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Hawks leadership cites youth, development in plea for invite to Orlando

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Lloyd Pierce Press Conference Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks could be on the outside looking in with regard to the NBA’s restart to the 2019-20 season. In short, any scenario that does not include all 30 teams being invited to Orlando would leave the Hawks out of the mix, with Atlanta entering the league’s hiatus with a bottom-five record in the standings. While scenarios are still being discussed in advance of Thursday’s highly anticipated Board of Governors meeting, leaders within the Hawks organization are making their feelings known on the subject and they are unified in their public sentiment.

On Tuesday, head coach Lloyd Pierce — who has been acting as a strong and effective leader both within the organization and across the NBA landscape — visited with The Jump on ESPN and didn’t hold back in indicating that he’d like the Hawks to continue playing if the rest of the league does indeed restart.

“If the season is going to resume and we’re still not a part of it, it hurts our growth, it hurts our product, it hurts our ability to continue the momentum that we need going into next season,” Pierce told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.

At the top of the organization, Hawks owner Tony Ressler was reportedly “passionate” about the Hawks being included in Orlando during a late May call with the NBA’s board of governors, per Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe of ESPN.

Already, the NBA knew how passionate Atlanta owner Tony Ressler felt on the issue of the Hawks’ inclusion to Orlando. He reiterated on the call after Bennett’s speech that his franchise wanted to resume the season — provided some reassurances, to the degree any were possible, that the NBA could maintain player health and safety while adding teams. Ressler did not explicitly link the Hawks’ participation to any path for Atlanta to make the playoffs, sources said, and attendees took that to mean Ressler supported Atlanta’s playing even without such a path.

From a basketball standpoint, Pierce pointed to the reality that Atlanta’s youthful roster could benefit from additional seasoning in sharp fashion.

“I coach the youngest team in the NBA,” Pierce told Nichols on Tuesday. “And the biggest thing we can benefit from is playing basketball, and the game has been taken away from all of us at this point.”

“I play young guys, I have young guys,” Pierce continued. “They need game experience and so we need to play basketball, we want to play basketball.

In addition, president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk expressed a similar sentiment in May, stating plainly that the Hawks could benefit from additional playing time.

“You have to remember, we have a young team,” Schlenk told Chris Kirschner of The Athletic. “Any opportunity we have to practice is a positive for us. We view that as a positive.”

In addition to young players — including Trae Young, John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter — still on an upward trajectory of development, the Hawks could also use a return to play to evaluate players on expiring contracts, headlined by Skal Labissiere, and/or potentially begin integrating newly acquired center Clint Capela into the on-court mix. While Atlanta’s potential involvement in the league’s “bubble” setting seems to be a long shot according to national reporting, it would be hard to argue that any other organization near the bottom of the standings could benefit more, at least in theory, than the youngest group in the NBA.

Overall, the opportunity to gather for a second “training camp” might actually help the Hawks more from a practice and teaching perspective than the small handful of games that Atlanta would be afforded if the NBA simply brought the lottery-bound franchises back to fulfill regular season obligations. Still, there are arguments to be made that the Hawks could have a notable interest in joining the 2019-20 restart and, in recent days, three prominent leaders within the organization have spoken about their desire for an invitation to Orlando.