Gary Neal made his Atlanta debut Wednesday night in the Hawks’ 118-95 blowout loss to the Detroit Pistons. Neal finished with four points in just over 12 minutes of action after signing a 10-day contract earlier in the day with Atlanta.
On the surface, Neal looks like the kind of player that the Hawks could use. Atlanta needs shooting and Neal is a 38 percent shooter from three-point range for his career. He knocked down 41 percent of his three-point attempts last year while a member of the Washington Wizards before a hip injury ended his season.
Neal shot 46 percent from the field overall and has always been a solid scoring option. So you might be wondering, why does an accomplished guard like Neal have to turn to the D-League to find employment?
Well it turns out there is a story there as well. Neal wasn’t well-regarded by some of his teammates in Washington and the term “selfish” was thrown around from time to time as well. It could also be said that maybe Washington wasn’t really a good fit for Neal but there have been other issues throughout his career as well.
He spent the first three seasons of his NBA career in San Antonio where Mike Budenholzer was an assistant. He left the Spurs at the end of the 2013 season due to his desire for a bigger role and a bigger paycheck. Neal eventually signed with Milwaukee where he clashed with his teammates and with the organization.
The Bucks eventually traded him to Charlotte where he once again found trouble. Atlanta was reportedly among the teams interested in Neal if he were to secure a buyout during the 2015 season but the Hornets eventually dealt him to Minnesota, coincidentally in a deal that also involved Mo Williams. He became a free agent later that summer and signed with Washington.
So what does this mean for Atlanta? Probably not much. A 10-day contract doesn’t give a guy like Neal much security and the relative lack of interest by NBA teams in him could have had a humbling effect on him. By rule, the Hawks can give Neal up to two 10-day contracts before making a decision on whether or not to keep him for the remainder of the season. That gives them time to see how Neal interacts with the rest of the team before making much of a commitment to him.
Still it is a bit eye opening. Despite the rumored interest in Neal back in 2015, this is a franchise that over the last several years has been extremely protective of its chemistry and culture. Of course they made a pretty significant shift this past offseason in that regard by shuffling their roster. Still this is a team that prides itself on chemistry and playing selfless basketball and that is something that Neal has struggled with at times during his career.
There doesn’t appear to be a clear path to playing time for Neal given the way the team is currently constructed. However, his offensive prowess might be a good addition to have available on the bench for those nights when the Hawks simply can’t score if he is willing to fit in. Budenholzer’s influence here is likely big but it is something else to keep an eye on for the next couple of weeks.