This is the easy part.
Discussing progress made in the offseason, the upside of rookies, the chemistry this young group has already started to develop.
As Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce put it at media day Monday, “the goodness is all happening right now.”
The more challenging part starts in the preseason and grows even more difficult when the regular season tips off Oct. 24 in Detroit, once games start to matter, and when the Hawks will begin to answer the question on everyone’s mind. How big a leap can this group, in the midst of a rebuild around its young core of Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter, with the addition of rookies Cam Reddish, DeAndre Hunter and Bruno Fernando, take from last year’s 29-53 finish?
Will it be incremental progress, or something more?
With training camp beginning Oct. 1, it’s a question that’s hard to answer yet. Pierce, who only recently returned from China (where he was serving as an assistant coach for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup), is still learning this team and what he’s got to work with.
And he’s not going to put any extra pressure on his players.
“‘Expectation’ is a word that won’t come out of my mouth,” Pierce said. “This is a low-pressure environment that our players will have. They get enough expectations from social media and from family and from friends and from everyone else. That’s not what this is about. My job is to put them in a position to succeed. My job is to challenge them to be more and to be better. But expectations, I don’t want to undervalue our guys either. I don’t want to say ‘X’ and they go over that.”
For some players, like Young, it’s hard to manage expectations, or to be patient and keep in mind the Hawks are rebuilding.
“It’s tough having to understand that, especially me being such a competitor and wanting to win every game right away,” Young said. “It’s the truth. You have to understand that this is a rebuilding process, but at the same time you want to be great, you want to win as much as you can. Just because you say it’s a rebuilding process doesn’t mean losing is acceptable, because it’s not. I’m definitely not taking that type of approach and I’m trying to win as many games as possible.”
For center Alex Len, it’s a day-by-day process.
“Just by focusing on the every day, focusing on us,” Len said. “Everybody met with coach and he was like ‘This is the thing you have to work on,’ so to improve and get to that point. If everybody does that, I feel like everything will come together and the result is going to be all good... We added some pieces, added a lot of talent, drafted a lot of talent, so if everybody comes together and plays together and everything clicks, I think the sky is the limit.”
Last year, the Detroit Pistons finished the regular season at 41-41 (12 more wins the Atlanta had) and claimed the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Even if you don’t know if the postseason is realistic in the moment, you fight to get better and work toward it, per Huerter. And more wins will hopefully come.
“You just trust your preparation and trust your work,” Huerter said. “We had a lot of guys in here all summer. So the expectation of being better for next year? We know if we’ve gotten better individually and if we’re all here together, practicing and playing together, hopefully you get better collectively, and transitions and it goes into a better season. So you just trust the preparation that you do. When people ask you about it and you talk about it, obviously the playoffs is something that every player wants to go to every single year. And whether that’s realistic or not, you’ve just got to work towards it.”
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