ATLANTA — They were laughing.
Local media members were admitted into the Emory Sports Medicine Complex to watch the end of the Hawks’ Thursday practice two hours into its scheduled start time. For reference, the typical practice may span 45 minutes to an hour and a half before media is allowed in the confines of the practice court.
However, after this two-day break to decompress, players still completed shooting drills for several minutes before the end of practice. All players were present except for three, as confirmed by Kevin Chouinard of Hawks.com, and they were Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, and Evan Turner, with Lloyd Pierce also out of sight.
Turner, listed as probable for Friday’s game with a right hamstring strain, didn’t return to the court once media members filed into the gym.
Huerter, Pierce and Young did, however, and walked out onto the court showing all smiles.
They even laughed.
Like every other practice, Pierce greeted the media and kept the smile as he explained what he’s learned from watching his 16-month-old child enjoy Christmas.
“They open one gift and they play with it for the next hour,” Pierce said. “There’s no need to go to the other ones. We have a lot more gifts to still open.”
Thursday was the Hawks’ first practice since its 121-118 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, which gave Atlanta sole possession of the league’s worst record after Golden State’s three-game winning streak. The game ended with Young inbounding to Vince Carter, who gave the ball back to Young with 2.6 seconds remaining for a deep contested attempt that fell short.
After the game, Young was asked about the benefits of inbounding the ball in a last-shot scenario.
I asked Trae Young about the advantages of having him inbound the ball.— Chris Kirschner (@ChrisKirschner) December 24, 2019
“I don’t know. That’s not a question for me.”
If he had it his way, would he rather not do that?
“I’m gonna do it the coach’s way. It’s not my way. It’s not anybody else’s way. It’s the coach’s way.”
Whether it’s been reported through sources or from the source themselves, the first 31 games of the season have been a challenge for the Hawks. Entering Friday, the team is two games away from tying the longest losing streak of the season of 10 games.
During the 10-game losing streak, the Hawks held a team meeting after losing in Detroit on Nov. 22. Earlier this month, Kevin Huerter said the team had to challenge each other, stop making excuses and “if guys aren’t bringing what they have, we have to bring different guys in,” according to The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner.
Coming into Christmas week, Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported Pierce could be on the hot seat as soon as this week.
In the face of speculation and adversity, Pierce kept a smile on his face while greeting the media Thursday.
“Growth and development,” Pierce said when asked for the perspective that keeps him optimistic. “I’ll never stop saying it. Fun fact is we have a starting lineup [on Friday] that has less years played combined than Giannis (Antetokounmpo) does altogether.”
With John Collins’ return on Monday, Pierce started sophomore Young, sophomore Huerter, rookie De’Andre Hunter, third-year man Collins and rookie Bruno Fernando. Pierce said the fact could probably hold for any other opponent in the league.
“It’s all about what we’re doing right now,” Pierce said. “[We’re] in the gym. Keeping our spirits up, learning how to compete. We’ve been in every fourth quarter in the last three weeks I feel except for the New York game. How do you execute? How do you finish down the stretch? That’s part of our growth and development, not just the individual work.”
Thursday also brought upon the call-up of two-way point guard Brandon Goodwin, who notched the first triple-double of his career on Dec. 13 against the Greensboro Swarm.
“It’s [about] just having another playmaker out there,” Pierce said. “We’ll figure out how we’re going to use him over the course of the next couple of games but his success [in the G-league] has been great for the College Park team. We have an empty roster spot and an opportunity for him to get some minutes and some days.”
Goodwin has seen a total of five minutes with the Hawks in two games this season.
Pierce said he sees value in having the option to turn to the sophomore guard.
“We’re playing Trae heavy minutes,” Pierce said. “Somebody’s got to come in and relieve. [It’s] just seeing if the young man can come in and do that for us.”
Goodwin was discussed as one of the Hawks’ backup point guard by committee options in the preseason, and Pierce said he remains firm in the method on Thursday.
“Kevin’s getting the three-point shot back so that’s something,” Pierce said. “Having guys that can create, having guys that can keep us organized but also being able to relieve Trae. We don’t have a natural backup point guard on our roster so we’ve done it by committee of Kevin, [Turner], DeAndre’ Bembry, Cam Reddish in spots.
“Trae’s had to play heavy minutes so we haven’t had to do it too much but just having that protection there. [Goodwin]’s done well with our College Park team, we want to bring him up here and keep him fresh with our guys as well.”