ATLANTA – After two summers of jarring change, the Atlanta Hawks expect things to be a lot quieter this offseason.
Not that they're planning to sit still.
The Hawks will surely have several new faces next season, whether it's from the 15th pick in the draft or a plunge into free agency. But the team already has its foundation, the guys it wants to build around — a group includes All-Star forward Paul Millsap, point guard Jeff Teague, long-range shooter Kyle Korver and center Al Horford, who missed much of this season with an injury.
Horford's expected return from a torn pectoral muscle will give the Hawks' lineup a huge boost without adding anyone new. Even so, coach Mike Budenholzer said Monday the key is to keep addressing needs through every available means.
"We've got a lot of areas where we can improve," Budenholzer said after the players cleaned out their lockers and met with the coaches for the final time this season. "To add a player in the draft is something we always look forward to. And free agency is a place where we feel like we can add to our group and improve."
General manager Danny Ferry has almost totally revamped the roster the last two years, dumping longtime starters Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams in hopes of building a team that can accomplish something that's never been done since the team moved to Atlanta 46 years ago — make it past the second round of the playoffs and contend for a championship.
The Hawks didn't come close to that goal this season, sneaking into the playoffs with a 38-44 record and then, after giving a major scare to the top-seeded Indiana Pacers, going down meekly in Game 7 of their opening-round series.
Most of the team is expected back next season. The only pressing business involves backups Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack, whose roles steadily increased during the season and playoffs; they are set to become restricted free agents.
"We have a lot of guys coming back that started, played significant minutes, that are part of our core group," Budenholzer said. "For the draft and for free agency, to have a group to add to is really helpful. Hopefully we've reached a stage where there's a group we feel great about that we can add to. It's kind of a different approach to this summer."
Korver was encouraged by the potential he saw in Game 6 against the Pacers.
Back home with a chance to wrap up the series, the Hawks were cheered on by a raucous sellout crowd in what might've been the team's biggest playoff game since the 1980s. Atlanta was in position to wrap up the series, too, leading by five points with just over 3 minutes remaining. But Indiana closed with a 16-4 run to even the series, then wrapped it up in the deciding game.
"We had the crowd and the atmosphere and everything we've been dreaming about," Korver said. "One of the reasons I came back here (when he re-signed with the Hawks last summer) was I wanted to build something like that. To have that, to have the game we wanted, that's eating at me today."
The Hawks hope to capitalize on that momentum with a new part-owner, Steve Koonin, taking over as CEO late in the season. The former Turner Entertainment Networks president is focused on boosting attendance in a city that has traditionally ranked near the bottom of the league.
"Hopefully next year, we'll have the same atmosphere, and we'll be a better team, and we'll close out games better," Korver said. "It's very exciting. You see what's possible in every way — with this team, with this city, with the crowd, with everything."
Most players said they intend to spend a good chunk of the summer in Atlanta, working out and building even more camaraderie for next season. Young players such as Dennis Schroder, Mike Muscala and John Jenkins will play in the NBA's summer league, looking to get valuable experience after playing sparingly.
Everyone is encouraged about the future, despite the playoff disappointment.
"To get Al back healthy and with the guys we have, we've got a really good group," Teague said. "We gel good together, we enjoy playing with one another. I'm excited for next year."
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