Why the Hawks are so desperate to return to play this season
The Atlanta Hawks are one of the teams on the outside looking in, now that the league seems to be heading toward a 22-team format to resume play.
Hawks owner Tony Ressler made his concerns known in a recent meeting with other NBA owners and commissioner Adam Silver, claiming a small-market team like his could be badly hurt by a long absence until next season. Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett, whose team would take part in the playoffs, argued small markets that don’t take part in the NBA’s return-to-play plan could be badly hurt from lack of sponsors and have difficulty selling tickets after a nine to 10-month layoff.
Ressler also just wants to see his young team resume their season in some capacity. Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce echoed a similar sentiment, even if his team has no chance to fight for a playoff seed:
“I coach the youngest team in the NBA,” Pierce said on ESPN. “And the biggest thing we can benefit from is playing basketball, and the game has been taken away from all of us at this point.”
“If the season is going to resume and we’re still not a part of it, it hurts our growth, it hurts our product, it hurts our ability to continue the momentum that we need going into next season,” Pierce said.
The Hawks are likely heading for a top-five pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. If the season ended today, they would be one of the teams in the running for the top overall pick, sitting just outside the worst three teams in the league with a 20-47 win-loss record.
While that will help their rebuild, Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk also wants his team to get a chance to develop more together:
“You have to remember, we have a young team,” Schlenk told The Athletic. “Any opportunity we have to practice is a positive for us. We view that as a positive. You also have to think about that we made a couple of trades at the deadline for guys who weren’t able to play.”
One key new player is Clint Capela, who was injured when the Hawks acquired him at the deadline. Atlanta would like to see Capela get some time this season with Trae Young and the other young players.
The NBA has already stretched to the potential of 22 teams after mulling 16- and 20-team iterations in previous weeks. The risk of contagion grows exponentially by including all 30 teams, as well as the cost of testing and accommodations inside Walt Disney World in Florida.
If the Hawks are to make a case to play, they will need to do much better than player development to convince the league it’s a choice they must make.