30 Teams in 30 Days: Few familiar faces found on Atlanta Hawks as rebuild begins
Younger players take reins after summer filled with roster change
Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.
NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today’s team: Atlanta Hawks
2016-17 Record: 43-39
Major additions: Marco Belinelli (trade), Luke Babbitt (free agency), John Collins (Draft), Dewyane Dedmon (free agency), Miles Plumlee (trade),
Major subtractions: Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, Tim Hardaway Jr., Thabo Sefolosha
The lowdown: When a rich guy first buys an NBA team (or any pro sports team for that matter), at first he’s just a fan with great seats admiring his new toy. Gradually, he starts looking at that toy as he would a business and starts asking some hard questions when that business is failing on the court.
In this case, that guy was Tony Ressler, who paid more than $800 million for the Hawks and did little from a basketball personnel standpoint after writing that fat check. Initially, he confined his involvement in building a new practice facility and overseeing the reconstruction of Philips Arena, both of which are in motion. Evidently, though, Ressler was troubled by the Hawks’ slippage, enough to intervene and make changes.
He shook up the braintrust, stripping coach Mike Budenholzer of the president’s position and demoting GM Wes Wilcox; both of whom had butted heads last season. Then, he hired Travis Schlenk from the Golden State Warriors to run the club. Clearly, it was a sign that Ressler had had enough, and was concerned about the direction the Hawks were going.
It wasn’t such a surprise that Budenholzer surrendered power. It’s challenging to be coach and head honcho and not many can pull that off. Gregg Popovich, Budenholzer’s former boss, has done it for almost two decades in San Antonio. But Doc Rivers was stripped of some of his power this summer and Stan Van Gundy hasn’t produced winning results in Detroit yet.
Budenholzer’s reign during his three years in a dual role was mainly disappointing. He got little to no return for the departures of All-Stars Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and solid forward DeMarre Carroll. He didn’t draft Dennis Schroder and although Budenholzer did re-sign Kent Bazemore to a deal worth $17 million a season, Bazemore struggled in his first season with increased minutes and role.
And he traded for Dwight Howard, who became quickly outdated and openly feuded with Budenholzer last spring in the playoffs.
Therefore, Ressler turned to Schlenk and gave him full reign. Immediately, Schlenk reversed Budenholzer’s biggest mistake when he traded Howard to Charlotte. Schlenk did have to take back a bad contract in Plumlee, whose deal runs one year longer than Howard’s. But what choice did Schlenk really have? Everyone in the league knew he had to trade Howard, and few in the league wanted Howard’s contract or locker room presence.
Schlenk didn’t even bother trying to re-sign Millsap as he didn’t want to spend the resources (even though Millsap’s deal with the Denver Nuggets was a reasonable $33 million a year) on a player who’s 32. He also didn’t make a big move to keep Tim Hardaway Jr., who signed an outrageous $71 million deal with the Knicks.
Clearly, the Hawks are going in a different direction, attempting to rebuild with a young team while keeping their cap manageable and holding onto their No. 1 picks.
In terms of free agency, Schlenk ignored all but players seeking team-friendly deals and kept to his “no bad contracts” motto. He demonstrated this by giving two years and $14 million to Dedmon, a decent role player with the Spurs last season, to replace Howard at center.
Schlenk’s biggest impact came in the Draft. With the Warriors, he was instrumental in getting Klay Thompson and came to appreciate how Golden State put so much energy and resources into the Draft and making the right decisions more often than not.
And so Schlenk used his first Atlanta pick on Collins, an energetic forward who played two years at Wake Forest but is only 19.
If Collins’ play in the Vegas summer league is a foretelling of what’s to come, then Schlenk nailed this pick. Collins was beastly around the basket and impressed with his footwork, touch and aggression. He’s still green in some areas but the basic foundation is there. With almost no competition on the roster for playing time, Collins should play his way into the rotation. Since the Hawks aren’t expected to contend for a playoff spot, Collins will and should be allowed to make his mistakes now so he’ll be more polished when the Hawks are ready to win again.
So it’s a start. The Hawks are ready to move into a state of the art practice facility and in the fall of 2018 Philips Arena will be complete. Ressler has done that much on his watch, and maybe in a few years he’ll have an impressive team to complete the trio.
Coming Next: Oklahoma City Thunder
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