson averaged 17.6 points in 27 games for Detroit after being acquired from Oklahoma City.
The Hawks have won 12 of the last 13 meetings in Atlanta and 18 of the last 26 overall. Detroit won the teams’ preseason finale, 115-87 at home on Friday. Rookie Stanley Johnson scored 20 points for the Pistons.