Q&A: Landry Fields, Kyle Korver on building championship-caliber team

Hawks guard Dejounte Murray holds his No. 5 jersey with general manager Landry Fields during Murray’s introductory news conference July 1 at the Emory Sports Medicine Complex in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Hawks guard Dejounte Murray holds his No. 5 jersey with general manager Landry Fields during Murray’s introductory news conference July 1 at the Emory Sports Medicine Complex in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

The Hawks have transitioned into a new era in the front office.

In December, president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk stepped down and general manager Landry Fields assumed those duties. Then last Friday, the team began finalizing a deal with director of player affairs/development Kyle Korver to become assistant general manager.

With the team entering a new chapter, Fields and Korver are committed to building a long-lasting championship-caliber team.

Fields and Korver sat down with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. Here is the complete interview:

Q: So a lot has happened over the last couple of weeks, with Travis Schlenk stepping down, Kyle’s promotion. Just where do you guys stand with everything? And how excited are you guys to move forward?

LF: Yeah, it’s I mean, with any transition, there’s hard times because it’s just transition and change, for sure. But looking forward, we’re very excited about the future. And Kyle, having him as my right hand man is something that, I think from the first day we had coffee together, I didn’t know him that well, we obviously played against each other. But, early this season before we hired him in his former role, there was something there that I was very intrigued by and was very positive and shared vision, shared alignment on values. So, I knew if there were to be a point where we had a future together, we would work out very well. So extremely excited about that, for sure.

KK: So, last year, our older boys played against each other in soccer in the P(eachtree) R(oad) U(nited) M(ethodist) C(hurch) league. And I saw Landry on the other side of the field, and I’m like, ‘We should know each other. We should we should get together.’ And so we went and had coffee the next week. And he said, ‘there’s some times when you know that there’s a there’s a chemistry between people.’ And I think as we were both sharing what we care about in basketball, development, we care about in life, we care about things in a very similar way. The things that we’re passionate about, that I’m passionate he’s very passionate about it felt like, hmmm I hope something works out here, this was in the very beginning, the future. Man, it’d be really cool to have. You know (when) you get into basketball and leadership in any way, you can have the most amazing vision you want. But you need to have partners. Partners matter, a lot. And I think we’re really excited about teaming together and building an organization and a brand that Atlanta can be proud of. And that’s exciting to watch.

Q: You guys mentioned, partners. Obviously, there’s been the shift with Travis stepping back. From your perspective, kind of what went into that decision to move away from what he envisioned and in another direction?

LF: Yeah, it’s not even necessarily like we’re moving away from what he envisioned. I think what we wanted to really hammer home was defining, what does that mean, clearly, for everyone, so that if I walk in this part of the building, and in that one, everyone understands the vision, which we boil down to just a few simple words of like being a championship-caliber franchise. And the way I’ve described that with people because the vision isn’t necessarily to win a championship, like that’s an objective. That’s a long term goal. When we talk about like ‘caliber,’ we’re talking about like the DNA of who we want to be something that impacts everyone from the players to the staff. And then hopefully, it kind of as Kyle mentioned, making Atlanta proud of. So it’s a community thing as well. Like there’s a reputation to it that in time, it’s aspirational right now, it’s here not yet in a sense, and that’s something that we want to continue to hammer away at in time. And so hopefully in one year, two year, three year, five years, we embody more and more of that. So, that’s always been what has been about, it’s just how we take what has been define it so moving forward, we kind of have our guardrails.

KK: Yeah, I don’t think it’s like, there’s new leadership and we’re scrapping an old vision by any means. I think if you go to any healthy culture, there’s certain things that everyone cares about. But you put an emphasis on different things, different people put it on different things. And I think for us, relationships and development are going to slide toward the top of what we really care about. And yeah, we’re not trying to scrap something, there’s a lot of really good pieces in place, a lot of really talented basketball players, there’s a lot of good coaches, there’s a lot of healthy things, it’s just there might be a little reshuffling of some stuff, right? There’s gonna be things that were emphasized maybe a little are gonna be emphasized more now. And other things that we’re excited about.

LF: And to add to that, just because, we want to make sure like we’re honoring what has been, what will be, its, you know, with Travis here we’ve nailed on like character and unity and development. Kyle talks about developing relationships, but if you take relationships and kind of boil it down to two other things like high character individuals who are, emotionally intelligent or growing in their emotional intelligence. And then unity is about Kyle’s role, my role, players role, everyone’s individual role unifying for the common goal. And like if you get that unity and that collaboration and that spirit that we’re after, on our day-to-day process, that’s going to be where we emphasize the value of relationships and continuously growing into the best version of ourselves. And that’s development.

