Kent Bazemore is about to get a big birthday present.
Make that a really big birthday present.
The Hawks starting small forward becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the day he turns 27 years old and the start of the NBA free agency period. Bazemore has come a long way since the Hawks took a chance on a young player with upside and signed him to a two-year, $4 million contract in 2014. Simply put, Bazemore is about to a significant raise, perhaps more than the $15 million annual salary DeMarre Carroll got when he left the Hawks last summer.
Bazemore is about to write the next chapter of his NBA career in a book that has seen him go from undrafted, to the development league, to a role player to starter all in just four seasons.
Both Bazemore and the Hawks have said the preference is for him remain in Atlanta.
“I would love to return here,” Bazemore said following the season. “I think the past two years I’ve taken a tremendous leap. Not only my professional year but personally. I’m growing more into myself and figuring out life. This place has a special place in my heart.”
However, there will be plenty of suitors. As many as 15 teams have requested meetings with Bazemore.
“He prefers the Hawks because they took a chance on him,” said Austin Walton, Bazemore’s Atlanta-based agent. “Before he really had an opportunity in the NBA, they saw something in him. They gave him an opportunity and he’s had a chance to flourish here. He really likes coach Bud and the front office. He likes his teammates. And he has really made it a home. He’s gravitated to the city and the fans. He’d like to stay here if possible. Hopefully, Atlanta wants him here.”
Walton declined to name the teams that have requested a meeting with Bazemore.
Bazemore indeed has a connection with the city. He quickly became a fan favorite and he will host three charity events to benefit his ARMS Foundation in Atlanta in August.
Three factors are important to Bazemore – a winning franchise, his role in the direction of the organization and the means to offer an appropriate contract.
Bazemore, who got engaged this summer, completed a career year as a first-time starter last season. He started 68 of 75 games and had career-bests with 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
There remains plenty of room for growth. In his four NBA seasons, Bazemore has played 4,585 minutes. As a comparison, the Rockets’ James Harden played 3,125 minutes last season and the Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins has played 5,814 minutes in his two seasons.
The Hawks put an emphasis on player development and Bazemore flourished in the program. He overcame a foot injury in his first season with the team and completely rebuilt is jump shot. He made 109 3-pointers last season, eight more than he made in his three previous seasons combined. Bazemore also fits the Hawks’ bill as a long, athletic wing player with strong defensive ability.
“The system really works for him and they’ve done a lot with him through a skill development standpoint,” Walton said. “Kent feels, and I feel, there is a lot more growth in him. The culture that Atlanta has cultivated of putting a heavy emphasis on skill development really helped maximize his ability. They are one of the few teams that really puts a huge development on skill development.”
The Hawks have put in place practices to managing player minutes, in games and practices, and ensure proper nutrition. The team’s partnership with Emory Healthcare will be another factor in prolonging a player’s career.
The Hawks drafted two wings in the first round of last week’s draft. However, general manager Wes Wilcox insisted re-signing Bazemore is a team priority.
“I will say Kent Bazemore is absolutely a Hawks priority,” Wilcox said following the completion of the draft. “We love Kent. He is a huge part of what we do. I don’t think there should be any confusion as to how important Kent is to us.”