NEW YORK — After watching his Atlanta Hawks teammates trail by as many as 39 against the Nets on Sunday, Trae Young paused while taking a bite of food and stared dejectedly at the floor in the locker room.
Despite Young ranking top-six in points (28.9), assists (8.4) and three-pointers made per game (3.4), the 9-32 Hawks own the league's worst record at the halfway mark of the season. The star guard looked like a man carrying the burden of his team's unfulfilled expectations.
Coming into the season, some members of the organization who spoke to Bleacher Report believed the team could improve upon last season's 29 wins. However, that was before John Collins was hit with a 25-game suspension for violating the NBA's Anti-Drug Program after testing positive for "Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide-2 (GHRP-2)."
During that suspension, one high-ranking Hawks official was seen telling Young the team would look to get him help, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.
So far, Young hasn't received any additional help from management, but the team has been actively looking to improve the roster.
The Hawks have three high-priced expiring contracts to dangle in Chandler Parsons ($25.1 million), Evan Turner ($18.6 million) and Allen Crabbe ($18.5 million) and Brooklyn's 2020 first-round pick (protected 1-14).
"I love the young pieces they have," one agent said. "I'm a big fan of Collins' game. I think with him and Trae and the young core they have, if they bring in the right veteran guys, they can be a strong team. They have the most money in free agency."
The young core combined for 100 points in a 123-110 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night. With the Hawks up 84-83 entering the fourth quarter, Young came through in the clutch scoring 21 points to lead Atlanta to the win.
Atlanta was interested in reacquiring Dedmon in a potential salary dump for Sacramento after he publicly demanded a trade from the Kings after being benched. The Hawks also expressed trade interest in Spurs center Jakob Poeltl earlier this season, Bleacher Report has learned.
For perspective, Young has seen Luka Doncic benefit from Dallas' acquisition of 2018 All-Star Kristaps Porzingis and vault into the playoff discussion this season. A month ago, Young admitted the following, per The Athletic's Chris Kirschner: "Everyone wants to win now. I want to win now."
After being acquired with a 2019 first-round pick (became Cam Reddish) during the 2018 draft for Doncic, Young has constantly heard the debate regarding which team won the trade and offered his assessment.
"[Doncic's] on a team, and they've got more veterans and is a team that's more looking to win now," Young told Bleacher Report. "We're more of a team that wants to win now, but we're focusing more on developing, and we're one of the youngest teams in the league. It's just two totally different situations, so it's just hard to really judge who won or lost [the trade] right now. I don't really pay too much attention to it. I just try and focus on my team and how I can help my team. Maybe down the road at the end of our careers, I think that can be a topic of discussion, but right now, I don't pay too much attention to it."
Atlanta's core of Young, Collins, Kevin Huerter, Reddish, De'Andre Hunter and Bruno Fernando range from ages 20 to 22 years old. While the unit endures growing pains in the present, the Hawks will have the most cap space in the league this summer, and multiple agents representing prospective free agents believe Atlanta can turn its fortunes around.
"Every team that offers money would be considered," a second agent said. "An agent that says otherwise is just lying or stupid. They need to add quality veterans to help the young guys. Atlanta would be under consideration."
Young, who recently partnered with RIP Medical Debt and canceled more than $1 million in overdue payments for Atlanta citizens through his foundation, believes the city of Atlanta and the Hawks are both on the rise and should be attractive to stars in free agency. The team's floor general already has a sales pitch in mind as he attempts to lure more talent to the organization.
"If you're not on a team right now where you feel like you can win now and win a championship now, why not be a part of what's going to be winning in the future and starting something now?" Young told Bleacher Report. "I think that's something that's exciting. We have exciting young pieces and a city that's excited about what we have going on and is going to be behind us. Why not be a part of that?"
Turner, who is on his fifth team in his 10th season, believes in a few years Young will be a "cheat code" and that other players will want to play alongside him.
"I think he's got certain stuff that's rare and certain stuff whereas he keeps learning and becomes a student of the game, where he can sit down with Dame Lillard and be like, 'How do you score and lead?'" Turner told Bleacher Report. "Dame, much like him, can go and get 30 whenever they want. They have that type of gift. You're playing a game within a game as to how you can win. The difference between him and Dame is Trae can go get 15 assists because he's such a gifted passer. Now, it's just reading the game and figuring it out more and seeing what works for him."
Sooner than later, Young hopes to make Turner's assertion come true and pop champagne bottles in the postgame locker room with his young core instead of looking dejectedly at the floor.
"I want to bring a championship, I mean multiple championships, to the city of Atlanta," Young told Bleacher Report. "I think the fans and this city deserves it. It's a super dope cultural city, and they just deserve a championship with the Hawks. That would be great to have. For me, if I was able to do that, I think that would be a pretty big thing in my story.
Young is doing his part in the community and on the court, but he'll need general manager and president Travis Schlenk to fortify the group with veterans if Young wants to reach the playoffs soon and win a championship down the road.
Michael Scotto is an NBA writer for Bleacher Report and the Associated Press. Seen on NBA TV and YES Network. Heard on ESPN Radio, Sirius XM NBA Radio and WFAN. This is his ninth season covering the NBA. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeAScotto.
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