Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer smiles as he speaks to center Pero Antic (6) during a game earlier this season. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: Hyosub Shin
Photo: Hyosub Shin

Antic wants to re-sign with Hawks

Make no mistake.

The Macedonian is in the final season of the two-year contract he signed with the Hawks in 2013. The center left Europe for a rookie season in the NBA at the age of 31. Now, he’d like to stay beyond that original deal.

“From your mouth to God’s ears, we say,” Antic said when asked if he would like to return to the Hawks. “I love it. I love the guys. I love everything. I couldn’t be happier to come. The coaching staff, to be so similar to Europe, to be so understanding of the players, rarely you can find that.”

The feeling is mutual. When Hawks management plans for next season, nearly every scenario includes Antic. The versatility of the 6-foot-11, 265-pound center has played a key role in the Hawks’ system under head coach Mike Budenholzer. The coach raves about Antic’s ability to stretch the floor from the center position. Yet, he’d rather talk about his defense, basketball IQ and leadership.

The summer and such roster decisions are well down the road.

“He’s a good part of our core, our substance, our locker room,” Budenholzer said. “Then, the way he plays on the court, I think he’s done a ton to be somebody you want to be a part of your team going forward.

“The summer and free agency is a ways off but we love him.”

Antic signed a two-year, $2.45 million contract. The Hawks picked up his team option of $1.25 million this summer. Antic was selected to the Rising Stars Challenge, the rookie-sophomore exhibition, at last year’s All-Star Game. He finished his first NBA season appearing in 50 games and averaging 7.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 18.5 minutes. He shot .418 from the field, including .327 from 3-point range.

Antic has struggled with his shot this season. In 48 games, he is averaging 5.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 16.1 minutes. He is shooting .346 from the field, including .278 from 3-point range. Budenholzer would rather dwell everything else Antic brings to the Hawks.

Antic has been limited by an ankle injury this season. He returned from a two-game absence Wednesday against the Nuggets after spraining his left ankle. Antic played 20 minutes as the Hawks trailed by as many as 34 points in the loss. He finished with six points and three rebounds. The Hawks continue their six-game western road trip Friday at the Suns. The 50-14 Hawks have already clinched a playoff berth and are closing in on the Southeast Division title and No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The well-tattooed Antic said he has felt support from his teammate, coaches and Hawks fans while in Atlanta. He is cheered by Macedonia flag-waving supporters in cities across the NBA. Some new ink may be on the way. Antic recently pointed out tattoos he has from teams he played for in Greece and Serbia “where I had the biggest successes of my career.”

The NBA experience has been better.

“This is at the top of my career,” Antic said. “I just love it.”

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