Jeff Teague Knows This Could Be the Final Ride for These Atlanta Hawks

Brian Robb@CelticsHubFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2016

Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) drives to the basket against Boston Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko (8), forward Jae Crowder (99) and guard Isaiah Thomas (4) during the first quarter in Game 3 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Friday, April 22, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Elise Amendola/Associated Press

BOSTON — Jeff Teague has spent his entire seven-year NBA career with the Atlanta Hawks, but as recently as two months ago, it wasn't clear the point guard was still wanted in Atlanta.

The 27-year-old's name popped up in trade rumors ahead of February's trade deadline as the Atlanta front office considered disassembling vital parts of the team's core—despite the fact that Teague had helped the Hawks continue a run of what is now nine consecutive trips to the postseason. Selling high on Teague, in his prime and on a friendly contract ($8 million per year through the 2016-17 season), was one option with Dennis Schroder, 22, waiting in the wings.

But Atlanta elected to stand pat, holding on to Teague and soon-to-be free agent Al Horford for at least one more playoff run. Since then, the Hawks have rolled, winning 17 of their 27 games after the All-Star break thanks in part to Teague's improved play.

The veteran averaged 16.8 points and 6.9 assists per game during that stretch, and the team's net rating was a sensational plus-12.5 with him on the floor from Feb. 26 through April 9, per NBA.com's John Schuhmann. During Atlanta's first-round series against the Boston Celtics, Teague has led the Hawks in both scoring (19.7 ppg) and assists (7.7 apg) while shooting 54.5 percent on two-pointers and 90.9 percent from the free-throw line.

Bleacher Report caught up with Teague before Sunday's pivotal Game 4 at TD Garden to discuss his resurgence, the trade rumors and whether this is the Hawks' final playoff run with this core.

Bleacher Report: You guys won 60 games last season and closed this year with a 17-7 stretch and the best defense in the Eastern Conference. Yet, Atlanta is rarely mentioned. What gives?

David Goldman/Associated Press

Jeff Teague: It's been like that ever since I've been in Atlanta. We've always had talented teams here that get overlooked. We just have a good group here. We don't care about recognition or anything. We just want to play well together and make a run at this thing.

B/R: You're in a tough first-round fight with the Boston Celtics. How much did the talent level in Boston and other places in the East improve this season?

Teague: It seems like everyone made an upgrade in the summer to get some better players. The coaching and the way the game is being played is a lot different now. The East is becoming a whole better situation, I guess. The West still has some real powerhouse teams, but the East has a lot of capable teams.

B/R: Your team defense has taken a big step forward this year, while the offense has taken a step back. What has caused the shift?

Teague: If we could combine our offense from last year and our defense from this year, we'd be a championship team, right? Our defense is great. Guys are into pressure, guys are being active, guys are being in the right spots at the right time. That's what it's been taking for us to get wins.

B/R: Your name was brought up in trade rumors repeatedly before the trade deadline, and the same goes for Al Horford. How much did that affect you, if at all?

Teague: It bothered me for a little bit because I was hurt. My ankle was all jacked up at that time, and I wasn't playing really well, so it kind of felt like a "Maybe they don't want me no more" situation. It's part of the business, man. Now I'm feeling healthy, I'm playing a lot better.

B/R: Was it flattering at all to hear your name in rumors, or does it just hurt from a pride standpoint with your own team?

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 22:  Jeff Teague #0 of the Atlanta Hawks looks on during the first quarter of Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs between the Atlanta Hawks and the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on April 22, 201
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Teague: It could go either way. Sometimes you can be like, "Well, at least someone wants me." Then you can be like, "Well, this team doesn't want me anymore." I always take it as, "Whatever happens, happens." My opportunity in being here—I just try to make the most of it while I can.

B/R: So, was it your ankle that was the root of your first-half struggles?

Teague: Yeah, I rolled my ankle pretty severely. I tried to come back too soon because we went through a little slump. I think we lost three or four in a row. I was out, and I wanted to do what I could to help our team get back. I was like 70 percent, just trying to get out there and play, and couldn't get right. Finally, after some treatment, exercise and doing things like that, my ankle got a lot better. I was able to make something happen.

B/R: How much did the trade deadline passing help you guys come together as team?

Teague: I think we realized that we got a chance to do something special, man. You never know what can happen, so just try to lock in and make it happen this year while we still together. You can't look forward to next year and years down the line because you never know what can happen.

B/R: Horford is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Has that created a sense of urgency for the team, knowing this could be your last crack at it together?

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Teague: We try not to talk about [rumors]. [Me and Horford] just go about business as usual. Me and him are really close. We've been around each other for a while. Funny guy. Good guy. I love playing with him. ... Yeah, you have a chance to do something special now. When you do something special, people like to stick around. They like to keep groups together, so we realize that. We're going to try to do the best we can this year, and hopefully everything works out.