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Hawks leadership pushes back against ‘painful’ expectations

Media Day is here and expectations are important.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks-Press Conference Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

On-court expectations are very low, at least from the outside looking in, for the 2018-19 Atlanta Hawks. Most national outlets project the Hawks to finish in the NBA’s basement and even the folks in Las Vegas assess Atlanta with the league’s lowest baseline in terms of projected win total.

With that in mind, it makes sense that the team’s brain trust, headlined by GM Travis Schlenk and head coach Lloyd Pierce, might be preparing for an uncomfortable season that begins with Media Day on Sept. 24. However, the duo was prompted about the potential for a “painful” rebuilding campaign at a recent press conference and neither was ready to assert the expectation for agony.

“It’s not painful for me,” Schlenk said with a chuckle. “We’ve said this all last year, and it’ll be the same this year, what we’re going to look for is our guys to develop and to continue to get better.”

“Same for me,” Pierce indicated. “Painful is not anything I’m going to feel this year. Part of sport is growth and for us the growth and development of our guys is the most important thing.”

Of course, at least some of these statements should be taken with a grain of salt, as it would also be eyebrow-raising to hear the team’s leadership actually acknowledge (at least plainly) the rock-bottom expectations from outside of the building. Still, some of the social media reaction from the fan base (especially those who have “accepted” the potentially ugly fate on the floor this season) was mixed and even misinterpreted.

Because Schlenk and Pierce are competitive enough to ascend to the positions they currently occupy, there is no question that both men want to win and win big. It is clear that the 2018-19 Hawks aren’t in a position to deliver on that immediately but, in the midst of the season, it is a safe bet that the competitive juices will be flowing to the point of frustration when things don’t go well, particularly as Pierce spoke repeatedly about the value he places on competition in assessing player rotations.

Instead of only focusing on wins and losses, though, other objective measures can and will be put in place, with a development focus at the center of it all.

“We say it everyday,” Pierce said. “‘How are we going to win today? What’s our win for the day?’ We have to measure 10-game clumps. What are we focusing on and are we getting better? Next 10-game clumps, what are we focusing on and are we getting better? That’s individually and that’s collectively as a team. If we’re trending that same way, that’s what we’re measuring. What the number is and when the timeline is is not really up to us right now. It’s really about measuring our guys and their performances on a daily basis, on a 10-game basis, on a nightly basis of improvement, growth and development.”

Some 10-game samples will be better than others for the Hawks this season and, given the overall youth of the roster (non-Vince Carter division), it is probably safe to assume that the team’s highest levels will come later in the campaign. Still, Schlenk noted second-year big man John Collins as an example of what gradual growth and development can bring, citing his blooming abilities on the perimeter after acting in a more strict position as a “roll guy” early in his rookie season.

As Media Day arrives, there will be a lot said (and written) about the Atlanta Hawks over the next seven months. Contrary to the public sentiments of Schlenk and Pierce, there will likely be some “pain” along the way but keeping the big picture in mind is key. With the franchise’s clear motivation to build for the future at the relative expense of the present, the team’s win-loss record probably won’t be pretty but observing the young core with a watchful eye should make things quite a bit more palatable over an 82-game sample.