Not too many Gazes are in the offing in the near future.
“For me, I’m a super fiery player,” Bazemore said. “I’ve had to work on controlling my emotions. There’s so many people watching, and thinking less of yourself in certain situations. Things are looking up. In every game we’ve played this year in every form or fashion we’ve given ourselves a chance. Beat Dallas, went down to Miami and had a chance to win there, Brooklyn the same, being up 18 on Charlotte on their opening night.
“We’ve shown glimpses of being a good team; it’s not like we’re going into these arenas and getting blown out by 50 every night.”
But, honestly, the losses are part of the plan this year. 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.”
During an explosive summer of free agency and trades leaguewide, Schlenk worked along the margins, getting involved in deals that sent Dwight Howard to Charlotte for Miles Plumlee and Marco Belinelli; working into the Danilo Gallinari trade with the Clippers and Nuggets by taking on Jamal Crawford from L.A. (the Hawks waived him shortly thereafter and he signed with the Wolves).
But Schlenk also got a 2018 first-round pick from the Clippers in the deal, giving him three total in next year’s Draft — Atlanta already has a Lottery-protected 2018 first-round pick from Minnesota — to add to the two 2019 first-rounders the Hawks have in hand.
The Hawks gave former Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon a short deal (two years, $12 million, second year team option), but other than that, they’re committed to building around their young guys: Schroeder, second-year wings Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry, and rookie big man John Collins.
“For me, at least, I can’t speak for other guys, but losing games, I just try to think we’re playing with the best of the world every night,” Collins said after the Hawks lost their sixth game in their first seven Sunday. “It’s not going to be easy. Nobody’s going to give you anything.”
Collins carries the poker chips around for the team flights, and gets the Snickers on the late-night snack calls and tries to repeat the pattern of sudden improvement he showed from his freshman to his sophomore season at Wake Forest.
Schlenk was, as he puts it, “in NBA La-La Land” at Golden State. Now, he can’t just get lost going to games and getting ready for Drafts; he must sell the rebuilding vision in a city that was slow to warm to the Hawks, but embraced the “True to Atlanta” motto during the team’s run to the Eastern Conference finals.