After a disjointed season with a lame-duck coach and bunch of one-and-done players, the Hawks have kept up their rebuilding efforts with another summer of heavy turnover.
Only seven players return from a year ago, and even they’ll face a bit of an adjustment having to mesh with a new coaching staff and style.
“Chemistry just takes time,” guard Kyle Korver said. “We’re not talking about weeks. Teams that have real chemistry, they have same team together for a couple of years at a time. They have several training camps together.”
When camp began Tuesday with three days of workouts at the University of Georgia, building chemistry was a major focus. In fact, rookie coach Mike Budenholzer had that in mind when he set up the schedule, believing a few days outside of Atlanta would help speed the process.
He’s also counting on his system bringing the players together.
“The way we want to play, starting defensively, where everybody knows their roles and assignments and there’s a high degree of accountability, that builds a chemistry. They can hold each other accountable,” Budenholzer said. “Offensively, moving the ball and sharing it, I just think there’s a lot of different things this group is going to do well. Those things are going to help us build a great team chemistry.”
The Hawks began this effort last summer when general manager Danny Ferry traded longtime starters Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, largely to acquire players with expiring contracts and free up salary cap space. Ferry also declined to extend the contract of coach Larry Drew, who guided the patchwork team to the playoffs but was still let go after the season.
This summer was essentially Round 2 of the franchise’s makeover. Josh Smith, who had played his entire career with the Hawks, signed with the Detroit Pistons. Backup center Zaza Pachulia, a fan favorite, wound up in Milwaukee along with Drew. The Bucks also tried to lure point guard Jeff Teague, but the Hawks matched a $32-million, four-year offer sheet.
Keeping Teague was perhaps the most significant move of the offseason, given he was coming off a year with career highs in points (14.6 a game) and assists (7.2).
The Hawks didn’t do much else with all that cap space. They re-signed Korver, brought in forward Paul Millsap with a relatively cheap two-year deal for $19 million, and bulked up the bench with aging Elton Brand.
Center Al Horford now has the longest tenure on the team, heading into his seventh season with the Hawks.
“It’s weird,” he said. “I started with a big group of guys here. It’s hard to believe that it’s just me from that original group I came in with. It’s a new chapter.”
Horford was hoping the Hawks would do more in free agency, and was especially keen on the idea of the team landing another center so he could spend more time at strong forward, which has always been viewed as his more natural position. Even though that didn’t happen, he’s willing to let Ferry’s blueprint for the franchise play out.
“It wasn’t 100 percent like I wanted, but at the end of the day I believe in Danny and his vision for where he wants to go,” Horford said. “Jeff Teague was the most important thing, to get him back here. He’s going to get a lot better and I’m happy to see that he’s here.”
While Horford looks like the undisputed leader, and even agreed with a reporter’s assessment that it’s his team, Budenholzer is intent of building the sort of team-first philosophy that worked so well during his long tenure as an assistant in San Antonio.
“I feel like the foundation is being laid,” Korver said. “It started last year, and they’re going to try to start building up this year for what their real vision is for the Hawks.”