LAS VEGAS -- If Jeff Teague ever forgot his place with the Hawks last season there were reminders everywhere.
Former coach Mike Woodson almost always called Teague “Rook” -- and so did his teammates. Teague was last in the Hawks' pecking order of guards, behind veterans Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford. He was an afterthought during the playoffs.
Those days are over. The Hawks' entry in the Las Vegas Summer League this week is Teague's team, and though he still will be the youngster among Hawks regulars next season, he no longer will be expected to take a back seat to the veterans.
In fact, the Hawks need the opposite to happen. Teague will get a chance to displace Bibby as the starter at point guard, and that's not going to happen as long as Teague is still acting like “Rook.”
“I don't want him to feel like he is being overpowered by veteran guys,” said Hawks coach Larry Drew, who played point guard for 10 NBA seasons. “Being a point guard, there is a level of responsibility that you have to display. You can't be afraid to step on a toe when you are doing your job.”
That's why the summer league is a good opportunity for Teague, the Hawks' first-round draft pick in 2009. He's the most accomplished NBA player on this roster.
Teague was in control during the Hawks' 89-85 loss to Memphis on Monday night. Guiding a team with other Hawks draftees and unsigned free agents, Teague slithered through the Memphis defense for 16 points and helped spark a late rally against an opponent that started five NBA players.
“This is just the first part,” Teague said. “I've got to keep working later on because it's bigger than this. I have to go back and play with some guys who have been playing for a long time.”
It won't be easy for Teague, both because of his personality and how his rookie season played out.
Teague generally is a quiet person with what Hawks assistant coach Lester Conner describes as a “laid-back, cool mentality.” NBA rookies generally are expected to take their teammates' ribbing in stride, and Teague had no problems doing so because of his nature.
Next season his relationship with teammates will have to change as he takes on more responsibility at the key position on the floor. Though Bibby's physical skills diminished last season, his ability to settle the team and organize things was important.
Teague will try to grow into that role after an up-and-down rookie season. Woodson was trying to push the Hawks past the second round of the playoffs, and a bigger role for his rookie guard didn't fit into those plans.
Teague acknowledges being impatient at times, particularly when strong outings were followed by long stretches on the bench. But he said he learned about the NBA game and “the rigors of the road” while waiting for his chance.
Woodson planned to give Teague a chance to supplant Bibby, and that hasn't changed now that Drew is the coach. Teague said Bibby told him he would push Teague, but wouldn't be upset if he took his starting spot.
“At the end of the year he came up to me and was like: ‘Young fella, I'm getting older. I asked them to play you [more] last year, but this year it's your opportunity.'"
Drew has gone out of his way to express confidence in Teague's ability and appears willing to be patient with him. But if Teague can't get it done and Bibby isn't the answer, either, the Hawks would have to find another option.
More responsibility comes with no longer being “Rook.”
“It's a business,” Teague said. “It's either now or never. You have to play. Every time you step on the floor, you have to impress someone. That's how I looked at it every day I played my rookie year, and that's how I look at it now.”
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