The Atlanta Hawks haven’t participated in a fully sanctioned NBA game in nearly three months and, with the reality that the team will not be heading to Orlando as part of the league’s 22-team restart, questions abound on what the organization’s “summer” will look like in 2020. To that end, Hawks president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk and head coach Lloyd Pierce provided a bit of clarity on how the Hawks are operating in the present and how things might shift as the calendar moves toward October and the true offseason across the league.
At this juncture, the Hawks have only two official events on the calendar, with the NBA Draft Lottery scheduled for Aug. 25 and the 2020 NBA Draft set for Oct. 15. Even those events, though, are currently described as tentative — with free agency to follow — and Atlanta is in discussions with the other seven teams omitted from the bubble, along with the NBA, on ways to navigate this seemingly endless break in the action.
“We’re still in the phase of what’s been going on for the past, little over a month now: one player, one coach on the floor, you can have four guys in the building at a time,” Schlenk said. “The league is working with the eight teams not going to Orlando to open up our facilities a little bit more, maybe to allow us to have some sort of competition ourselves, but all of that needs to be negotiated with the (NBA Players Association). We’ve been working with the other seven teams trying to come up with a proposal to present to the league, and then the league would obviously have to digest that and take that to the (NBPA) and obviously get their sign off. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to get something done, but there are obviously steps we’ve got to go through as well.”
On the player side, the Hawks are still engaging in the activities, headlined by Zoom meetings, that they’ve had throughout this three-month window.
“We still currently have our Sunday and Thursday meetings,” Pierce said. “Each guy is different, so in terms of what their moods are a lot of them are eager to know what Travis just talked about: what our next steps will be. As we all are. They want it, they want the opportunity to play, they’re waiting to see what capabilities we’ll have. So we’re in this holding pattern, and most of our discussion has been about that with regards to basketball. What our next steps will be.”
Uncertainty reigns over the entire endeavor, though, especially when taking into account the reality that the Orlando bubble is likely the NBA’s top priority until all of the details are in place. Given the potential of a nine-month layoff, Pierce and his staff are keeping a close eye on the roster in an attempt to avoid any rust that might accumulate.
“It’s the ability to do what Travis talked about: the ability to get in the gym and have that full team capability to work out, potentially scrimmage other teams. Then we go into an extended offseason,” Pierce said when prompted about keeping the team fresh and engaged during this extended period. “Obviously that would end in mid-August and the season wouldn’t start until December, so it’s still an extended period of time. We’ll do what we normally do: we come in for three weeks at a time, then take a week or two off and come back for three weeks and really focus on the development, the weight room and try and have the guys in the gym at the same time. We have an extended period of growth for our guys. It’s a little bit difficult, but we just have to be creative about how we go about doing that and this is why this proposal that Travis talked about is important. This gives us an opportunity to do something right now, similar to the other teams that are playing.”
Prior to the official announcement that the NBA would move forward with 22 teams, the Hawks were candid in their desire for inclusion. Part of that calculus stemmed from the desire for player development, taking into account the nature of Atlanta’s youthful (and promising) roster.
“I think that’s obviously a concern,” Schlenk said of the potential that this hiatus could slow the growth of young players. “One of the most important things for our guys is to continue to play. Think about last year, De’Andre Hunter, in Summer League, only played a game and a half before he got hurt. Now, he was able to get a ton of minutes in the regular season which was great, but Cam (Reddish) was on a minutes restriction for the first half of last season, didn’t play in Summer League. We all saw the growth he had by being able to play. Now if we go through another summer where those guys aren’t on the court and able to play… same with Bruno (Fernando), he didn’t get near the minutes those other guys got. Being able to play in the summer, pick up games, Summer League is obviously not going to happen this year. All of those things are important for young guys as they continue to get better.”
One of the key questions when deciphering what any kind of off-season activity might resemble is whether games will take place. That is very much up in the air when compared to internal team activities that are seemingly likely to expand in the coming days but, if the Hawks do engage in head-to-head action against other franchises, there isn’t a lot of clarity on what kind of roster Atlanta may utilize.
“This is where it gets tricky,” Schlenk said when asked how the Hawks would deploy players if Summer League-style games did occur. “When you start talking about your team, when we have guys on our roster who are going to be free agents, and they’re going to have a different view on taking part in scrimmages or games with free agency looming over them. We’ve tried to be very mindful of that as we’ve tried to put together a proposal to take to the league and realizing that there’s guys in different stages in their career. It’s just something that we’ll have to negotiate, but again, we’ve been extremely mindful of guys that might be going into free agency and understanding why mandating something for them probably isn’t as realistic as some of our younger guys, if that makes sense.”
On one hand, the Hawks have a roster that could benefit, as they’ve highlighted, from more on-court time, especially when considering rookies like Hunter, Reddish and Fernando. On the other hand, Atlanta does have a handful of pending free agents, headlined by Jeff Teague, and there is some uncertainty on whether those players would be allowed — or would even choose — to participate. Beyond that, the availability of Trae Young and John Collins may be considered differently, simply because of their established nature on the floor and the potential for injury risk in this setting.
Ultimately, questions will be answered in the coming days and, for the Hawks, it would be favorable if those details emerged rather quickly. Still, Atlanta understands the realities that come along with the NBA negotiating on multiple fronts and, though optimistic, the Hawks may have to wait for the Orlando adventure to fully materialize before receiving total clarity.
“Our objective and our goal certainly would be when the union and the league go through the Orlando proposal that we’re included in that, so that’s where there’s certainly some time pressure on us to get that in,” Schlenk said. “As you can imagine, anytime you get eight different franchises together, everybody’s got a different view on what they’re trying to accomplish. But we’ll get something in and we want to be a part of that, so when they do ratify the Orlando plan, there’ll be some sort of system in place for the eight of us not going.“