KK: 100%.

Q: Part of unity is also as you guys mentioned, a couple of times defining roles, right. So as far as defining roles, how much I’m getting. Nick (Ressler), and then Tony (Ressler), how much weight do their voices have in the room? And who has the final say?

LF: Yes, so Tony is our owner. And Tony is a fantastic owner, we are unbelievably resourced in this place. And he empowers us to do our jobs in a way that we feel as authentic to us, but also honoring to his and Jamie’s vision moving forward. As far as Nick, Nick is a part of our day to day process, like he’s a voice in the room, that we value, both of us doing that whole group, what we’re trying to come to a decision on anything from the players in the room to just how we’re operating as a group. And like for me personally, as the decision maker to answer that question. I love diverse thought. We have a mantra that’s it’s, it’s called conflict and commit.’ I want to sit at a table with people with different perspectives that come from different backgrounds because, the way you see the world is not how I see the world, and want to hear your perspective and aggregate that with mine to get a clearer picture of what we’re trying to do moving forward. And Nick, he’s a part of that. He is a voice. He’s been here five years, now. he’s seen a lot of different things. He does a lot of stuff with our business side as well. But in terms of like basketball operations, he’s going to be a part of the room and we welcome that and we embrace what he brings to the table.

Q: So part of what has been put out there is that there was disagreement as far as the Dejounte Murray trade. I wanted to get your take on what happened there and if that is true, if that kind of sparked the split?

LF: Here’s what absolutely has to be said and understood is that Dejounte Murray is a huge part of what we did. Everything we did to get him, I would do 10 times out of 10 for what we’re trying to build from everything that we’ve talked about, from the vision to the day-in-day process of our development, to how guys interact with one another. Dejounte’s a huge piece of that moving forward. And as far as how that whole process went, to me, it’s simply about when we get to a room, not everyone is always going to agree with things. Like that’s the beauty of it to me. And if we were we’d live in an echo chamber confirmation bias, and all of a sudden, we have group think entering the picture. There’s going to be situations where people disagree on how we should do certain things, or what we should be going after, or what we should be giving up. And that’s all part of the process. But at the end of the day, we got Dejounte Murray, who was an All-Star, who had a fantastic role in San Antonio that we wanted to bring out of that and incorporate more and more into what we’re doing here with the Hawks.

Q: So there’s no buyer’s remorse

LF: There is zero regret.

KK: There’s only so many players in the NBA that 30 out of 30 teams would say that is someone you build with. There’s only, 30 out of 30 would say that is the guy that we build with and Dejounte is one of them. Those guys, the reality is those guys cost, right. Now we can debate the cost but at the end of the day, we are so glad that he is here because he embodies, not just how, he plays on the court, but who he is as a person, everything that we’re trying to do. He is everything that we’re trying to do. To me this isn’t, I mean, I know we’re talking about this because it may be caused a rift before but as far as how we value Dejounte, we are so glad that he’s here. And he’s going to be a huge part of what we do.

Q: I think a lot of people are excited for what he’s been able to bring. And we’ve seen flashes of how well he and Trae (Young) can work together. But the record is 21-22. Where do you guys see them taking that next step to get you guys on the right path to being not just a play-in team, but potentially a playoff team?

KK: A big part of this role is getting the right pieces into the locker room. The second part is how do we develop them? What does that vision for how they work together and how we’re being intentional with their growth, right, as an individual as a backcourt, and that’s something that we really care about going forward. And we’re gonna try to level up and our intentionality of how we do that. The reality is these things take some time. But I think we feel really good, really excited about what’s coming.

LF: To go along with that, people will look at Dejounte and Trae, and they look at our record and go like, Oh, it’s not working, but they’re missing the one word which is ‘yet.’ Like, it’s not working yet. In fact, there’s moments where it great flashes of ‘Oh, like, that looks beautiful.’ The last Toronto game, I thought that those guys were terrific with one another. And for us, our job is not about having it perfectly, tidy in a box from the start. It’s like, ‘Okay, put it out there, get the feedback loops going, where are some areas (of imporvement)’ as Kyle was mentioning, just to ‘okay, we can pick here, we can nudge here, to try to get it in line with our ultimate vision.’ And those guys like they’re coming from systems and ways from last year where, yeah, there was going to be some rockiness. I’ve been on the record saying, it’s going to take some time, because those guys just have a skill set that has some similarities, but also some differences. And they’re going to have to work together on figuring out what’s going to be their best pathway forward. It is our job to make sure that we’re implementing our voices into that, partnering with them. I’ll say, ‘here’s where it’s great. Here’s where I need some work. Let’s refine it a little bit moving forward, so that we can ultimately get where we’re trying to go.’ But so excited to have both of those guys. I mean, they’re working and they’re getting better.

