Rick Sund: "We needed to get more experienced and we've done that"
What are your overall impressions of the team heading into training camp?
Rick Sund: Well, going back to last season, we started the year as the fifth-youngest team in the league. We still managed to finish with the fourth seed and when we drew Miami in the first round, we figured we could survive because the teams are comparable. Plus, we had the home-court advantage.
But then came the second round, and in the second round, you're talking about having to play elite teams like Cleveland. With our youth and our injuries, we feel like didn't really get a true barometer of who we are. We knew with the injuries to Al (Horford) and Marvin (Williams), we didn't really have a chance to win the first two games on the road. I'm not saying we punted, but we knew it would be very difficult. Then in the next two games at home, we were right there going into the fourth quarter, but the better team just won. Now, we wouldn't have beaten Cleveland in the series, but had we been healthy, we would have gotten a better barometer as to where we stood.
That said, we knew we needed to add some experience. Josh Smith is under 25 years old, Horford is under 25, Marvin is under 25, and Jeff Teague is under 22. That is where our new veterans like Jamal Crawford and Joe Smith come in, and even Jason Collins to a degree.
Unlike some teams with deeper pockets, we can't carry 15 guys. We have to get it done with nine or 10 guys, so we're vulnerable in that sense. But we really like the guys we have. We needed to get more experienced and we've done that.
What does Jamal Crawford add to the team?
RS: He could do for us what Jason Terry does for Dallas. It'll be nice to have a guy who can come off the bench and get you some big scoring nights or make some big plays. Jamal is one of the better fourth-quarter scorers in the league. He is a very good one-on-one player and can shoot the three, and we needed those things.
How about Joe Smith?
RS: He's a terrific guy, a terrific leader and someone who has been there. He plays hard and understands what needs to be done here. The experience he'll provide in the frontcourt is something we really needed.
And Jason Collins?
RS: We already have Al Horford and Zaza Paculia, but we wanted a third center who was completely different than those two. Jason has made his mark in the NBA as a physical defender, a big body who will set picks. Being in the East and having to play against guys like Dwight Howard, we needed another big body. He makes us even deeper.
How important was it to re-sign free agents Mike Bibby, Zaza Pachulia and Marvin Williams?
RS: The success of our ball club is the sum of all our parts. Everybody contributes in a different way. So it was important to re-sign all of them. We have an All-Star-caliber player in Joe Johnson, and everyone else has to fit in. We have a lot of good guys and a strong starting five, and Mike and Marvin are a big part of that. Zaza is great off the bench and could probably start for some teams. We won 47 games and were a legitimate playoff team. So it was important to keep our key parts in place.
What should fans know about first-round pick Jeff Teague?
RS: We liked the fact he has point guard instincts. At summer league he showed point guard skills and quickness, too. The nice thing for a young player like Teague is, he'll fit into our rotation without having to carry the club.
RS: Mike has done a nice job. It hasn't been easy for him; there were some rough moments and growing pains when he took over the team and it was even younger than it is today. But I think he's happy here. He wants to see this through and take the team to the next step.
RS: It's so hard to predict. The three teams that finished ahead of us were bona fide contenders and elite ball clubs. I mean, they were really good. We did beat Cleveland once in the regular season, and we beat Orlando at their place, so we had our moments.
We just need to make sure we keep the teams that are behind us back there, and make strides to catch the ones in front of us. All the teams ahead of us have league MVP candidates on their ball club. Their payrolls are so much higher than ours, and they've all used the summer to get better.
But again, we just need to make strides and keep improving from within – because once you get to the playoffs, anything can happen if you get some momentum. The Knicks did it (in 1999), when they reached the Finals as a No. 8 seed. So for us, this season will be another step in the growth process. There's no telling how good it might end up.
Sam Amico is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
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