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Travis Schlenk focuses on team building, camaraderie as Hawks begin workouts

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Atlanta Hawks General Manager Press Conference Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

In mid-August, the NBA and NBPA announced an agreement to allow the eight teams not invited to the league’s Orlando bubble “to engage in voluntary group workouts at their team facilities while residing in a campus-like environment under controlled conditions.” Those plans then picked up steam and, on Monday, the Atlanta Hawks moved into a quarantine phase before taking the floor for a week-plus of league-sanctioned, team-wide workouts in Brookhaven.

Hawks president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk kicked off the festivities on Monday morning with a media availability (via Zoom) and he answered questions on a number of topics. The workouts themselves were at the center of the discussion, with Schlenk noting that the Hawks will not take the floor until Wednesday, as players and staff must quarantine until then while producing negative tests for COVID-19.

Atlanta’s roster for these workouts is unknown, though the team’s young core is expected to assemble and Schlenk noted that one unnamed free agent from the 2019-20 team will be joining the team in its local bubble. As part of the NBA/NBPA agreement, the Hawks are also permitted to include players from the team’s G League franchise in College Park, which helps the team to fill out a roster that currently has only nine players under contract for 2020-21.

From there, the Hawks are limited in that 5-on-5 scrimmaging is only allowed for one hour each day, even as other team workouts can take place. With the limited sample, Schlenk was quick to note that the impact from a basketball standpoint could be limited. Instead, he focused on the importance of team building and getting the team’s young players back on the floor together.

“I think the biggest thing that we want to accomplish out of this is just to get our group together and build some more camaraderie,” Schlenk said. “This is the first time Clint (Capela) is going to have the opportunity to play with our group. That’s going to be big for us. But it’s also the first time for our young guys, that they’ve been able to play since March. So it’s just getting everyone back together and just really working on a lot of bonding and chemistry stuff.”

Capela’s integration will be paramount for Atlanta as the 2020-21 season looms, with the veteran center unable to take the floor for the Hawks after he arrived in a February trade from Houston. While it remains to be seen how much the Hawks can learn about his progress, Schlenk revealed that Capela has been “back to Atlanta for a few weeks” to do individual workouts in advance of this team-wide gathering.

Elsewhere, Schlenk was prompted on any takeaways he can glean from consuming the NBA Playoffs from afar and, in speaking about the Eastern Conference Finals match-up between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat in particular, he saw something that coincides with Atlanta’s roster building approach to this point.

“You have to have versatile guys on the floor,” said Schlenk. “You’re seeing a lot of small ball. Now you’re starting to see a lot of zone out there. It goes back to what we’ve stated the whole time I’ve been here. Having guys that are all dribble, pass and shoot. If you have a guy on the floor that doesn’t have one of those skills, you’re playing 4-on-5. The other thing, and we’ll talk a lot about this with our guys this week, is just how physical those guys are playing out there and how competitive they are. Just the level of competition, just trying to get our guys to see that and understand it.”

Through that lens, the draft and free agency were also prominent topics, with Atlanta’s principal decision-maker predictably coy about specifics. He did indicate that a shift is in the offing, though, with the Hawks moving from asset accumulation to a focus on adding to the current core.

“As the plan starts to develop, now that we have this young core and we feel good about it, now we have to start becoming a little more strategic in what we do in trades,” Schlenk said. “As you guys are all aware, trade-wise, up until this past trade deadline, a lot of the trades we made were to use our cap space to accumulate more assets. So now what you saw, especially with the Clint (Capela) deal, we start to make trades to add to our group. Just trying to fill in where we feel like we need help with the draft picks we’ve made.”

“It’s the same thing in free agency,” he continued. “In past free agency, what you’ve seen us do is take on salary to accumulate picks or more young players. In free agency, we’ll look to get more aggressive to fill holes on our roster with guys that we think have long-term futures with our young core.”

On the whole, Schlenk was frank in that less than two weeks of on-court work, even as a full team, won’t be able to replace what 22 of the league’s 30 teams were able to glean from a trip to Orlando.

“After we get through this two-week period, we’ll be right back to the 1-on-0,” he said. “From an individual skills perspective, that’s great, but a lot of our guys, they just need to play. They need the experience of playing. And this is, unfortunately, an offseason where we’re not getting that.”

“I wish I could tell you there are a bunch of positives, but it’s really hard to see them. The fact that we were unable to go to Orlando, that hurts. Those teams in Orlando got 11 games. The league’s done a great job giving us this window, but these two weeks are not going to equal the 11 games those teams got.”

Still, the ability to bring the key components of the franchise together will be beneficial for the Hawks, and Schlenk’s optimism is palpable as a result.

“It’s tough, in a two-week window, to really accomplish a lot from a basketball perspective,” Schlenk said. “But from a team building perspective, we feel like we can accomplish a lot with this little window.”