Q: So I guess they’re the pieces that you guys continue to build this roster around going forward?

LF: Yes, it is. But we there’s a certain type, like there’s a ‘Hawk’ that we’ve looked at. Like, guys, when it comes from their mind, to their bodies to their heart, like those are the three factors and you can kind of take those down and get much more granular, but there is a certain ‘Hawksness’ to that those guys have that they’re going to continue to grow in as well. So we want to surround them, of course, with complementary skill sets, but also that DNA that we’re trying to find, so not giving you too much detail looking for. It is something where it’s part of the skill set and how it functions on a court, but also just that type of person that we have in our building day in and day out.

KK: Yeah, I mean, part of the challenge of every team is to find dynamic players. They’re both dynamic players. They’re both awesome in their skill set, and what they bring to the table. It’s our job to continue to develop with them, develop around them. And then we keep making decisions.

Q: And as far as the start of finding some of those players trade deadline is couple of weeks away. How do you guys anticipate using that to kind of kick start finding those complementary players?

LF: Well, we want to get healthy first. We’ve had some bouts with injury, as all teams do. So I’m not making excuses. I’m just saying, you kind of look at the previous question and say, ‘Oh, it’s not working.’ It’s like, ‘okay, not yet.’ And part of the ‘not yet’ is because we need to get healthy. Like we need to see guys, and actually, we haven’t had a great sample size, really judge what is just yet. So as we’re approaching the deadline, you know,we’re not gonna make any rash decisions at all. It’s going to be all about looking at pieces and players that fit for us long term, as we define what it means to be a ‘Hawk’ using that as the filter moving forward. And there’s like, you look out there and not everyone is a ‘Hawk’ people may see a guy that’s available and go ‘well why aren’t the Hawks doing that?’ and it’s like, ‘well, he might not be a Hawks fit.’ And like that’s the process and the filtering that we’re going to do going forward. Because it’s not just about this season, it’s about sustainability moving forward, and you have to have alignment with guys and their values and their skill sets and who they are.

Q: So what would you list as the defining characteristics of what a Hawk is?

LF: When we talk about developments in relationships, super broad terms. For us, there’s an ability that you have to have to transform yourself and the KPIs that we look for are a great deal of the emotional intelligence that we’re talking about. Like there is EQ skill that has gone into it. So if you do not have a lot of humility to you, you cannot develop, like there’s there’s no you can’t change what you can’t see it. If you can’t be honest with yourself about ‘here’s where I’m at,’ you can’t ultimately move past it because I can’t see it. And for guys, we want to have a level of self awareness. We want to build self awareness and guys, and make sure that they’re able to continue to work, which is another part of it, toward the best version of themselves. So that’s a huge factor when it comes to being a Hawk. As far as the relationship like the character, there’s EQ in that as well. And just your ability to partner with one another toward that common goal. And that takes a great deal of work. The NBA is filled with unbelievable talent. But it doesn’t always match from a personality standpoint. So if we get those two things, right, we find great talent guys that have size, positional versatility, like Hawk pick to us.

KK: I think we talk a lot about, being a player-first organization and what that means, right? We want when you walk in the building, we don’t want to tell you what to do. I want you to tell me who you want to be. And we’re going to develop the most amazing plans around you, your development, and how you can be the best version of yourself. We want you to lead this. We want and need to continue to find players who can hold that responsibility. Because there’s responsibility that comes with that empowerment. So I think as we go forward, we’re evaluating a lot of things, all the things (Landry) said. But like, I also want to find people who love the game. Today’s world, basketball can give you a lot. And this is one of the constant battles that everyone is like, ‘man, like, there’s so much. If I do a good job, the game will give me that.’ Right. And you acknowledge that because it’s real. Right? But it’s also like, ‘what can I give the game? How are we loving this game? What is our relationship with the game?’ And I think if we find players who all the things that Landry said, but also like, love the game, want to work, want to maximize this career opportunity ‘that I have to the best of my ability’, like those kinds of guys, how are we continuing to fill our locker room and our culture with those types of people, not just in the locker room, on the coaching staff, in the front office, in all the spaces -- people who love the game, who wants to grow, who wants to develop, and then ultimately be our job to help everyone do that. That’s what we’re supposed to do.

