Hawks won't show fans the money
The Hawks aim to please their fans, but they're not guaranteeing it with a rebate like last year.
Editor's note: ESPN.com is once again visiting all 29 NBA teams during training camp and the preseason. The tour continues with a report on the Atlanta Hawks.
There'll be no costly guarantees about making the playoffs.
"Oh, I'm going to stay away from the G-word," said head coach Terry Stotts, whose predecessor, Lon Kruger, felt so adamant about the Hawks' postseason chances last year that he talked the franchise into offering rebates to season-ticket holders.
Unfortunately for Hawks season-ticket holders (yes, they do exist), they won't get another chance at the easiest 125 bucks they ever made. Besides, another money-back guarantee wouldn't be in line with the team's cost-conscious state, most notably its decision to slash the $23 million left on Glenn Robinson's contract by dealing him to Philadelphia in a four-way deal.
The shipping of Robinson slipped the Hawks under the luxury tax threshold, but Stotts must now find a way to replace the 20.8 points a game by Robinson.
"We're going to play together and be a family," guard Jason Terry said. "That's the only thing I can guarantee."
Terry welcomes the extra responsibility of replacing Robinson's offense. In fact, the 6-foot-2 Terry added an extra 12 pounds of muscle to his 180-pound frame over the summer to shoulder the scoring load with Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
But less than a month ago, Terry was prepared to carry an even heavier burden in Utah.
With the Hawks in total flux due to their unsettled ownership situation all summer long, Terry grew tired of waiting to have his questions answered about his future in Atlanta, so he signed a three-year, $22.5 million offer sheet with the Utah Jazz. Not even fellow free agent Andre Miller -- a former college hero in the state as a University of Utah All-American -- wanted to be The Guy To Follow John Stockton.
"My whole thought process was to let myself get solidified in a solid position with a good team structure and a good organization," Terry said. "This summer, the Hawks organization wasn't stable at all. We didn't know who was going to be in charge or who was going to own the team. So I had to go ahead and take that offer."
Stotts wanted to run his own team, too. As interim coach for Kruger, who got fired the day after Christmas after a 11-16 start, Stotts got caught in the same limbo with the Hawks' drawn-out search for a buyer. And like Terry, Stotts went job hunting, interviewing for assistant positions in New York, Chicago and New Jersey and the head coaching gig in Milwaukee.
"Not knowing where I stood was just very frustrating for my wife and I both," Stotts said. "With the way it has worked out, I couldn't have asked for anything better."
After Steve Belkin's ownership group removed the interim tags off Stotts and general manager Billy Knight, they made sure Terry didn't leave town by matching the Jazz's offer.
"I started here and I want to finish here," Terry said. "I hope to retire as a Hawk and I want to be part of the rebuilding process. I still believe that we can be a good team."
Stotts knew he couldn't meld together a playoff contender without Terry, who matured as a point guard last season. Sacrificing shots to accommodate Robinson, Terry finished with his lowest scoring average (17.2) since his rookie year in 1999-2000, but he averaged a career-best 7.4 assists to join Doc Rivers and Mookie Blaylock as the only Atlanta players to record 600 assists in a season.
You'd figure Terry would have the green light again to shoot first, as he did in his second and third seasons when he averaged over 19 points a game. However, he's more interested in proving his worth as a point guard, not some scorer who's playing the point.
|“||The one part of my game that I can improve on from the last year or two is leadership -- controlling the game as a point guard. All the great ones do it. Jason Kidd, Gary Payton and John Stockton -- they all controlled the game, and that's offensively and defensively. ”|
|— Jason Terry|
"Young leader. That's what I call myself," Terry said. "The one part of my game that I can improve on from the last year or two is leadership -- controlling the game as a point guard. All the great ones do it. Jason Kidd, Gary Payton and John Stockton -- they all controlled the game, and that's offensively and defensively.
"[I'm a] combo guard, yes. But that's what should make me that much more effective -- [if] I can control the game on both ends. I still have the ability to take over the game with my shooting and scoring."
"By virtue of his position, point guards have a natural leadership because they have the ball in their hands," Stotts explained. "His leadership on the court, more than anything else, is something he will improve on."
The head coach has something to prove, too. After 11 years in the league, Stotts is finally running his own training camp and hopes to build upon the Hawks' second-half success in 2002-03 when they went 21-19. A dedication to defend and a commitment to take care of the ball were the biggest reasons for the team's improvement the last 40 games.
Terry believes there's no reason why the Hawks can't continue to play over .500 ball for 82 games this season.
"It's a lot more stable," Terry said of this year's camp. "Coach has a system that's already intact. It's not like he's new to the NBA. He's been in it a long time under good coaching and George Karl. He's given us some of the same concepts defensively. That's what we've been lacking in Atlanta the four years I've been here -- a good, solid, team defensive concept."
"My desire for this team is that it competes and plays hard and we improve from last year," Stotts said, "not only record-wise but how we play the game and how we rely on each other."
Just don't expect him to put his money where his mouth is.
Joe Lago is the NBA editor at ESPN.com.
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