Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk met with media today in advance of the opening of training camp on Tuesday. Following are some excerpts from that session. Check back here Monday for Part 2 of my Q-and-A with Schlenk. Also see the end of this Q-and-A for some notes about the blog.
Q. Opening statement
A. We went into this offseason with a couple goals, and (one of) those two goals was to try to get younger. Last season we were the fifth-oldest team in the league. We wanted to get younger and obviously we feel like we accomplished that. The second thing we wanted to accomplish was financial flexibility moving forward as it relates to the (salary cap) as well. The reason why flexibility is so important to us it allows us to go out and make deals like we did with the Jamal Crawford trade (which netted Hawks a top-three protected pick in the 2018 draft via Rockets) where we can get assets . . . as we invest in the future of this franchise.
Q. With a lot of roster turnover, going into this year what are some of the strengths and areas of concern?
A. I wouldn’t say that we really have a lot of areas of concern. Going into the season what we are really focused on is our young guys developing and getting better, individually and collectively. Our goals for this season is to see growth in all of our guys, from the start of the season. Hopefully it’s weekly, monthly (from) what we see here in October to when we get to the end of April.
Q. When you took this job you said you thought this team could contend for a playoff berth even if going through dramatic changes. From the outside looking in it looks like a total rebuild that’s going to be a painful few years. Can you address how long this might take? Or do you still think this team can legitimately contend for the postseason?
A. The one thing I would say about this group is these are scrappy guys. These are competitive guys. These are prideful guys. Now, we are going to be young and, historically, teams who are young take it on the chin a little bit. Like I said, what we are looking for is that growth not only from individual players but as a collective unit from the start of the season to the end of the season. I think we are going to show up every single night and we are going to play hard, and play together and play the right way and we are going to be able to live with the results.
Q. All coaches would love to have an All-Star roster. How has coach Mike Budenholzer accepted the transitional period for the team? Also, would it be better for this team not to be in the playoffs the next couple of years because of the draft lottery?
A. When I first got here, we spent a ton of time here getting to know each other, getting to know each other’s philosophies. He’s completely on board with what our plan was this summer. He’s excited about this upcoming season. He and his staff have proven that one thing they do well is develop young talent. So they are excited about this venture that we have where they are going to have an opportunity to develop, hopefully, a lot of great players that we are going to draft over the next few years. The second part of your question, listen, we drafted Draymond Green when I was at Golden State at (No.) 35. You can get franchise-type players, very solid players all over the draft. We are not worried about that at all. It’s never a negative for a team to be in the playoffs.
Q. What do you say to Hawks fans who fear the team will be bad like the Sixers for the next five to seven years?
A. The one thing that I would say about this group is that they are going to show up and play hard every night. We are looking for growth from the beginning to the end. We are going to be competitive. When you look at the guys we signed this year in free agency, those are guys that show up and play hard every night. We are laying the foundation for the future of the Atlanta Hawks, and that is to play the right way, to play hard and to give it everything you’ve got every single night.
Q. You said two goals were to have a younger roster and cap flexibility. Are there any other goals that can coexist with those two?
A. Yeah, obviously we are going to continue to accumulate assets and that’s where the flexibility comes in. Again, it’s just development. Now that we have a young core, we have nine draft picks in the next two years so there’s a high probability that we are going to be even a little bit younger next year. So we need to keep developing the young players that we have.
Q. Why did you swap the 31st pick for the 41st pick as part of the Dwight Howard trade with the Hornets?
A. When it got down (to it) with Charlotte, there was other players that were going to be in the deal that both teams decided wouldn’t be in there. Obviously the 31st pick was important to them. Us, when we look at our roster moving forward, when you look at the nine draft picks we have in the next few years, it wasn’t as important to us to add that young player this year because we have so many opportunities in next year with the three first-round draft picks. . . . We would love to have the 31st pick, but to be able to get that financial flexibility for the future to make it worth it to slide down. . . . We did that trade for the financial flexibility, and we were able to use that flexibility this summer to acquire a draft pick in next year’s draft with the Clippers in the Jamal Crawford trade. It played out well for us.
Q. Is there growth that you would like to see from Dennis Schroder this year on the court?
A. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Dennis this summer. He played in Eurobasket with the German national team. He played very well over there. We are very excited by the way he played this summer. Any time you have an opportunity as a young player to compete in international competition, we feel like it’s a good thing. Dennis, from everything I’ve been told about the young man, has made a lot of strides not only on the court in his four years but also as a person. When you think about it, he come over here as a foreigner. He’s coming into a new culture, a new city. It takes some time for young kids to adjust. But, again, this is what I’ve been told by everyone here is that he’s shown a ton of growth already and we have no reason to believe that he won’t continue to have that growth on and off the court.