LF: Being player friendly, as Kyle said, is extremely important. But that comes with the professionalism as well. Player-friendly is awesome, we’re going to resource guys as best we can. We’re going to do things that are showing support for not just them, but their families as well. And it’s not just about being player-friendly, for us. It’s about being staff-friendly. It’s about holding the development line, not just for players, but our staff as well. We don’t want just this group here to stagnate and not move and plateau. It’s like how are you developing so that you are always above what our radical minimum standard is going to be. So for those guys, understanding that we’re going to be player-friendly, we’re gonna support you. But we need to also be able to challenge you and hold you accountable, make sure that you’re responsible for your craft at the end of the day, and if you get those two things, right, like those are the two key components to moving towards that development that we’re talking about.

Q: So how how do you guys plan to hold players accountable? You hear things about stuff that spills out of the locker room, conflict. We heard about what happened with Nate and Trae and so just how do you guys plan to make sure that you’re not only holding coaching staff accountable, but also players accountable?

LF: There’s a lot of different ways to do it. Like you can do the whole approach about like retribution, and tit for tat. And so you broke this rule, you get fined. For us, relationship being one of our key values, yeah you can fine guys all day long. But like, ultimately, you want to go to a person and enter into what I call healthy conflict, and say, like, ‘Hey, this is what’s happened. This is the relationship that’s gotten fractured for that. We want to help you restore that relationship.’ But I don’t want to say, ‘hey, go, apologize.’ Let me help you right now understand that it’s all connected. Everything you do, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s going to impact every single person on this roster, in this building. So when you do something that goes against any relationship, healthy relationship, you’re going to have to do some restoration. And in that process, like it’s not an easy process to do, like that’s, that’s just sometimes harder than just to fine, nobody knows about this money that goes to the organization and then like, voila it’s gone. It’s like, no, this is a growth opportunity for you. Because at the end of the day, relationships are going to be crucial for the long term sustainability of where we’re trying to get to if we want to be a championship team, like those teams are always in lock and step with one another. And when things do happen, there is conflict that’s unresolved. It starts to fracture. So for Kyle and I, it’s key for us to see it to go right at it right away, not try to shame the person, but also like talk with him, like, ‘hey, we all make mistakes, we all have moments that breaks relationships with other people. So you do need to do this, but we’re going to support you and help you in that process,’ because it’s a hard process. But we believe like, that’s very important for us going forward.

KK: Landry said it, but relationships are so key to this. It’s very easy for everyone to just be analyzing and criticizing the players. It’s very, very easy. It’s very easy, even from a coaching staff and front office side to just analyze and criticize and try to hold the line. And, I played on a bunch of different teams, and the feeling that you have, when the relationships are real, and that they’re constant and there is dialogue that’s always happening and you feel a part of the process, that helps shape a culture and shift to culture. And so the stuff that we are hopeful for, it can’t be done, like (that). There’s certain things that we’re implementing, that will go into effect, they already have gone into effect, there will be changes for us. But the culture takes a bit of time to develop, right? And it takes a lot of people to buy into the vision. And so, I think we are creating our vision. We are setting some things down. But this is ultimately going to take time to have the full culture, we’re going to have to eventually

Q: Touching on a relationship really quickly, it is out there that Trae and Nick are pretty close. So, what parameters do you guys have in place to, you know, him not jumping the line and maybe going to Nick if something is not what he wants or likes or anything like that?

LF: Yeah. I think that’s an unfair characterization of both Trae and Nick. Like they have a relationship, in the same way that I have a relationshipj with Trae. And to all of a sudden, bring that to a place where they’re working behind the scenes, and the real, you know, Puppet Masters on things is so unfair to both of them, and I feel for them. Like it’s a hit to their character and their reputation. And honestly, I mourn that a little bit for them. And it’s not fair. And so I think, the question that you asked, it’s a good question, but like, that has to be cleared up first. And hopefully, in what I said, it actually answers the question. It’s just not the type relationship they have, nor the experience that we have. It’s just not fair. It’s not fair. And it’s not real. And it’s just not the truth.

KK: Yeah, just to add on to that, like, everything that’s come out in the last couple of weeks, we read. And we hear. And we’re sitting in. And we’re going to learn and grow from everything. And even, you know, whether it’s true or not, we’re going to try to learn from it. But there are holes in some of the articles and some of the reporting. And this is one of them. It’s just some things just are not true. And so, like Landry just said, that needs to be acknowledged.

