The Atlanta Hawks came into media day with enough plot lines for the 2013-14 season that someone might just write a book about it. After all, few teams have undergone a complete overhaul of this magnitude while maintaining expectations for relative success.
The press descended upon Philips Arena's practice court with computers, pens, pads, lights, cameras and a lot of questions. The overarching theme that prevailed was that of the team's identity. Additionally, there was a lot of feedback regarding the Hawks' chemistry. The last major point of contention was the availability of Lou Williams.
These issues were all addressed by new head coach Mike Budenholzer, as well as some of the team leaders on the court.
Establishing a Team Identity
Coach Bud kicked off media day by discussing the team's identity, among many other topics.
I think our group will be really what we lean on and what we depend on, and that that will become our identity. I think defensively, offensively, they're all going to rely and trust each other...that that's the type of basketball, that's the type of team we want to have.
Those are the types of players that we have. So, we look forward to building that identity and that dynamic where it's a group and a team that, really, everyone has to worry about. It's not just a person or an individual.
When asked whether the Hawks were now Al Horford's team, he reverted back to the concept of team identity.
As far as whose team it is, a little bit, to reference earlier, that we really want our identity (to be) that we're a group. Defensively, we play together and we play collectively. Offensively, we play together and we play collectively. That's when you're really hard to guard.
I think that we have players that have high-level skill packages that we'll be able to go to at any game and everything, but we're the Atlanta Hawks. And, I think the group is excited about putting that identity and putting that out there for everybody. And, that's how we feel like we're going to be best.
That's right. The Atlanta Hawks are, in short, the Atlanta Hawks. While the phrasing may seem a bit redundant or repetitive, it's a great concept that everyone on the team has bought into.
When asked if he had assumed the role as the team leader, All-Star center Al Horford supported the idea, but—like Coach Bud—reaffirmed the team identity (per Sekou Smith of NBA.com).
I believe so, at this point you can say that. But most importantly, I’m a team player. Not one person is going to make that big of a difference. And I think we all understand that in the locker room.
Something that Budenholzer stressed about the identity of the Atlanta Hawks is the team's individual and collective basketball IQ and overall competitive spirit. He boasted about those qualities when asked of the team's strengths and weaknesses.
I think our strength is probably our basketball IQ. And the players that are returning and that we brought in, we feel like we have a group that really knows how to play basketball; that are competitors and high basketball IQ-type guys. That means a million different things, but it's a good succinct way to...
Our weaknesses, those are to be determined. That's why we're practicing tomorrow and having an exhibition season. We look forward to working through anything that we feel needs addressing, but we're excited about the competitiveness of the group and, really, the high basketball IQ of our group.
NBA veteran big man Elton Brand agreed with Coach Bud's perspective.
We have some great IQ guys, selfless guys, guys that want to win, guys that can do more than one thing on the court. You could pass. You could shoot. You can play defense. And that's what wins games.
You know, he's (Budenholzer) coming from that San Antonio organization where you might not see athletes jumping out the gym, but you see wins—and that's what's important.
Not only is that what Atlanta fans want to hear, that's what they long to see. A team that wins—as a team. Gone are the days of Iso-Joe (Johnson) and Josh Smith's inaccurate desperation three-point heaves.
This Hawks team will play as just that, a team.
Establishing Team Chemistry
This is a fair point of contention; one that might be sensible for fans to expect to be patient in seeing results. Coach Budenholzer contends that the team will build its chemistry by playing accountable team defense and offense that utilizes a lot of ball movement.
This summer and the month of September, our guys have been in the gym working really hard—both with skill development and playing a lot of pickup ball. I think the chemistry that we've seen in September has been good. I think the way that we want to play will hopefully, starting with defensively, (be) where everybody knows their roles and assignments and there's a high degree of accountability...that that builds a chemistry they can hold each other accountable.
And, offensively, moving the ball, sharing it. I just think that there's a lot of different things that this group is going to do well. Those things that they do well is going to help us build great team chemistry.
The players are quite confident that things will gel rather quickly.
