After long silence, Hawks try to make a little noise

Trae Young and Lloyd Pierce
Trae Young and Lloyd Pierce

It has been nine long months since last we appraised Lloyd Pierce. Hard to tell for sure through the imperfect miracle of the streaming news conference, but it seemed the Hawks coach had sprouted a few new gray chin hairs in the interim.

Asked this week to explain, the 44-year-old Pierce didn’t point to the stress of increasing expectation bubbling up around his humble team. Nor to the constant annoyance of trying to convince young players that defense isn’t just a massive waste of time when they should be at the other end of the court dancing around the maypole of their own basket.

No, this is what makes a man in his position go gray: “I have a 2-year-old during a pandemic.”

‘Nuff said.

Pierce is back working his other job now, as the NBA has decided to reactivate the Hawks membership and allow them once more to play with the cool kids.

Seems like they have been gone forever. They lost to the Knicks in overtime on March 11, went into COVID-19 shutdown mode with everyone else and then weren’t good enough to gain entrance into the bubble at the restart. There was just no room for a 20-47 team in that post-apocalyptic basketball society.

The more worthy played on without the Hawks, who went without an organized game for the longest span of their healthy competitive lives.

Withdrawal did not seem to be a problem, for those with both ambition and perspective.

Speaking for the ambitious, face of the Hawks Trae Young: “Quarantine has just given me a lot more opportunity to train, lot more time to think about what I need to do this next season.”

And for the aware, the conscience of the Hawks, their head coach: “I miss (basketball) for selfish reasons, but I also feel like there are a lot of things we really need to get straight. I had to protect my family. There’s a lot in our world that constantly consumes you. Sport is great to be back, but we can’t move on from the racial injustice, the COVID issue that we’re dealing with, trying to stay diligent.

“You miss basketball because you miss basketball, but you also understand from a perspective standpoint there are other priorities that are very much at the forefront. Dealing with that doesn’t make you say I wish I could just go back to the gym and play basketball and forget that. I’m not there yet.”

There, with the public-service announcement done, on to the menial topic of Hawks basketball.

As of the last nasal swab, the Hawks will be playing their first exhibition game Dec. 11. Real NBA games are scheduled to start Dec. 22. As it enters 2021, the league will make up the schedule as it goes along, the same way the rest of the world will organize its life.

The Hawks have now reached the stage in their latest metamorphosis where the ZIP code of Young’s next shot isn’t the only intrigue. The fact that he can pass the ball, too – he was second in assists per game last season – is of more interest now that some additional capable hands are there to catch it.

Having gone through all the suffering needed to gain cap space, the team started spending those hard-earned reserves. In the next stage of the rebuild, the Hawks added five free agents with a combined 37 seasons of NBA experience. And it’s good experience, not just the hanging-around kind.

That was the signal that it’s time to start winning.

There’s a much more European cut to this team now with the addition of sleek scorers Bogdan Bogdanovic (15.1 points per game with Sacramento last season) and Danilo Gallinari (18.7 ppg with Oklahoma City while playing about any position).

Guard Kris Dunn is a known defensive nuisance, while Rajon Rondo brings two championship rings and a volatile on-court genius to Atlanta. And forward Solomon Hill looks scary.

Add all that to a young core of players who don’t know how good they are just yet, and there seems to be some reason to invest careful amounts of interest and excitement in a team four years removed from its last winning record.

“We’ve shown potential. We’ve shown flashes of greatness. And now we’ve added other solid NBA players, veterans who have proven themselves in this league,” forward John Collins said. Please forgive Collins his misunderstanding of greatness – he is still young and learning. Just go with it.

That the NBA culture has devoted even a passing glance at these Hawks is a significant development. Taking that next step to relevance is a large one, indeed.

“It’s good to have people talking about Atlanta basketball right now,” Young said. “I want it to stay this way. This city deserves it. We have a lot of exciting pieces, lot of exciting players. The city needs this type of excitement for basketball. It’s good that we’re getting a lot of attention now, but we need to find a way to win games right when the season starts.”

For the better part of 2020, it was easy to forget Atlanta even had an NBA franchise. A forceful reminder is due.

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