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Young Hawks enter uncertain offseason with growing up in mind

Atlanta confident star Trae Young, 'core five' will have team on rise soon

The complexities involved in an unprecedented nine-month offseason leads to a list of contingencies longer and more detailed than any NBA executive or coach can explain in a timely fashion.

The possibilities, as you’d expect, are endless, based on what the league will allow the eight teams not involved in next month’s 2019-20 season restart in Orlando.

That might explain why Hawks president of basketball operations and general manager Travis Schlenk is all-in on a proposal to have some sort of restructured offseason that could potentially allow for joint work (practices, scrimmages, etc.) involving those eight teams.

That idea, Schlenk said, is still in the planning stages. The overall goal is to have a concrete plan for the Hawks (and the seven other teams) included in whatever final proposal that must be ratified by the league and National Basketball Players Association before the tentative July 31 restart.

“Our objective and our goal certainly would be when the union and the league go through the Orlando proposal that we’re included in that, so that’s why there is certain some time pressure on us to get that in,” Schlenk said on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with reporters.

“And as you can imagine, when you get eight different franchises together, everybody has kind of a different view of what they are trying to accomplish. So, we’ll get something in and we want to be a part of that so when they do ratify the Orlando plan there will be something in there for the eight of us who aren’t going [to Orlando].”

The Hawks have obvious offseason goals, including adding depth to a young and still-developing roster while also focusing on the growth and development of a “core five” that includes All-Star guard Trae Young, big man John Collins, wing player Kevin Huerter and rookies Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter.

Young is already a star, having been voted in as an All-Star starter in his second NBA season. Collins played at another level when he returned to action after serving a 25-game suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. Huerter, Hunter and Reddish all flashed signs of being building blocks, too.

That “core five” doesn’t include veteran center Clint Capela (who was acquired via Houston on Feb. 5 but never suited up because of a foot injury) and rookie center Bruno Fernando. Those seven players will serve as the backbone of the team Atlanta fields once the 2020-21 season begins.

One of the most important things for our guys is to continue to play.’

Hawks GM Travis Schlenk

Coach Lloyd Pierce is tasked with ensuring that group shows up to next fall’s training camp locked in on that growth mindset he’s stressing. It is also what makes whatever the next phase of this offseason rebuilding plan crucial.

Even with the final 15 games of the season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pierce saw enough to know the Hawks remain focused on a playoff push — which he expects his team to make next season.

Pierce praised the development of Atlanta’s young core and changes to the roster. He’s also grateful for the veteran leadership and presence Capela and big man Dewayne Dedmon bring.

“We’re extremely encouraged and excited about the guys that we have,” Pierce said. “So we’re on the path we’ve been talking about for a long time, building through the Draft and adding some veteran leadership and then, you know, looking forward what we’ll be able to do with our cap space and free agency over the next two summers is really encouraging.

“But it starts with our young guys and what we’ve seen from them, especially when they’ve been able to play together.”

How much time they get together during this offseason remains the great unknown.

Schlenk echoed Pierce’s sentiments about the growth of the young core dating back to Collins’ rookie season in 2017-18. The Hawks have also maintained their cap flexibility and Draft assets, which sets them up for a bright future. But he also acknowledged that the uncertainty surrounding this unprecedented offseason comes with concerns.

Even with twice-weekly Zoom calls and facilities opening back up recently for individual work, the ability to work with the entire group in competitive situations is not permitted. Without the usual NBA Summer League component, and the mini-camp that precedes it, digging in on that group dynamic can only be done virtually until that final proposal is finished and ratified.

All told, the Hawks cannot afford an extended layoff that could stunt the continued growth of their youth.

“I think that’s obviously a concern,” Schlenk said. “One of the most important things for our guys is to continue to play. So being able to play in the summer — you know, pick-up games or Summer League’s obviously not going to happen this year. All those things are important for young guys as they continue to get better.”

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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