The Atlanta Hawks officially introduced Travis Schlenk as the team’s new general manager and head of basketball operations at a press conference Friday morning at Philips Arena.
Schlenk alongside principle owner Tony Ressler took questions from the assembled media. Ressler went first and introduced Schlenk as a key acquisition as the franchise looks to climb to a new level.
“Travis is a critically important part of what we are trying to accomplish here in Atlanta,” Ressler said.
Ressler went on to outline the qualities they were looking for in a new general manager and indicated that Schlenk checked off every box.
Ressler touted the Hawks success in qualifying for the playoffs in 10 straight seasons but reiterated that the goal is to be a championship level franchise. He touted the new practice facility and the partnership with Emory as well as the new D-League team that will begin play in College Park in 2019.
Now the focus shifts to improving the on court product where the Hawks have dropped from 60 wins to just 43 last season.
Schlenk greeted the media saying that it was now time to get to work. He pointed out that the 2017 NBA Draft is just three weeks away and would be quickly followed by free agency.
He also reiterated that the goal was to build a championship caliber team that was sustainable. He mentioned that doing so isn’t always a quick process. He did highlight three areas for which the Hawks must excel to get to that level. Some of this will sound familiar to longtime fans because it is a lot of the same things that were talked about by Danny Ferry, Wes Wilcox and Mike Budenholzer.
1. Maintain Flexibility
2. Accumulate assets
3. Develop your own players.
On the surface Atlanta has a nice crop of assets. They have young players in point guard Dennis Schröder, Taurean Prince and DeAndrey Bembry. Schröder took another step forward in his development last season and inked an extension with the club. Prince progressed throughout his rookie season and was the team’s starter at small forward in the playoffs. Bembry could see an expanded role as soon as next season.
The team also owns 11 draft picks over the next three years.
The Hawks have developed a reputation around the league for their player development. Guys like DeMarre Carroll, Kent Bazemore and Tim Hardaway Jr. have seen their games blossom after arriving in Atlanta. Even a player like Paul Millsap was able to take his game to an All-Star level while in a Hawks uniform.
That is important as both Schlenk and Ressler talked about trying to make Atlanta a team that players want to play for. They talked about being player friendly. That is an important concept for a franchise that has historically had a difficult time drawing free agents.
The flexibility part is interesting. The Hawks have an interesting summer ahead in free agency with decisions looming on both Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. Atlanta resisted shopping Millsap at the deadline last season and he is in line for one of the largest contracts available this summer. Ressler already indicated that the team would “do everything imaginable” to retain Millsap. Doing so would severely limit their ability to upgrade the remainder of the roster and would seem to go against the desire for flexibility that Schlenk talked about.
Atlanta signed Kent Bazemore and Dwight Howard to big money deals last summer. They could potentially add some flexibility and retool by moving either in a trade this offseason.
Hardaway will be a restricted free agent which may limit the type of offers he receives but is in line for a significant raise.
Schlenk offered that the Hawks want to maintain a level of success while retaining flexibility. That is a difficult line to walk but a philosophy that Ferry employed when he first took charge of the franchise.
The flexibility comments seem to suggest that Atlanta’s cap situation will be a focus this offseason. They can garner some flexibility by allowing Millsap to leave or by moving one or more of the big money contracts that are already on the roster. Schlenk did comment on the prospect of the luxury tax, which is an area the Hawks could approach by doubling down on the current group, by saying that he didn’t think it made sense for a team to pay the tax unless they were a championship contender.
Atlanta was a 43 win team in 2017 and that is probably the most refreshing thought of this press conference.
Schlenk and Ressler also made it clear that the front office would be a collaborative situation. Mike Budenholzer wasn’t in attendance but Schlenk said that he had spent some time with him and that he would be embedded with the coaching staff in the coming weeks.
There was a lot of good things to hear in this press conference from both Schlenk and Ressler. It sounded like the Hawks are ready to get back to the same values that they were previously focused on. Step one will be undoing previous mistakes. Of course as he mentioned, there is no timetable, but it feels like this franchise might finally be headed back in the right direction.
Asked Tony Ressler who makes final call on Paul Millsap: "I did not bring (Travis Schlenk) in here for me to make basketball decisions."— Chris Vivlamore (@CVivlamoreAJC) June 2, 2017