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Hawks land coveted ‘veteran leadership’ in addition of Dewayne Dedmon

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New York Knicks v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

ATLANTA — A playful moment between Dewayne Dedmon and a fan sitting court-side at Staples Center made the rounds on social media in November, as Dedmon, from the Kings’ bench, leaned over and grabbed a french fry from the fan’s trey.

The exchange, which took place during a tense 99-97 Lakers’ victory, underscored two truths about Dedmon, one of which Hawks fans know from his previous tenure in Atlanta.

“I’m excited to have that personality,” Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce told media members Sunday in a pregame press conference introducing Dedmon and other recent trade acquisitions Clint Capela and Skal Labissière.

“He always messed with me on the court. You try to call him on a blitz and he’s yelling something out just because.”

The second truth, which Pierce hinted at moments later, concerns Dedmon’s recent lack of playing time due to a progressively diminished role with the Kings this season.

“He’s been inconsistent with his minutes out in Sacramento, so who knows where he is physically,” Pierce said. “He’ll play his way into conditioning.”

Dedmon, who averaged 25 minutes per game over his two seasons in Atlanta, saw his minutes decline to about 16 per game in his first season of a three-year, $40 million deal with the Kings.

Originally expected to help stretch the floor in a young lineup featuring 2018 No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III, Dedmon lost his starting job four games into the year and struggled to a 19.7 percent shooting percentage from three, down from his 37.2 percent two-season average with the Hawks.

He also averaged a career-low 40.4 field-goal percentage, part of a pedestrian stat line that at least in part led Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac to tell reporters, “Definitely, he wasn’t what we expected.”

Hawks General Manager and President of Basketball Operations Travis Schlenk, who woke Dedmon up with a phone call to deliver the news of the trade, struck a more cheerful tone when speaking about the reacquired big man, joking that he began considering a deal for Dedmon “right after he got fined [for publicly demanding a trade].”

“He’s a very vocal guy in [the locker room] just like he’s a very vocal guy on the court,” Schlenk said. “That’s important when you talk about your bigs in the NBA. Bigs in the NBA defensively are like the quarterbacks. They see everything, they have to call out the picks and just let everybody know what’s coming to them.”

Schlenk’s sentiments on the importance of vocal leadership echoed what Kevin Huerter told The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner in January after a Shams Charania report suggested the mood inside the Hawks’ locker room was “depressing.”

“Last year, we had more dominant and louder personalities,” Huerter told Kirschner. “Even when we were losing, there were still a lot of funny stories because of their personalities.”

Dedmon entered to loud cheers midway through the first quarter of Atlanta’s 140-135 double-overtime home victory against the Knicks, registering a block and a dunk on his first defensive and offensive possessions.

He fouled out in the second overtime with 10 points, eight rebounds and a season-high five blocks in 33 minutes, his second-most played in a game this season. At one point on the evening, “Dewayne Dedmon!” chants erupted from the riotous 6th Man Section at State Farm Arena.

“It felt good,” Dedmon said. “I got back into a flow of a system that I’ve been used to for the past couple of years. Still got some work to do but it was good to be back. …Just trying to bring the energy, talking a lot, making sure the young guys are in the right spot.”

As Sunday’s night’s usage suggested, Dedmon will be expected to play significant minutes and anchor the Hawks’ defense until Capela and Labissiere return from injury. It’s possible he’ll even temporarily recapture the starting center role he held for the better part of his first two years in Atlanta.

No matter what impact Dedmon has on the court during the second half of the season, it’s clear the move to acquire him had almost as much – or more – to do with his fit in the locker room, evidence strengthened by teammates’ postgame comments on his return.

“It’s really good [to have him back],” Trae Young said. “He plays really hard, obviously. He battles.”

“You love it,” John Collins said.

“You see the communication, the leadership... The veteran leadership that he brings. Pointing guys, putting everybody in position and spacing the floor. What more can I say? I’m glad to have big Dewayne back.”