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Hawks GM hints at trades

Atlanta Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk was not in a good mood this morning. During his interview on 92.9 FM The Game, Schlenk scorched the earth. Apparently, fans are not the only ones unhappy with the first half of the Hawks season. Schlenk said bluntly, “It’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re team isn’t playing as well as you think it should. Maybe I should lower my expectations for this team.” He’s not wrong. Last year, the team made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. This season, they are flirting with the Draft Lottery. The Hawks porous defense is near the bottom of the league, and that’s clearly wearing on their GM. “There’s no sense of urgency to make a stop. There’s no sense of accountability that ‘I’m going to stop my guy.’ It’s just not there… it doesn’t bother them. I hope it’s a switch we can flip, but I don’t know at this point.”

Schlenk wasn’t even close to being done venting. “It’s just frustrating because we’ve seen this group have success. And, to see the group not make the necessary effort plays to win an NBA game, it’s just become frustrating.” “We have a few weeks before the trade deadline here, and this is what I need to figure out. It’s my responsibility to put a product on the floor that can win, and right now, I’m not sure I have done that,” said Schlenk.

This past offseason’s moves were key to their possible pursuit of trading for a superstar at some point because they have the veteran contracts for salary-matching purposes, the young talent who have yet to reach their potential and all of their future first-round picks. A big, inevitable trade depends on Ressler’s patience in accelerating the path to a championship. I’ve been told by numerous people inside the organization that the plan general manager Travis Schlenk laid out at the beginning of his tenure has been followed almost perfectly without straying from his plan. That plan has been approved by Ressler, and they are in tandem in keeping on that path. Ressler knows the process to get a championship roster doesn’t happen overnight.

Another part of your job is the constant communication you have with your GM Travis Schlenk and your owner, Tony Ressler. How often are you in conversations with Travis and Tony? Lloyd Pierce: Travis and I have short conversations daily. He’ll send his joke my way. I’ll send my complaint or criticism his way one day and we’ll laugh everything off, or we’ll just strategize on what we should be doing right now. We talk about everything. I think the strength of our relationship has been that we keep each other up to date on both of our worlds because they’re all going to overlap. If I need to know something about Kevin Huerter, Travis got the information from his agent. It’s a good heads up. It’s a really positive relationship to have, so no one’s really ever caught off guard.

In addition to Schlenk’s announcement, Atlanta has elevated Chelsea Lane to Vice President of Athletic Performance and Sports Medicine, Dan Martinez to Vice President of Team Operations, Derek Pierce to Vice President of Player Personnel, Dotun Akinwale Jr. to Director of Scouting, Mike McNeive to Director of Player Personnel, Daniel Starkman to Senior Manager of Basketball Operations, Nick Ressler to Manager of Basketball Operations, Paul Jesperson to Assistant Video Coordinator, Chris Mast to Data Scientist, Athletic Performance and Sports Medicine and Connor Smith to Assistant Athletic Trainer.

Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk is not in a hurry to fill his recently vacated position of assistant general manager. Last month Jeff Peterson left to take the same position with the Nets after seven years in the Hawks organization.“I told our group when he left that we are not going to do anything (right away),” Schlenk said last week. “We’ll worry about it in July. I want everybody focused on the draft. That’s the most important thing on the front right now. We’ll evaluate that in July. I’m not sure what we are going to do. We’ve got swarmed with people who would love this job but whether we promote from within, bring somebody in, or bring somebody in at the bottom and move up, I don’t really know.”

Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk made it clear that his team is certainly listening to trade offers ahead of the Feb. 7 NBA trade deadline. The team is clearly in rebuilding mode and almost certainly won’t make the playoffs this season, which makes Atlanta one of a handful of sure sellers. The Hawks were sellers last year and most people thought they would trade Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova at the deadline, but they didn’t because they couldn’t find the right deal to make. Schlenk repeated that the Hawks aren’t going to make a deal this year if it doesn’t make sense for them. “We’re looking for future assets,” Schlenk said. “We already have five picks in this draft and more than likely, two firsts and three seconds. Any of the deals we do will be future assets or a deal that maybe will increase our (cap) flexibility moving forward. We’re still on the same trajectory. We’re certainly listening to a lot of stuff, but we’re not going to do a bad deal or do a deal that will hamper our objectives.”