Q: So with your vision taking time, obviously, you never want to put a definitive timeline on on things, but how long do you anticipate it taking?

KK: There’s certain things that we can change right now. Right? And I think the first and most important thing we can do is how do we be intentional with everyone’s development. And we have put new guidelines in place, and we’re going to keep getting better at this process. But there’s a lot of ways to make a team better. You can hire people, you can fire people, you can trade people, you can draft people, but the best thing you can always do is develop people. And so our focus right now is how and for the rest of the season how can we make this team be better? How can we make each individual person be better? How can we help each coach and each person, front office member be better today and be better tomorrow? How can we be intentional with that? And so that’s, that’s where you start. And I think, timelines we’ll have goals of where we want to be in one year and three year and five years and all these things. It’s all played out. But what we can control is today. How do we help every single person do better today, and those are the shifts that we’re making right now.

LF: And it starts with a diagnosis about where every person is at on their developmental journey. Like for our players, it’s about their hero’s journey. We want to surround them with somebody, like if you think of it in a development plan, where you have somebody that’s right where you’re at. So you’re kind of in the trenches with them, you always want to have a partner in foxholes and then as you’re going through things, it’s just nice. That’s why it’s beautiful to have Kyle with me as we’re going in. We’re in this transition, we’re projecting exactly the future. To do it alone, creates a separateness that just honestly would not be great for our franchise. Like, we’re going to need partners in this whole thing. So how do we partner guys together at the right stages? And as they continue to move forward, as we have people coming in the door, how do we put them as sort of like mentorship towards them? So what they’ve been given, they’re passing along. So you have somebody besides you, you have somebody behind you. But ultimately, we want to have somebody that’s beyond them. Like if you have that guide, as they’re on their journey, and you kind of get all three of those things, right, like, that’s the development process. And it does take time, because it depends on where you’re at and how guys are experiencing certain things and things that they’re bringing to the table. And there’s just, there’s not probably enough emphasis given to the psychology of where every individual is at as they enter an NBA organization. And so we have to be smart on understanding, ‘okay, this is where they’re at.’ And that’s beautiful. If we can truly diagnose that and understand like, this is it right here, it helps provide a pathway going forward. And it takes time. And as Kyle said, you know, we’re always gonna have the one-year, three-year, five-year objectives. And a lot of that stuff is like, we wouldn’t set it as an objective, if we didn’t think we can attain it. But all in all, like guys, we need, we need buy in partnership, and it just takes time.

Q: So Kyle, I’m curious if you plan to replace your old position that was newly created so that you can kind of still have that, development pipeline?

KK: I’m gonna keep living in a space.

LF: That’s Kyle’s superpower.

KK: That’s what I care about. I think a lot of my lenses for this work is just, what do I wish would have been in place when I played? So everything comes back to the player and helping the player be the best version of themselves. And I think, going back on my experiences of playing different teams and different players, you know, how are we helping everyone be the best version of themselves? This is what I care about and what we’re gonna do,

Q: How do you hope to kind of round out the staff to support you? And in that goal?

KK: Yeah, I’ll keep evolving.

Q: And part of the vision going forward, of course, is who’s going to be the guy that’s leading the head of the snake in terms of on-the-court stuff. How you guys have started talking with maybe agents or anything about about your plans for the future and the direction that you guys are hoping to go and coaching staff?

LF: We’ve got half a season. That’s a lot of basketball. There’s been transition. There’s been stories that come out. There’s been so much investment that we have to have today to think about beyond this season. It’s not just like Nate, it’s with a lot of different people. For us, like how are we think about ourselves going forward? To start to live into that space without honoring this space would be unfair for everyone involved -- Nate, myself, Kyle included -- like, that’s somewhere. We believe in Nate right now. He’s for us. He’s trying to do things in this whole transition of leadership that are hard. They’re hard for everyone. So having this partnership right now for the objectives that we have for this continued season is our only focus.

Q: So agents haven’t been told he’s not going to be back next year?

LF: I have not told any agents.

KK: Nate just won his 750th game. Who Nate is, what his reputation is, if you anyone in the NBA, is that he is steady, and that he’s not easily flattered. And that he’s a good man. And he’s a good coach. We want that. We are here to support Nate, and support his staff, and to help them be the best versions of themselves the whole rest of the season, right. I’m gonna be evaluated at the end of this season. Nate’s gonna evaluate himself at the end of the season. Everyone (is), this is the NBA. But we believe in Nate. And we believe he is the man for the job, right now. 100%.

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