Jeff Teague remembers the phone call.
It changed his life.
On the other end was Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks’ president of basketball operations and head coach, who delivered the news. The point guard had been traded to his hometown Pacers, ending his seven-year career with the Hawks.
“When Bud calls you it’s either really good or really bad,” Teague recalled Wednesday morning before his new and former teams met for the first time since the trade. “I said most likely it’s really bad because it’s the summer time and he’s calling me.”
Teague said Budenholzer’s voice cracked. That’s when he knew there had been a trade. The first thing Teague wanted to know was where he was headed.
“I kept reading that I was going to Philly,” Teague said. “I was like he’s going to send me to Philly. Nothing wrong with Philly, great place, great organization. I was like ‘C’mon. C’mon.’ I didn’t even think this (Indiana) was happening. I thought it was Utah, Dallas or Philly. He said, ‘I sent you home.’ I said, ‘Indiana?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I might regret this, but I’m thankful for what you did, and I appreciate you.’”
One chapter ended. Another began.
Teague requested a trade following last season. Backup Dennis Schroder was the heir apparent, and Teague could see it. Teague said during his exit interview that his top priority for the summer was to get healthy. He said only that he had knee and ankle troubles. On June 9, he posted on social media that he played the entire season with a partially torn patella tendon. On June 22, word of a three-team trade broke and Teague was headed to his hometown of Indianapolis.
“I’m definitely appreciative,” Teague said of his time with the Hawks. “It’s an honor to even play in the NBA, so to have a dream come true and actually make it to the NBA, with Atlanta being the team that drafted me. Having a chance to play for seven years, a lot of guys only play for three or four.
“Being in the organization for seven years and having some of the good times that I did, being an All-Star, playing with great players, a great group of guys, great coaches, I’m never going to forget that. It’s always going to be good memories, good vibes over there.”
In addition to the increased playing time for Schroder, Teague said he knew the Hawks had gone as far as they could with him and Al Horford. The staples of the organization are gone, as Horford signed with the Celtics and a free agent and Teague was dealt with a year remaining on his contract. The 60-win season of 2014-15 was the pinnacle.
“It happens to every team,” Teague said. “You can only go so far. You can only do so much. I think we reached our ceiling with me and Al and that group when we won those 60 games. We followed up and didn’t do as well the next year. We had a good season, but we pretty much knew it was over.”
The Pacers traded one hometown starting point guard for another as they sent George Hill, a good friend of Teague’s, to the Jazz in the deal. Teague admits that made the deal a little stranger. Teague also changed his uniform to No. 44, which he wore at Pike High School. On the Pacers, C.J. Miles wore No. 0, which Teague wore at Wake Forest and with the Hawks.
Teague mentioned a long list of great memories from his time with the Hawks. He admits he might be more nervous had this first meeting been in Atlanta. He started his career playing with Josh Smith and Joe Johnson. He loved his time with the Hawks’ current players and coaches. He was an All-Star. He played in the Eastern Conference finals.
Teague rejected any notion of a rift between him and Schroder.
“It’s not about me and Dennis,” Teague said. “… I don’t know why people always make it like there is bad blood. I’m not even that type of guy. I want the best for everybody. I was happy when he got his extension. I saw him work hard every day to become a better player. He deserved it. I was happy when (Kent Bazemore) got his chance and his money.
“I love that team over there. I love those guys over there. I never wish bad on anybody or hope they don’t do well. I hope they all play great.”
The Pacers have struggled with injuries early in the season. Teague has been steady with averages of 15.7 points, 6.4 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 15 games.
Pacers All-Star Paul George said Teague was exactly the type of player the team needed.
“He has brought a lot of speed and aggressiveness from the point-guard position,” George said. “Every night he looks to attack and be aggressive off the bounce. That’s what we need for this team. That’s what I needed, somebody else who was aggressive offensively. He helps carry the weight.”
As far as gaining any extra motivation from playing against the Hawks, Teague denies it. Even with his quiet demeanor, George knows there is a little something extra to play for Wednesday night.
“He’s ready, I’m sure,” George said. “On his calendar this game has been marked. As our brother here, we have to be just as excited and just as ready to take down Atlanta as he is.”
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