One of those players who has shown growth is John (Collins). When you were projecting him out of Wake Forest, did you expect this player to emerge in his second year? In his past 12 or so games, he’s averaging 20 points, 12 rebounds and shooting 40 percent from 3-point range. Travis Schlenk: “Listen, we had John ranked higher on our board than where he was drafted. We were happy to see he was still there. One of the things that we really liked about John was the growth he showed in his game from his freshman year at Wake to his sophomore year. He had a great summer. He stuck around here and got a lot of work in through a lot of change. We redid the training staff. We redid the coaching staff. It wasn’t a perfect offseason for a young player. Seeing the growth he had during his freshman to sophomore year at Wake, we expected to see some growth here, and we’re really excited what he’s going to be able to do with one continuous staff. We’re excited about him and his upside as he gets more experience and becomes an older player.”

Well, maybe not this summer, but two to three summers down the road, Trae’s ability to be a playmaker will potentially grow and become marketable for big-name free agents. When you are making your future projections, how much is that something you’re considering? Travis Schlenk: “I think, certainly, guys want to score, but we have to promise that we’re going to be a winning team. The majority of the time when free agents decide where they want to go, they are looking for a place that they want to be successful. We hope with not just Trae but all of our young guys that free agents will look at them and say, ‘You know what? If I go there, we have a chance to be a good team.’ That’s more of the plan than pinning it just on one player.”

I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard the criticism from at least a segment of the fanbase over the decision. When people do criticize your decision and see what Luka (Doncic) is doing, what do you say to them? Travis Schlenk: “It comes with the territory, right? We work in a profession where decisions are judged, and that’s what makes working in sports great. People care passionately about your decision. What I have said is we make these decisions, and our thought process is if we can turn one lottery pick into two, then that’s good. The draft is an inexact science. What makes the draft so hard is you’re trying to project, in this case, two 19-year-old kids three, four years down the line. I think it’s short-minded to judge the success of a rookie one half into a season. We want these players to be great three, four years down the road. You have to understand that there’s going to be a learning curve and a growth curve with all of these rookies. How they work every day and what they do in the summer for the next four years is what’s going to determine who they are. You can find tons of examples of this. Michael Carter-Williams was the rookie of the year several years ago for Philadelphia, and he’s out of the league now. I always go back to the Steph Curry draft because that was my first draft. Tyreke Evans was the rookie of the year and averaged 25 [points] and five [assists] that year. James Harden was in that draft. Steph Curry was in that draft. Blake Griffin was in that draft. To say 41 games into these guys’ careers that we know who they are is very shortsighted. We’ll know three, four years down the road.”

Which brings me to Hawks owner Tony Ressler. If there is one reason to feel good about the franchise’s future, it’s him. That’s bound to get lost at some point because the Hawks finished 24-58 last season and are not expected to be any good this season (notwithstanding their win Sunday in Cleveland). Ressler has significantly moved the franchise forward in several ways the past year, and equally important, he acknowledges his early missteps put the franchise in a dreadful hole. “Let’s cut the bullshit — I didn’t know what I was doing,” Ressler said. “I can blame someone else, I can blame you, I can blame my wife. But there was only one schmuck in the room, and that was me.”

Ressler purchased the Hawks in April of 2015, as a 60-win Atlanta team was beginning the playoffs. Former general manager Danny Ferry was in purgatory at the time, and the basketball operations were being run by Mike Budenholzer, the NBA’s coach of the year, and assistant general manager Wes Wilcox. Ressler did the easy and seemingly most logical thing after the playoffs: He cut ties with the polarizing Ferry, promoted Budenholzer to team president and elevated Wilcox. Boom goes the dynamite. “It was a recipe for disaster,” he said. “Total dysfunction.” Budenholzer and Wilcox constantly disagreed on direction and personnel decisions.

Ressler said he wasn’t surprised by Budeholzer’s decision at the end, nor will he speculate as to his state of mind during the season. “Bud was not the right coach for us,” he said. “He was desperate to coach a superstar. I don’t know where Bud’s head was; you’ll have to ask him. But I do think when some people have a very short life as the decision-maker, and they no longer have it, sometimes they miss it. I know this: Getting a Lloyd Pierce, a coach with his attributes who works hard and wants to help young guys get better, is exactly what I wanted and exactly what Travis wanted.”

The Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club today announced several additions and promotions within the basketball operations department. The new hires include Chelsea Lane as Executive Director of Athletic Performance and Sports Medicine, where she will oversee the Hawks’ Athletic Performance Team and medical staff. Additional new hires to the APT staff include Michael Irras Head Strength & Conditioning Coach, John Dusel as Assistant Athletic Trainer/Strength & Conditioning, and Ty Terrell as Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach. Dwight Lutz recently joined the organization as Director of Basketball Strategy & Analytics, Dipesh Mistry has been hired as Head Video Coordinator, veteran NBA executive Larry Riley has been named Senior Advisor, Nick Ressler has been added as Coordinator of Basketball Operations and Victor Williams has been named as a Security Consultant.
4 years ago via ESPN

When Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk found out who other teams were planning on drafting and that he’d be able to select Kevin Huerter with the 19th overall pick, there was no need to trade up to get the Maryland guard. Schlenk told 95.7 The Game in San Francisco on Friday that he had a deal in place to acquire the No. 17 pick from the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for a draft pick, but he never had to make that deal because the media were projecting picks prior to them being announced.

Q. (Cunningham) I like Jaren Jackson Jr. a lot. He’s very good defensively and seems he has good potential as a scorer around the basket. What’s your opinion on that? A. (Jeff Peterson, Hawks assistant GM) He’s intriguing because he’s so young. It’s almost like there is a lot of room to mold and to help grow him. He’s obviously been coached well with Michigan State and (Tom) Izzo. I do think he’s pretty good with both hands around the basket. Good touch. And with him it’s pretty neat because he’s not only capable of scoring on the interior but he can also step outside and shoot the basketball. He shot at a very high clip this year (38-for-96 on 3-pointers, 39.6 percent). He’s confident in his shot. He’s an unbelievable rim protector. Very good on the defensive end. Just instincts and plays hard and doesn’t give up. He blocks shots, challenges shots. It’s very exciting when you are watching him.

Q. Can he defend in space on switches? A. (Jeff Peterson, Hawks assistant GM) Yeah, I think he’s pretty good in that area. But the thing is, with all of these guys, they have to get better. When you are going against the guy from Iowa vs. you are going against John Wall, it’s a little different. But I think he can. I think in time he can get there. Some guys, nobody can guard. You are not staying in front of John Wall; it’s probably not happening. The length and the willingness will help Jackson.

Q. (Cunningham) Americans don’t get to see Doncic very much. I watched some of his games on video and it seems his vision, his passing and play-making are off the charts. Are those the things that make him a top prospect? A. (Jeff Peterson, Hawks assistant GM): Yes. Just his ability to make guys better, make the game easier for guys really stands out. Up until this (Rockets-Warriors) playoff series I think you saw a lot of ball movement especially with Golden State. I think they reverted back to the (isolation plays) this series just because of the (defensive) switching that was occurring. But, in general, the NBA is moving more toward ball movement, player movement and (Doncic) really thrives in that area. It’s his vision, his willingness to make passes, his unselfishness. His size allows him to see over guys and find guys in different angles. He’s a decent shooter. The thing with him is, he’s not afraid to take big shots and he makes big shots. He has a ton of confidence to be able to do what he’s doing at that age at that level in that league is pretty impressive.

Is he a point guard? A wing? Or does it even matter? Jeff Peterson: I don’t think it matters. He’s comfortable with the ball in his hands and he’s comfortable without the ball in his hands, too. He’s shown that with the Slovenian national team with he played with (Miami Heat point guard) Goran Dragic. Dragic had the ball a lot and they would play off one another. And Doncic is smart so he can figure it out with or without the ball. I think he’s one of those guys that you put him out there and you figure it out. He’s a guy you want out there because he’s reliable and comfortable with the ball in his hands and typically makes good decisions.

(On having 1-on-1 discussions with players about trade rumors) “Yeah. That’s one of the downsides to being where we are right now. It’s real easy to throw our guys out in the media, right? There are some rumors that are true and certainly some that aren’t, especially when you start looking at, you know, I think there for one stretch that every single day one of our guys was on the cover of HoopsHype. I would say this: We’re not shopping any of our guys. Teams know where we are, and team have interest in our guys just like we have interest in our guys. “We talk with the players directly. I communicate with the agents anytime there’s something that’s out there that is completely false, we step up right away and say, ‘Listen. Don’t worry about it.’ “I’ve jokingly said to Garin (Narain, Hawks Senior VP of PR) earlier, ‘We’re just kind of low-hanging fruit out there right now. It’s really easy to throw us out there.”

The Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club has hired nationally-recognized, sports sales and marketing executive Michael Drake as its Senior Vice President of Corporate Partnerships and Premium Sales. He most recently served as SVP & Chief Revenue Officer of Business Operations for AMB Sports & Entertainment (AMBSE), overseeing all ticket operations, service initiatives and marketing and analytic strategies for suite, loge, season ticket and seat license sales for the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United and Mercedes-Benz Stadium (MBS).

The worst thing you can be in the NBA is mediocre, and that’s where the Hawks were. Majority owner Tony Ressler had to be convinced to let Millsap go, but he signed off on not re-signing Millsap, and then went all-in on Process South, replacing former GM Wes Wilcox in May — who remains with the franchise as a consultant — with Schlenk, who was the assistant GM with the Warriors the last five years. “Well, we had two choices, the way I saw it,” Ressler said Friday, in the new owners’/VIP digs, which are hard off the new Hawks Bar that is directly behind the baseline, steps off the floor — one of the many parts of the Philips renovation, which is scheduled to conclude next year.”

“We never had the choice of being a contender. We weren’t,” Ressler said. “I saw the team go from 60 wins to 48 to 43. And we didn’t make many changes going from 60 to 48 to 43. We thought we made additions. Let’s just say I concluded, with Travis’ help, with Bud’s help, I concluded that we were not going in the right direction. Truly, there are three options in the NBA, I would argue: being a contender, being a competitive team, and being young and fun. At least that would be my opinion. And we didn’t have the option of being a contender. So we could be competitive, or more competitive, and maybe, shall we say, with a whole bunch of higher-priced vets that made us older and made our payroll less flexible, and made our future more cloudy.”

How serious do you think (Hawks GM) Travis Schlenk is about trading Dennis Schroder? And what might those trades look like? Here’s one thing I know about Travis Schlenk: He wants nothing to do with long-term contracts. Schlenk craves flexibility, and his early moves – trading Howard, making little effort to retain Paul Millsap – tell me he’s thinking well into the future. Schroder is a little different though. There’s legitimate talent there, which can’t be dismissed. But more importantly, there is no real market for him. I ran Schroder’s name by a few team executives this week, and each recoiled. There’s a toxicity surrounding Schroder right now. A reputation as a selfish player has gained significant traction throughout the league. His arrest on battery charges last month – an incident the Hawks have deemed “unacceptable” – is an example teams cite of his immaturity. Said a Western Conference executive: “I don’t need that kind of headache.” Perhaps Atlanta could give Schroder away. But at 24, Schroder is a terrific talent. Maybe the Hawks can work with him and hope he matures. Really, they don’t have much of a choice.

With weekly segments featuring Head Coach Mike Budenholzer and CEO Steve Koonin returning once again to the station, Hawks leadership will be featured on the Hawks’ radio flagship on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays during the season. “We are very pleased to continue our great relationship with the Atlanta Hawks,” said Terry Foxx, Program Director at SportsRadio 92-9 The Game. “Having Coach Bud along with CEO Steve Koonin and now the new GM of the Hawks, Travis Schlenk, will further enhance our overall coverage of the Hawks. When you add the legendary voice of the Hawks, Steve Holman, we have a continued amazing partnership with the Hawks and our fans.”

Bembry was familiar with the Hawks’ interest in him. And when then-general manager Wes Wilcox and head coach Mike Budenholzer called to let Bembry know the Hawks selected him at No. 21, it was a bittersweet moment. His childhood dream come true, Bembry had a quiet moment with his mother and grandmother in tribute to his brother before hugging his screaming family and friends. “I was in the hallway on the phone and I waited for them to call my name and then I was just running around, running around,” Bembry said. “Everybody just started yelling. Yeah, emotions were around. A lot of energy. At the time of the call, I was first thinking, ‘I made it to my dream.’ At first, it was just me, my mom and my grandmother in the room just in there, happy, of course, of what happened. Of course, we talked about my little brother and how much he would have been happy for me.”

Judging by the questions each man got this week, there is interest in how new Hawks GM Travis Schlenk and coach Mike Budenholzer will coexist. That makes some sense because Schlenk now has the franchise-shaping power that Budenholzer once had. But it also seems there’s a perception that there’s no way Budenholzer is OK with Schlenk’s rebuilding plan and that this will cause friction between the two. Both Budenholzer and Schlenk said they are on the same page, but that won’t stop outside speculation about potential rifts. Maybe I’m weird, but I’ve never had much interest in interpersonal front-office drama. Leaders have different personalities and styles. Roles change and evolve in professional sports, and at some point, all coaches and executives must adjust. Ultimately they are judged by the final product.
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