Hawks’ Travis Schlenk on fan excitement, training camp, new players’ roles

062521 Milwaukee: Atlanta Hawks general manager & president Travis Schlenk (left) and owner Tony Ressler take in the scene as Hawks star Trae Young takes the court for warmups before playing the Milwaukee Bucks in game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals on Friday, June 25, 2021, in Milwaukee.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

062521 Milwaukee: Atlanta Hawks general manager & president Travis Schlenk (left) and owner Tony Ressler take in the scene as Hawks star Trae Young takes the court for warmups before playing the Milwaukee Bucks in game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals on Friday, June 25, 2021, in Milwaukee. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Expectations will no doubt be high for the Hawks as they enter the 2021-22 season coming off a thrilling playoff run last season.

And, although it’s unrealistic to expect one team, even a good team, to make the NBA Finals or conference finals every season, the Hawks hope to build on what they did last season and keep up the excitement in Atlanta surrounding the team, general manager Travis Schlenk said ahead of training camp’s Tuesday start.

This offseason, the Hawks added some new players who are expected to fill bigger roles (Delon Wright at backup point guard and providing depth in the backcourt, Gorgui Dieng doing the same at center and the frontcourt), and they’re looking to see their young core pieces continue to develop.

Schlenk spoke to the media Friday and addressed several topics about the coming season. A few highlights: The Hawks will be 100% vaccinated this season, so they won’t have to worry about different levels of COVID-19 protocols for different players. They’re still negotiating a potential extension for wing Kevin Huerter, whose game blossomed toward the end of last season, and hope to get something done.

De’Andre Hunter, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Huerter will not be full participants in camp to start, but the Hawks expect them to be ready to go by the regular season, and that’s the hope for Clint Capela, as well.

Here’s Schlenk on the city embracing the Hawks, reasonable expectations for the season and what he expects from new players, including rookies Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper:

… On if fan expectations being high are a good thing:

“First of all, the fact that the fans are excited is a positive. We want the fan base to be excited about that. Unfortunately in this business, there’s only two outcomes at the end of the day: You either exceed expectations or you underachieve. That’s the reality. There are going to be some years where we underachieve, and there are going to be some years where we overachieve. We hope we overachieve more than we underachieve, but those are the two outcomes of the season. What we saw last year from the community and the city of Atlanta and the support we got from them, especially in the second half of the season, it’s our job as an organization to keep that going and to keep that interest. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that, whether we get to the Eastern Conference finals or the second round. Hopefully we can keep that excitement in the community.”

… On if it’s a trip to the NBA Finals this season or disappointment:

“No, that’s certainly not (the case). Listen, it’s really hard to get to the NBA Finals. Obviously, one team can’t get there every year. For us, this year, the expectations, and I think I said this in the summer at least to a few of you, going into this season, we obviously want to be very competitive and build off last year, but I think you’re living in a little bit of a fantasy world if you think you’re going to the Eastern Conference finals or (NBA) Finals every year, even if you are a very good team. So for us, our goal is to be back in the playoffs, hopefully have homecourt advantage this time around in the playoffs, and once we get there, whether or not we have homecourt or not, to go out there and make some noise like we did last year.

“For us, we’re still a young team. Obviously we’ve sprinkled in some veterans the last couple years, and we feel good about our team, but you have to get some breaks in the playoffs. Last year, as I’ve said before, we got Philly with Joel (Embiid on one leg), so that was helpful. In 2015 when I was still with Golden State, the first time we won it, I think we played teams that were missing players, and people said we got lucky, but that’s fine. We won a championship getting lucky, and you need to get lucky.”

… On how he sees offseason acquisitions Wright and Dieng fitting in:

“One of the things we’ve been trying to address in a lot of different ways over the past few years is backup point guard, and it’s something we really wanted to focus in on this year, and we feel really good about Delon. Obviously at 6-foot-5, he’s got the size to be able to play on and off the ball. He’s got a very high basketball IQ. Good defensive player. One of the knocks on him coming into the league was his shooting, but he’s turned into a very reliable 3-point shooter, so we’re excited to add him. Gorgui, with (center Onyeka Okongwu) being out the first three or four months, we wanted to go out and get a solid backup. He brings a little bit of the stuff that Dewayne (Dedmon) used to bring to us, Gorgui has turned himself into a reliable, especially from the corner, 3-point shooter. He’s a very good passer. So we’re excited to bring him in as well.”

... On what he wants the team to accomplish in training camp:

“We’ve got a couple new guys that are going to be playing pretty big roles on our team with Delon and Gorgui, so getting those guys acclimated with our group, and then I’m excited about our young guys (in rookies Johnson and Cooper). We feel good about the two young guys we have and to be able to see those guys play NBA minutes is going to be exciting over these four preseason games we’ll have.”

... On his thoughts on the four guys they’ve signed to camp deals:

“A couple of them are guys that we’ve signed to Exhibit 10 deals that will play in College Park (for the Skyhawks, the Hawks’ G League affiliate). The way the system works, you have to bring them to camp for a certain number of days to have their rights in College Park. So, A.J. (Lawson), a player out of South Carolina, a very energetic defensive player, he’s one of them, and then (Johnny) Hamilton, again that’s another guy that signed an Exhibit 10 with us, who will be down in College Park playing with us. He’s an athletic big guy. And then the two guys that we’ve signed to come in and kind of compete for the 15th spot, Timothe (Luwawu-Cabarrot), he’s actually dealing with some visa stuff.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll get him in the first part of next week, but he’s currently still in France as we work to get his visa to come to the States. … (Jahlil) Okafor has been here for the past 10 days or so working out with the guys. He’s in great shape, so we’ll give him an opportunity to compete for that spot, as well. We will probably about halfway through camp waive a couple guys and sign a couple more guys to Exhibit 10s, so you’ll see some roster moves between now and then, and again, that’s just based on the limited number of spots we have and what we have to do to get guys’ rights for College Park.”

... On if too much roster depth is an issue:

“Well, not for my job. It might be for coach (Nate McMillan’s) job. Last year, guys gave up their personal stats for team success. Obviously, most notably, Trae (Young) and John (Collins). All of our guys here want to win. They want to get to the top of the mountain. I think what they saw last year is we do have a deep team and a bunch of guys who can step up any given night and get 20, 25 points. Our guys relish that. When guys are on the bench, they’re up cheering for their teammates.

“I think our guys have that team-first, we mentality. When you have that sort of chemistry, you don’t run into those issues where guys are upset they’re not getting the minutes they want or the shots they want. We have veteran guys that understand that there’s younger guys earlier in their career and they accept those roles, like (Danilo Gallinari) did coming into this situation where he went from a starter to a bench role. It’s a special thing when guys buy into that. It really makes the season fun.”

... On if this team is the vision he had when taking over as GM:

“You guys have heard this since my (introductory) press conference to now, we want to play an exciting brand of basketball. We want to have high-character individuals. We want to have, in an ideal world, four or five guys on the floor who can all dribble, pass and shoot. I said a few times, too, that the ideal team would be to have a bunch of 6-foot-9 guys out there, versatility, and we’re clearly not going to have that with a 6-foot point guard (Young) who’s going to be on the floor.

“You look at Jalen, who we drafted this year, 6-foot-9 with perimeter skills. He’s shown a lot of flashes out here in the pickup games and was obviously very good in Summer League. The more guys we can add like that, that’s, in a nutshell, my vision. To be able to have that versatility and have guys who can switch and play inside or outside, that’s when you become difficult to guard in the NBA when you have multiple guys who can create for themselves or create for others.”