The Hawks have only two players who were with the team just two seasons ago, center Al Horford and point guard Jeff Teague, opting for a complete transformation of a franchise that has long been a consistent playoff contender but never a championship threat.
General manager Danny Ferry started the process a year ago, letting go Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams to rid the team of two cumbersome contracts. This year, the GM didn’t make much of an effort to keep longtime stalwart Josh Smith, who moved on to Detroit, and replaced him with Paul Millsap.
While the Hawks have yet to become an attractive destination for big-name free agents — they were rebuffed this past summer by Dwight Howard, who passed on a chance to come home to Atlanta — Ferry hopes to change that by turning Philips Arena into San Antonio East.
Ferry once worked for the Spurs, and he brought in Mike Budenholzer, a longtime assistant under Gregg Popovich, to bring that same team-first mentality to the Hawks.
Budenholzer’s tenure in Atlanta got off to a rocky start when he was arrested for DUI, and it’s going to take some time for the players to adjust to the motion offense he wants to play.
“It’s constant movement,” Horford said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re all on the same page. If we don’t, then we look stupid.”
But Popovich is convinced the Hawks have the right guys for the job in Ferry and Budenholzer.
“In this league, having that synergy between management and coaching is huge. A lot of people don’t have it. They build walls and there’s territory and that kind of stuff,” the Spurs coach said. “It’s going to be a bit of a restart with the change of personnel and putting in a new system. But I think developing the culture for the long run is what they’re all about.”
Five things to watch for with the 2013-14 Atlanta Hawks:
AL’S TEAM: Heading into his seventh season, this is clearly Horford’s team now. He’s the only holdover among the core group largely responsible for six straight trips to the playoffs.
Budenholzer is counting on his 6-foot-10 center to provide leadership on the court and in the locker room. Horford, meanwhile, is hoping the new system takes some of the burden off him — especially at the defensive end, where he’s always been a power forward forced to play a post role.
MR. OUTSIDE: Kyle Korver has made at least one 3-pointer in 73 consecutive games, a franchise record and the longest active streak in the NBA. He was the only unrestricted free agent the Hawks made a serious effort to keep off last year’s team.
Korver’s accuracy beyond the arc is an important factor for the undersized Hawks. Last season, he averaged 10.9 points and 45.7-percent shooting from 3-point range.
TEAGUE’S CONSISTENCY: The Hawks made it clear Teague a big part of their future when they matched Milwaukee’s four-year, $32 million offer sheet.
He put up career highs in scoring (14.6 points a game) and assists (7.2), ranking 12th in the league in the latter category.
While Teague has made steady improvement during his four years in the league, he must be more consistent. There are nights when he’s dynamic, others when you wouldn’t know he’s there.
Also, he tends to be a scorer first, a passer second — a mindset that Budenholzer will look to adjust.
WHERE’S LOU?: The Hawks will begin the season without their best scorer off the bench, Lou Williams, who was averaging 14.1 points a game when he went down with a season-ending knee injury. He’s still not fully recovered, depriving the team of a creative offensive threat, at least in the early part of the season.
Williams was able to take part in some drills during training camp, but nothing too strenuous. Budenholzer knows this will be a better team once Williams is finally available.
STOPPING THE OTHER GUYS: The guard-heavy Hawks will like be the smaller team against nearly every opponent.
Horford has essentially played out of position his whole career, which is why Ferry went after Howard. Alas, the big center signed with the Rockets, so Horford will again be forced to bang in the lane with bigger, bulkier centers.
The Hawks hope newcomers Millsap and Elton Brand can take some of the defensive burden off the team’s best player.