Just three seasons ago, the Atlanta Hawks were a force to be reckoned with. The Hawks won 60 games that year behind All-Star performances by Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, and Al Horford.
The last two seasons haven’t been as great, with the team barely keeping its head above .500. Now, in the 2017-2018 NBA season, the Hawks have given up on getting back to that 60-game win mark in the next few seasons. With all four of their All-Stars from that season gone, the organization is more focused on keeping fans happy and rebuilding under new general manager Travis Schlenk. With Philips Arena introducing new delicacies such as cricket tacos, owner Tony Ressler is ready to start looking towards the future.
“Well, we had two choices, the way I saw it,” said Ressler. “We never had the choice of being a contender. We weren’t. I saw the team go from 60 wins to 48 to 43. We thought we made additions. Let’s just say I concluded, with Travis’ help, with Bud’s help; I concluded that we were not going in the right direction. Truly, there are three options in the NBA, I would argue: being a contender, being a competitive team, and being young and fun. At least that would be my opinion. And we didn’t have the option of being a contender. So we could be competitive, or more competitive, and maybe, shall we say, with a whole bunch of higher-priced vets that made us older and made our payroll less flexible, and made our future more cloudy.”
The Spurs made plenty of moves this offseason to put themselves in a position they could build off, moving Dwight Howard and Danilo Gallinari in exchange for veterans and draft picks. The Hawks have now put together five first-round draft picks over the next two season: their own one this season, two in 2019, plus a 2018 first-round pick from the Los Angeles Clippers and another protected 2018 pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Of course, looking forward is easy for the owner and the front office. Their goal is to build a good team and be good in the next few seasons. But losing is never easy for the players, veterans and rookies alike.
“For me, at least, I can’t speak for other guys, but losing games, I just try to think we’re playing with the best of the world every night,” said Hawks rookie center John Collins. “It’s not going to be easy. Nobody’s going to give you anything.”
While Bazemore also hates the losing, especially after playing with the team a few seasons back during the golden year, he is excited about the way this young, mishap team is playing.
“For me, I’m a super fiery player,” said Kent Bazemore. “I’ve had to work on controlling my emotions. There’s so many people watching, and thinking less of yourself in certain situations. Things are looking up. In every game we’ve played this year in every form or fashion we’ve given ourselves a chance. Beat Dallas, went down to Miami and had a chance to win there, Brooklyn the same, being up 18 on Charlotte on their opening night. We’ve shown glimpses of being a good team; it’s not like we’re going into these arenas and getting blown out by 50 every night.”
Tanking can be a hard thing to explain to a fan base, however, especially one that just watched the organization’s first championship window in years open and close within the span of about a season and a half. Additionally, the fans are the paying customers, so, even if you aren’t trying to win games now, you need to find a way to give them some hope for the future.
“That’s the hard part, with the fans,” said Schlenk. “I would say that 90 percent of the people I see in Atlanta, meet in Atlanta, say, ‘Hey, love what you’re doing, needs to be done.’ There’s another 10 percent of ‘what are you doing?’ But I think just as far as with Bud and the ownership group; it’s just constantly reminding them, listen, it’s painful right now. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We have five draft picks the next two years, first-round picks. It’s my job to, hopefully, get four of those right.”
Four out of five would be an amazing hit percentage, and as we all know, it only takes one home run to change the course of a franchise. So, as the Hawks look forward, they’ll need to rely on those cricket tacos to bring people in this season and maybe the next few, but the future of basketball in Atlanta seems much more bright and promising than in recent years.