Who are we? Hawks looks to answer a perplexing question
(AP) - Over the summer, Nate McMillan was recognized by an Atlanta Hawks fan during a routine visit to the doctor. But another person in the waiting room had no idea who he was.
When told that McMillan was the coach of the city’s NBA team, the woman asked, “Who are the Atlanta Hawks?”
McMillan wasn’t offended by the question. In fact, he thought it was very poignant.
“Who are we?” McMillan repeated. “Two years ago, we go to the Eastern Conference finals, Last year, we finished ninth and have to go through the play-in tournament.”
Indeed, after coming up two wins shy of the NBA Finals for the first time since the franchise moved to Atlanta in 1968, the Hawks took a major step backward.
Nagging injuries, a COVID-19 outbreak that took out much of the roster, and an atrocious defense left the Hawks playing catch-up the entire year.
Atlanta earned a return to the playoffs with a pair of wins in the play-in tournament, but that provided only a brief respite to an up-and-down year.
The Hawks went down meekly in the first round, losing to the Miami Heat in five games.
Now, McMillan is trying to figure out which season more accurately reflects his team.
“Who are we? Who do we want to become? How are we gonna get there?” he asked again. “We have to establish and create our identity. The last two seasons are now behind us. This is a new year, a new opportunity, a new challenge.”
The front office resisted calls to totally overhaul the roster, but the Hawks did make a major move they hope will improve two areas of concern.
Atlanta surrendered three first-round draft picks to acquire All-Star guard Dejounte Murray from the San Antonio Spurs.
Murray is a stellar defensive player and also provides another offensive option when teams focus on Hawks star Trae Young.
Young had a memorable season statistically, becoming only the second player after Tiny Archibald to lead the NBA in total points and assists. But he was largely ineffective against the swarming, switching Heat in the playoffs.
Young looks forward to playing more with the ball in someone else’s hands, though it may be a bit of adjustment to share the ball-handling load with Murray.
“I’m so locked in on winning a championship,” Young said. “Nothing else.”
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