Part of this ideal may coincide with the team's high basketball IQ, as mentioned in the previous section. The rest, well, the new power forward, Paul Millsap, deftly explains why the team will coalesce in short time.
I think that we do need to develop some kind of chemistry. Gotta know each other, how each other play. This is going to be different, because it's a new system and guys are still learning the system. Once you learn the system, you're going to learn the guys...
It's easier that way (with everyone learning a new system) cause everybody's on the same page. Everybody's going through the learning process. It's a little easier that way. So, it shouldn't take us long to really gel and get together.
A glimmer of hope now rests on Atlanta's fans. Maybe it won't take a horrendously long time for the team to come together.
Lou Williams Will Not Be Ready Anytime Soon
For all of those fans hoping that Williams might be the starting shooting guard at the start of the season, slow your roll.
Coach Budenholzer was evasive when answering questions about Lou's health.
Right now we're in a rehab and evaluation mode or process, so I really can't give you a better indication. We feel like that process is going well, but when he'll be able to play has not been determined; won't be determined in the foreseeable future...
No, he won't go live 5-on-5, but Lou will participate in some parts of practice (Tuesday). He will do non-contact and some things that he has been cleared to do, but there won't be any 5-on-5 for Lou.
Not the most encouraging remarks, especially since the timetable for his return "won't be determined in the foreseeable future." Sounds like he could still be out for a while.
Williams, himself, had a lot more to add to the issue.
The goal is to play as soon as possible. We don't have a hard timetable...I think what's going to hold everything back is to continue to strengthen the knee to the point where I'm comfortable to play consistently for a season.
I could play in a game right now and I'd have to sit for another month because the knee might not react well to it. That's not our goal. Our goal is for my long-term health, and for me to be able to play consistently, and we're not at that point yet.
Coach Budenholzer's DUI Case
Coming into media day, this was one of the major subplots of the Hawks' offseason. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing legal process, Coach Bud would not provide much information.
I never want to bring any negative attention to our organization or our players. Having said that, there's a legal process that's playing out. I think it's important for me to respect that process. I can't say a whole lot more than that.
As far as our players, I've communicated with all of them, and the support and communication has been excellent. I'm just going to leave it at that.
His court date (Oct. 15) looms on the calendar, as the team progresses through camp toward the preseason. The DUI, however, seems to be of little concern for the team for now.
The Hawks media day should have left most fans feeling positive and upbeat about this team's future. The players seem to all be genuinely sold on Budenholzer's team concept. Everyone is buying into the team-first identity that coach is selling.
All of the players spoke of the team first, reinforcing their coach's ideals.
No one seemed to think that developing team chemistry would be a problem for this roster. Though, it may be difficult acclimating Williams with the new players once his knee is healed.
The uncertainty of his impending return to the roster is likely as unnerving as it might be for the committed Hawks fan.
Perhaps the biggest question for the Hawks will be their ability to coalesce, to bond and to build solid chemistry among one another. The first preseason game, next week in Miami, will serve as a measuring stick of how far along they can come together in a short time.
Something else to keep a keen eye on during training camp is definitely the small forward position.
Former Utah Jazz small forward DeMarre Carroll has his sights set on the starting spot, as Kyle Korver is slated to play shooting guard.
Going into camp ... I'm a competitor, so I'm going to go in there, and in my mind I'm fighting for a starting spot. I'm going to go in there and try to play as hard as I can, and do the things, stay true to myself—that's be the Junkyard Dog.
1st unit at #ATLHawks practice: Teague, Korver, Carroll, Millsap, Horford.— Chris Vivlamore (@ajchawks) October 1, 2013
2nd unit at #ATLHawks practice: Schroder, Jenkins, Johnson, Antic, Brand.— Chris Vivlamore (@ajchawks) October 1, 2013
Also, Mike Scott may challenge for some significant minutes. He admitted that he has dropped 15 pounds in an effort to "become more agile, more versatile, more explosive, quicker." He has been working to improve his perimeter game in the offseason so that he'll be more useful in pace and space-oriented offense.
All told, this should be a very entertaining season for Atlanta Hawks fans.
All quotes, unless otherwise noted, were collected firsthand at Hawks media day.