Atlanta Hawks stumble through Year 1 of a painful rebuilding process
Paul Newberry | The Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — In the final game of a forgettable season, the Atlanta Hawks got a glimpse of what the future might hold.
It’s going to take a while to get there.
Getting starting on a painful rebuilding process, the Hawks stumbled through their worst season since 2005, finishing 24-58 to end a 10-year streak of playoff appearances.
“We’ve been in the playoffs every time,” point guard Dennis Schroder said. “To have a season like that, it was kind of tough for everyone.”
Atlanta closed out the season Tuesday night with a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, who have provided the template for all teams going through a massive overhaul. Just two years removed from a 10-72 debacle, the Sixers are a 50-plus-win team headed to the playoffs with one of the NBA’s most exciting young rosters .
“That’s definitely something we’re going to try to model after in a sense, just having that young talent, building and getting better every year, and getting into the playoffs,” said Hawks forward John Collins, who had a promising rookie season.
In his first year as general manager, Travis Schlenk began stripping the roster of veteran players, stocking up on draft picks and clearing out salary cap space that can be used down the line . With only seven guaranteed contracts on the books for next season – and center Dewayne Dedmon likely to opt out for a better deal elsewhere – it figures to be another offseason of jarring change.
All that losing can make it difficult to come to work each day. But coach Mike Budenholzer got pretty much the most he could out of his limited roster, sending out a team that competed hard every night and rarely got blown out.
The Hawks lost 21 games by less than 10 points, while only seven defeats were decided by 20 or more.
“We showed a glimpse of what we could be,” said second-year forward Taurean Prince, another of the building blocks for the future. “We made a lot teams play harder than they wanted to play.”
Some takeaways from the Hawks’ season:
SCHRODER’S STUMBLES: Presumably the centerpiece of the Atlanta’s rebuild, Schroder is still dealing with his arrest on a misdemeanor battery arrest just before the start of the season and continues to show signs of immaturity despite this being his fifth year in the league.
“To be the leader of any NBA team, it’s a blessing,” Schroder said. “But it’s tough to get up in the morning, go to practice and see 12, 13 guys looking up to you.”
COLLINS EMERGES: Schlenk’s first draft pick was a winner. After being selected at No. 19, Collins quickly claimed a prominent role with his enormous athleticism and confident presence. Only 20, he should have plenty of upside as he improves his overall game.
Prince, the top pick in 2016, also had a solid season. He averaged 14 points a game, improved greatly from beyond the 3-point arc and can expect an even bigger role in the years to come.
AUDITION TIME: The Hawks used this season to audition several G League prospects and rejects from other teams, hopeful that their emphasis on player development might yield a few diamonds in the rough.
The most promising finds were point guard Isaiah Taylor and forward Damion Lee, who both showed they might have a future in the NBA if they continue to improve.
MORE ROOKIES: The upcoming draft will be a major step in the rebuilding process.
In addition to their lottery pick, the Hawks could have two other first-round selections acquired through trades as well as a choice early in the second round.
Schlenk could package that bounty of picks in a trade or stockpile the roster with even more young talent. Whatever he decides, it’s imperative that the Hawks get maximum value this summer to keep the rebuilding process on track.
BUDENHOLZER’S FUTURE: The Hawks coach seemed willing to go along with Schenk’s plan, even though it surely guarantees several dismal seasons before there’s any tangible signs of improvement.
Now the question is: Will Budenholzer stick around for the long haul?
Already, there have been reports that he might be interested in another job with a team that has a better chance of winning right away. Considering the dynamics in Atlanta – Budenholzer guided the Hawks to a franchise-record 60 wins just three years ago, only to be stripped of his power over personnel matters after a several questionable moves – it’s not hard to envision him moving on.
Coach Bud was once THE man in Atlanta. Now, he answers to Schlenk, who has full authority to strip this team down before he builds it back up again.
“I love what I do. I love this team. I’m focused on what we just did and how we can get better going forward,” Budenholzer said Wednesday, without necessarily denying that he might be willing to look at other options.