LOS ANGELES — The Hawks roster will stay at 14 guaranteed deals after the team chose to keep some of their young talent. The team decided to hold onto Vit Krejci and Tyrese Martin, making their contracts guaranteed for the remainder of the season.
Both Krejci and Martin were on partially guaranteed contracts, and the Hawks had until 5 p.m. ET Saturday to decide if they wanted to pay for the remainder of their deals. With 14 players on the roster, the Hawks have the minimum number of players they can carry during the course of the regular season.
Now, the Hawks cannot take Krejci’s or Martin’s contracts from their total salary unless they include them in a trade.
For Krejci, the move signals the Hawks’ trust and investment in his potential. The team acquired Krejci in September from the Thunder in exchange for Maurice Harkless and draft considerations.
So, the Hawks will pay the remainder of Krejci’s $1.5 million deal. Krejci has two more years on his deal, both of which are non-guaranteed. The final year of his deal includes a team option for the 2024-25 season.
“Yeah, it’s a good feeling,” Krejci said. “You know, I worked really hard to be in this position. And I’m glad that the team trusts me and the coaches and the staff, everybody trusts me. So, I’m really happy for that.”
The 22-year-old had only one practice with the Hawks in Atlanta before the team headed to Abu Dhabi for an exhibition series against the Bucks. In fact, Krejci settled into town only last month when his things from Oklahoma City finally arrived and he settled into the apartment he finally found.
Though Krejci has found a place in Atlanta, he’s still finding his place on the court with the Hawks (18-21).
The team has a number of players ahead of him in the rotation, which has limited his playing time. But he hasn’t let that affect him from being present, and he’s brought an infectious positive attitude with him to the Hawks.
For right now, that’s how he said he helps the team each night, regardless of whether it’s up 10 or down 20. His teammates have noticed.
“It’s really important because it just shows you that that guy is not for self,” Hawks guard Dejounte Murray told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He’s a team guy. (When) he’s not playing, he’s the first one up. He’s the first one talking. So it just explains that he wants to see the team be better and do better.”
In Friday’s loss to the Lakers, like many nights before, Krejci sat on the edge of his seat. If was not sitting, he was standing just close enough to the bench so that he abided by the NBA’s new rule for bench behavior.
“Vit’s one of my closest teammates just from being on the bench and being in the locker room,” Hawks guard Trae Young said. “He’s a young dude, trying to make it in this league. You can tell he’s, he just loves the work and hoop, and I just love his demeanor about him. He just always cheering on the bench. Sometimes you’ll see me and him always standing up on the bench some times, but that’s just how he is. He’s just that type of guy. He’s just a great, great type of guy to be around and a good teammate, too.”
Krejci sometimes becomes so invested in encouraging his teammates that those on the bench jokingly will tell him to sit down so they can watch the game.
“Like when I come out (of the game) and I sit towards the end and from him just cheering and (being) competitive or always there for the team good through bad, I be telling him like, ‘Yo, Vit, sit down’ like he be standing away. I’m like ‘I’m trying to watch the game, too, bro,’” Murray said. “I know that he was cheering or yelling at the team or saying something that he sees. Overall, he’s a great dude, man. Like I say, I can’t wait to just watch his career just grow.”
Despite the limited playing time, Krejci not only has remained positive, but his teammates have noticed his dedication and readiness.
The Hawks have dealt with injuries to their starting unit throughout the season, and they’ve needed Krejci’s presence on the floor. He averaged 14.7 minutes in a four-game stretch when the Hawks were without De’Andre Hunter, John Collins and Young.
“He just has a great spirit about it,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “He works hard. He has fun. All the guys like him, and he’s really positive and brings energy to our bench, and he can play. We think that he can play. It’s just with all the players that we have on the roster, it’s been hard to get him consistent minutes.
“But, he played for us in that Orlando game (Nov. 30) when we lost a couple guys and really helped us. So I like his potential. And I think he’s a guy that the organization should look to keep for the future because I think he can eventually become a rotational player.”
The Hawks often have kept their rotations between eight or nine players, occasionally playing 10 guys when the matchups call for it. But Krejci understands he still has some things to improve in his game. He’s played a total of 47 NBA games and knows that the NBA season is long.
So, he’s committed to working harder because he believes the opportunity will come.
“Even though it’s not ideal position, I’m still in the (NBA),” Krejci said. “I’m still living my dream. So I feel like me being negative and being sad about it, angry about it, if I look back at my 10-year-old self, I would be, you know, super happy to be in this position. So I just wanted to stay positive (and) enjoy the ride, enjoy, every moment. So yeah, that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com