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Hawks refuse to chase past glory while hunting the ultimate prize

POSTED: Sep 28, 2015 4:45 PM ET

By Sekou Smith

BY Sekou Smith

NBA.com

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Horford on Hawks

Atlanta center Al Horford talks with Sekou Smith about the chances for the Hawks to put together another 60-win season.

— The element of surprise is gone for the Atlanta Hawks. The opportunity to surprise and even sneak up on anyone outside of the sanctuary of their own locker room disappeared after their franchise-record 60-win season and run to the Eastern Conference finals.

They didn't spend the offseason pondering the possibilities of what a healthy roster might have meant against Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals. And they wasted little time feeling sorry for themselves because they didn't get to the cusp of a trip to The Finals healthy enough to trade blows with LeBron James and his crew.

A historical season, for the franchise and the city of Atlanta, is just history now. There will be no chasing the ghosts of the recent past and no measuring this season by the last, at least not around here, where the Hawks are as married to the process of the present as any team in the NBA.

"Last season was just a step," All-Star shooting guard Kyle Korver said Monday during the Hawks' Media Day session at Philips Arena. "It was a giant step, a huge step and great for this franchise and the city, but just a step. We didn't win a championship, so it's not like we accomplished our ultimate goal."

Winning it all would have been considered crazy talk around here before last season. Yes, the Hawks have been an Eastern Conference playoff staple for years but never a serious contender.

But one season, one colossal season where seemingly everything fits into place, can change wild expectations into a reality at the tip of your fingers.

"We don't have any doubts about who and what we are," All-Star point guard Jeff Teague said. "We've worked hard as a group the past few years and this is the result of that hard work. We know who we are and what we're capable of. We've shown what we can do. And now it's about consistency."

The Hawks return four All-Stars -- Korver, Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Teague -- and other members of their core group that are entering their third training camp under Mike Budenholzer, who added the permanent title of President of Basketball Operations to his official title during offseason that saw the Hawks get a new ownership group.

The departure of defensive ace and emotional leader DeMarre Carroll (Toronto via free agency) is the only significant departure the Hawks will have to deal with heading into the start of training camp Tuesday at the University of Georgia. And even that comes with the added boost of producing some competitive fire from the players vying to replace him, a group that includes Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore and Tim Hardaway Jr.

It's just the sort of training camp wrinkle Budenholzer is looking for to shake things up for a group that is confident in the body of work produced in his first two seasons, but still hungry for bigger and better things going forward.

"I think there is going to be a team effort to bring the energy and the competitiveness and the edge that a guy like DeMarre Carroll brings," Budenholzer said of replacing Carroll. "So I don't know that there is going to be any one individual who does that. But I think there are guys on our team, the core group that's been here, they are probably going to raise their level of energy and intensity. But when you have Thabo and Kent who have both been here and I think are both elite wing defenders and have have proven that in the NBA, it may look and feel a little bit different, but I think their ability to have a similar impact is something that gives us a lot of confidence."

The additions of both Tiago Splitter and Walter Tavares bolsters a frontcourt rotation headlined by Horford and Millsap has the Hawks confident that one of their most glaring deficiencies -- a lack of size and depth -- can be shored up with the help of two 7-footers.

"It's great because we know we'll have some reinforcements who can help us down low and take some of the pressure off of both Paul and myself," Horford said. "The flexibility it will give us on both ends of the floor will be great. And the better depth we have, the better we'll be able to withstand whatever we have to deal with throughout the course of a long season."

And the Hawks are definitely making plans for another long season. While there was little in the way of bold predictions or anything of the sort, there is clearly a feeling that what began with last season's staggering regular season run and then magical playoff ride, is just the beginning.

The team with the longest playoff streak in the Eastern Conference and the second-longest in the league behind the San Antonio Spurs, is eager for more.

"Last season was sweet, really bittersweet," said Millsap, who chose to return to the Hawks in free agency rather than starting over with a young and hungry group in Orlando. "You get that close and come up short and all it does is leave that taste in your mouth. And we want more."

Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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