Roster continuity, keeping core together ‘huge’ for Hawks

John Collins answers questions during Atlanta Hawks media day Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (Ben@BenGray.com)
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John Collins answers questions during Atlanta Hawks media day Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray/For the AJC

Fresh off a trip to the conference finals, the next step for the Hawks is pretty straightforward, if you ask star guard Trae Young.

“Really, the next step, we went to the Eastern Conference finals, it’s winning a championship and I think for us, we know that,” Young said Monday at Hawks Media Day, ahead of training camp’s start Tuesday. “It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take work and we know that. We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing and just get better. Just a little bit better, each and every one of us, it’ll take us there.”

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Kevin Liles shoots photos of Trae Young for Sports Illustrated during Hawks media day Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray/For the AJC

Kevin Liles shoots photos of Trae Young for Sports Illustrated during Hawks media day Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (Ben@BenGray.com)
Caption
Kevin Liles shoots photos of Trae Young for Sports Illustrated during Hawks media day Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray/For the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray/For the AJC

The Hawks soared in the second half of last season and so much has transformed since the franchise began rebuilding years ago — they went from a 14-20 start last year, and 73-158 record the three years prior, to finishing 41-31 and narrowly missing out on the NBA Finals. From hoping to acquire assets and build for the future to wanting wins right now.

One thing that didn’t change much this offseason, though, is Atlanta’s roster, particularly its core group of players. As the Hawks enter the 2021-22 season with ambition, aiming for home-court advantage in the playoffs (something they narrowly missed out on as the No. 5 seed) or even advancing one step further than they got last year, they do so with plenty of roster continuity.

“It’s great, especially just knowing that guys that we kind of made that turnaround last year, from being down, our record being 14-20, to what it was,” Young said. “The core group of those guys staying back, it’s going to be big for the new guys coming, because we have kind of our identity in the locker room and how we want to move and how we handle things on the court. I think it’s amazing that we have our vets back, (Solomon Hill), Lou (Williams), all those guys, those guys really helped us, and now for the new guys coming in, it’s going to be an easy transition for them. It’s just going to help make our team that much better.”

It’s something the Hawks haven’t had much in recent years, as rebuilding often means many players coming and going rather than staying put. Atlanta’s original “Core Five” group returns: Young and John Collins, with extensions in tow, Kevin Huerter, whose rookie extension talks are ongoing, and third-year players De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish.

Two more guys who have become key pieces for the Hawks also return in Clint Capela (another player extended in the offseason) and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Add veterans Williams and Danilo Gallinari to the mix and you’ve got the Hawks’ top nine scorers from last season, plus another veteran in Hill and second-year center Onyeka Okongwu, who showed ample improvement in the playoffs and is aiming to return from his shoulder injury in December.

As Young mentions, there are some new faces added to the mix, and two who may play a fairly large role: Delon Wright, who could serve in a backup point guard role, and Gorgui Dieng, who will provide depth at center, with Okongwu out for a while. Rookies Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper will have quite the depth chart to climb, but both had good outings at Summer League.

Overall, though, it’s mostly familiar faces. Collins, the longest-tenured Hawk, sees this as an advantage as the Hawks aim to develop even more chemistry during training camp.

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John Collins poses for a photo during Hawks media day Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray/For the AJC

John Collins poses for a photo during Hawks media day Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (Ben@BenGray.com)
Caption
John Collins poses for a photo during Hawks media day Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray/For the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray/For the AJC

“That’s huge,” Collins said. “That’s really big for the team, for guys to come back and have familiar faces, to have chemistry already there, that’s been able to grow, I feel like that’s huge. I feel like we have a group of guys that like each other. The depth of this team is incredible as well, which adds more of a confidence level, that we truly can compete at a high level.”

Returning their core players is valuable, Huerter said, especially after the success this group had last season.

“We finally have some carry-over,” Huerter said. “From one year to the next, we’ve got a similar group of guys that you can try to build upon, and that hasn’t been something we’ve had the past couple years. Obviously the run we had last year, having the same group of guys in the building with the same goal in mind, that’s going to be huge at the start of camp.”

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