It hasn’t been a natural transition for the soft-spoken Teague, but he knows the team needs more vocal leadership on offense.
And Teague is ready to take on more responsibility after signing a new four-year, $32 million contract in July.
“We’re a quiet group, but we’re about business,” Teague said Wednesday. “Come in here and get the job done. We all talk to each other. We all like each other, but it’s not a lot of laughter. It’s business.”
General manager Danny Ferry made three significant offseason moves, hiring longtime San Antonio assistant Mike Budenholzer as head coach, signing former Utah forward Paul Millsap as a free agent and keeping Teague in Atlanta.
For a short time, Teague thought he might be rejoining former Hawks coach Larry Drew in Milwaukee, but as a restricted free agent, he was required to stay with the Hawks after they matched the Bucks’ offer.
“I’ve been here four years, love the city, love the fans, but it’s almost like new to me now,” Teague said. “We’re learning the offense. We’re jelling together right now.”
Atlanta could not afford to let Teague leave town, particularly after Ferry was unable to sign free agent center Dwight Howard.
If Howard had returned to his hometown and joined the Hawks, Budenholzer would have designed his schemes around the five-time NBA rebounding leader.
Perhaps re-signing Teague wouldn’t have been so important, but without Howard, Budenholzer’s system was built to suit the quickness and speed of a smaller front line.
That’s where Teague is indispensable, and Budenholzer wants Teague to control the pace of an offense that’s predicated on lots of motion in half-court sets.
A successful fast break will be critical, too, as the defense tries to use its speed and quickness to step in passing lanes and create turnovers.
Just two days into training camp at the University of Georgia, Teague seems to be filling his role to Budenholzer’s satisfaction.
“We’re looking for him to take a pretty big jump this year, and part of it is just going to be his natural evolution and part of it hopefully is the system,” Budenholzer said. “He’s going to evolve as a leader.”
Budenholzer hasn’t exactly insisted that Teague shed his reputation for speaking softly. A loud voice doesn’t work in every situation.
“There’s lots of different ways to lead,” Budenholzer said. “The more verbal or vocal he can be is good, but sometimes it’s just putting an arm around a guy or getting on somebody in a quiet way or in a corner of the locker room. There’s lots of different ways to lead.”
It took a year and a half for Teague to earn respect, but he came of age in the 2011 NBA playoffs following an injury to point guard Kirk Hinrich.
Teague was thrust into the starting lineup, and surprised the Chicago Bulls by averaging 17 points in a six-game series and playing stout defense against Derrick Rose, that year’s league MVP.
The Bulls won the series, but Teague has been a starter ever since.
“I got an opportunity to play in the playoffs and got more confidence,” he said. “With that, I’ve just been rolling from there. My confidence has been sky-high ever since.”
The new contract is a confidence booster, too. Second-year shooting guard John Jenkins has noticed that Teague is not hesitating to speak up.
“He’s the point guard, so whatever he says is going to go,” Jenkins said. “He gets in the lane and passes it out to shooters like me, and that’s all you can ask for as a shooter.”