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Atlanta Hawks dig in for another long slog

September 20, 2018

ATLANTA (AP) — There is almost certainly pain coming for the Hawks, or at least their fans, yet first-time NBA head coach Lloyd Pierce and second-year general manager Travis Schlenk refuse to notarize that word while in charge of Atlanta’s only woebegone pro team.

Training camp begins Tuesday for the team that last season lost more games than any other in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks were 24-58, and their offseason moves are not likely to move them closer to playoff contention.

They’re going to be painfully young outside of their two potential marquee players. Vince Carter, though, is 41 years old ahead of his 20th NBA season. And Jeremy Lin, 30, signed over the summer too, joining his seventh NBA team. Oh, and they signed 30-year-old center Cole Aldrich last week.

Still, the brass is excited for training camp to open next Tuesday.

The NBA, after all, is as much about massive rebuilds these days as it is assembling super teams. The Hawks qualify for the former, and Pierce knows that game as a former 76ers assistant.

“Just a reminder: I won 10 games in Philadelphia about four seasons ago,” said Pierce. “It’s not painful if you know you’re doing the right things. It’s not painful if you know guys are getting better every day. It’s not painful if you know that when you’re in the gym . . . doing what’s needed for growth that guys understand that.”

The Hawks’ biggest offseason move was to get point guard Trae Young, a smallish scoring and passing machine last season as a freshman at Oklahoma, in the first round. He was a mess for much of the NBA’s summer league.

They also added former Villanova multi-tasker Omari Spellman and former Maryland sharpshooter Kevin Huertee with first-round picks.

In free agency, they picked up Lin, Carter, and NBA washouts like Thomas Robinson and Alex Len.

Their highest-paid player will be Kent Bazemore, a swing man with a defensive presence who was undrafted a few years ago out of Old Dominion.

Yet the Hawks’ brass is projecting excitement about assembling one of the NBA’s youngest rosters - they’ve added three first-round draft choices - while making it clear than their plans tilt toward the long term.

Press them, and they’ll admit that they know they’re in for a long season.

The upcoming season is not likely to remind Schlenk of his time in Golden State, where he helped assemble the team that won two of the past three NBA titles. He’s ready to be a pep talker, and focus on player development.

“It’s a lot easier to win 70 games than it is 24 like we did last year, certainly, but it really isn’t painful,” he said. “I mean, listen, we work in the toy department of life. I get to go to basketball gyms for a living; it can’t be that painful.

“I think Lloyd and I agree whole-heartedly, our job is to come in here and keep people’s spirits up . . . ”

The Hawks are an outlier in Atlanta.

The NFL’s Falcons, MLB’s Braves and MLS’ United are all playoff contenders.

At least the Hawks have a former All-Star, and their roster is tilted toward Pierce’s stated love for defense.

And Carter’s already been a champ in the locker room, even as he’s been in the NBA since the year Young was born.

Pierce said the former Raptor, Net, Magic, Sun, Mav, Grizzlie and King very much wants to play, yet at the same time has welcomed his role as counselor.

He’s not guaranteed to be a starter.

“Vince is a competitor. He knows in terms of his basketball career the end is sooner than later . . . he wants to get on the court,” the 42-year-old coach said. “We have Alex Len, Thomas Robinson, guys that have been humbled in the league.

“At the end of the day, you have to reward competitors and their competitive spirit. (If you don’t), that doesn’t present well when you’re trying to establish a culture and an organization of how you want to be and who you want to play.”

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