Q. What are the expectations for veterans like Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala as far as helping younger players develop?
A. No question, when you have a young team it’s very important to have quality vets in the locker room to help show those guys the right way to go. When you look at all of the guys that we added veteran-wise or we brought back, they are great guys, high-character guys. That’s something I’ve said from Day 1 is that we are going to focus on high-character guys. They are going to work hard every day. We want to have a good locker room so our young guys see vets doing it the right way.
Q. Are there any philosophies and experiences that you will bring from your time with the Warriors?
A. One of the things we did at Golden State is that we looked to bring in high-character guys, and that’s one thing we are doing here. We look to bring in high-skill guys. When you look at some of the guys we’ve added, with Quinn Cook and (Nicolas) Brussino, those are maybe not big moves, but those are guys that can make shots. Tyler Dorsey, the guy we drafted in the second round, 40-plus percent 3-point shooter in college for two years at Oregon. Those are the things we looked to do at Golden State, too. I bring a lot of those things: athleticism, length, multidimensional and then as I’ve stated several times already, the high character.
Q. One thing I’ve seen written is that you were part of a group that collectively made decisions. Is that a tradition that you will continue here and, if so, who’s in the group?
A. I’m very fortunate when I got here there was a great staff in place. Those guys are still with us. Going through the draft process with them, their organization was really strong. Going through free agency we were extremely prepared for free agency. That group is Jeff Peterson, who is our assistant general manager. He does a great job for us. John Treloar, our director of player personnel. Obviously coach (Mike) Budenholzer. Mike McNieve, our director of basketball operations. Those are kind of our senior management group and then we have younger guys that are involved in the process.
Q. In Golden State you called yourself kind of the pessimist of that decision-making group. What do you mean by that and now that you are the head guy how does not being afraid to say no help this team?
A. I guess I was kind of the “no” guy there. Here, I’m a little more upbeat I suppose, by changing the position. I think every organization needs somebody that’s not afraid to say “no.” Obviously when you sit in this (GM) chair you have the final say so there are going to be times when I say no. But it’s important to get everyone’s opinions and their different opinions. You don’t want a group of people that are all going to give you the same like, unless it’s right opinion. It’s important to have different voices in the room.
Q. What was your assessment of the team’s scouting department when you got here?
A. We did bring in a few people. Rod (Higgins) is a gentleman I worked with all the way back in Golden State. He was the general manager there when I was a back-row assistant coach. . . . He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience. I’m very comfortable with the staff that we have here, but I thought that bringing in someone with a little more experience could be useful for us.
- Some of you may remember me as the Hawks beat writer before Chris Vivlamore. Since leaving that position, I’ve mostly been covering the Falcons and Braves for the AJC and writing on the Mike Check blog. Lots of things have changed with the Hawks since I last was on the beat (including the entire roster). It sort of feels like I need to rediscover my sea legs, but it’s good to be back on the NBA beat.
- Below are the links to the player-by-player previews and other Hawks content I posted on the myAJC.com pay site. In the future most items I write about the Hawks will appear on this blog. But I will occasionally post stuff at Mike Check, and you should buy a subscription to myAJC.com.
- The higher-ups decided that instead of taking over Vivlamore’s Twitter, I should start my own. So I did. You can follow me here if you are so inclined.
Hawks-related Mike Checks
- Hawks player preview: Dennis Schroder
- Hawks player preview: Taurean Prince
- Hawks player preview: Miles Plumlee
- Hawks player preview: Mike Muscala
- Hawks player preview: Ersan Ilyasova
- Hawks player preview: Tyler Dorsey
- Hawks player preview: Malcolm Delaney
- Hawks player preview: Dewayne Dedmon
- Hawks player preview: Quinn Cook
- Hawks player preview: John Collins
- Hawks player preview: Nicolas Brussino
- Hawks player preview: DeAndre’ Bembry
- Hawks player preview: Marco Belinelli
- Hawks player preview: Kent Bazemore
- Hawks player preview: Luke Babbitt
- No national TV games for rebuilding Hawks
- More shots for Muscala is good for Hawks
- Hawks not a good team but could be very good in one area
- Hawks botched rebuild before it even began