Ressler feels “incredibly comfortable” with the young core the Hawks have, mentioning Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter by name, along with rookies Bruno Fernando, Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter.
There’s a timeline to when the team should be contending, Ressler said, but at this point in the process, improving on last season’s 29-53 finish would characterize a successful season in his eyes.
“We’ve got to win more games,” Ressler said. “We’ve got to win more games and the young guys have got to be better. We want the young guys to get better. … One thing I’ve learned in the NBA, too, is you don’t go to young players and are like, ‘Do you want to get better?’ These guys all want to be so much better, they’re all working so hard. Got to show it on the court. Generally it shows up on the court when they’re working off the court. It’s not like people aren’t putting in the work, we love what we see.
“But let’s face it, if we don’t win more games this year than we did last year, if people don’t appreciate that we have more talent than they thought we had, if we don’t see progress in some of our younger players, I think we’d all be disappointed, (Pierce) top of the list.”
In the 2014-15 season under Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks won 60 games, but were swept by Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals. They declined over the next few years, culminating in a 24-58 season in 2017-18, in which they missed the playoffs.
The ultimate goal is not just to get back to the playoffs, but to sustain that level of success and truly contend for titles.
“We’re trying to say, hey, let’s take a step back and really build a team that really is built for success for an extended period of time, and you do that most effectively by drafting really good young players and developing them and keeping them, and then sending a message around the NBA, which other franchises are trying to do, and we are emphatically trying to do, which is hey, we’re trying to run a first-tier franchise, with our facilities, with our people, with the way we treat our players, with the way we run the organization, with the money we spend, whatever,” Ressler said.
For this year, though, the goal is to build off last season and continue to trend upward.
“We have a plan,” Ressler said. “We think we’re supposed to get better this season, and we’re supposed to be evidencing clear improvement. And at some point, it’ll go from being good to being a contender. That’s our view, and it shouldn’t take that long.”