Dennis Schroder knew a trade was coming.
The point guard spoke to new coach Lloyd Pierce and others upon his return to Atlanta for offseason workouts. He watched a month later as the team selected Trae Young in the first round of the draft. He knew the organization was in rebuild mode, destined not to be a consistent winner for several years.
The key moment may have come when Schroder spoke to Thunder head coach Billy Donovan before a three-team trade was finalized.
“I wanted to find a different situation,” Schroder said Tuesday morning before his first trip back to Atlanta as a visitor. “It wasn’t headed in the right way. I appreciate everything they did for me the last five years but this situation, in my sixth year, wasn’t the right one for me. I knew.”
In a deal with the Thunder and Hawks on July 19, the Hawks sent Schroder to the Thunder and Mike Muscala to the 76ers. They received Carmelo Anthony, who was quickly bought out, and a 2022 first-round pick from the Thunder and Justin Anderson from the 76ers. Five seasons after the Hawks made Schroder a first-round pick out of Germany, his career in Atlanta was over.
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“I want to be in a winning mentality organization,” Schroder said. “I just can’t go out there and try to lose. I’m a competitor. I try to give everything out there. I want the organization to feel the same way.”
“Right now with our organization, all the players in the locker room, all the players, they’ve got a winning mentality. That’s what makes it fun. When you go out there and go to war with your brothers. There is nothing better than that.”
Schroder, who became the Hawks starting point guard after the trade of Jeff Teague in 2016, averaged 12.9 points and 4.8 assists in 23.7 minutes over his 352 games with the Hawks. Moving to the Thunder meant Schroder would come off the bench playing behind all-star Russell Westbrook. That’s why Donovan wanted to speak to Schroder before the deal.
“One of the things that really helped was he and I, before the trade took place, were able to have a conversation,” Donovan said. “Starting at that point was healthy and it was good. I basically told him that I could not guarantee that he was going to start. I needed to see how he fit into our team. Maybe it was best for him to start. Maybe it was best for him to come off the bench. But I knew he could be a really, really important component to our team and key to our team.
“Right from the start, he basically said my number one thing is I want to win. Whatever I have to do to help the team win, that’s what I want to do. I think any player would always love to start. That’s just normal. I give him a lot of credit. When the season started, he started the first couple games. Russell came back, he went to the bench. Seven games later, Russell hurts his ankle and he goes back to starting. He comes back and (Dennis) goes back to the bench. He’s done whatever we’ve asked of him in any role.”
Schroder missed the final nine games of his last season with the Hawks with an injury. He could have likely returned to the lineup but by then the Hawks were thinking of their draft standing and Schroder joined several other rotation players who were shut down.
Schroder is averaging 15.3 points and 4.4 assists in 29.2 minutes in 41 games, including nine starts, for the Thunder.
Schroder admitted he would be emotional about his return to Atlanta. He has already faced his former team as the Thunder defeated the Hawks in Oklahoma City earlier this season. However, this is his first trip back to Atlanta.
He was able to spend part of Monday night at the home he still has in the city with his brother and nephew.
With his new team, came a new look. Schroder has abandoned the gold patch in his hair that was his trademark for five seasons with the Hawks. He promised Monday that it would be back. In fact, he almost made a return to the hair style statement to coincide with his appearance in town but it didn’t work out.
“It’s coming back,” Schroder said. “Don’t worry.”