Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.
We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. We began the series last time with Dan Woike, who covers the Clippers for the Orange County Register. Today, we hear from Hawks beat writer Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. You can follow Chris on Twitter at @. Click here to check out his stories and here to see his blog at AJC.com.
Hoops Rumors: Are the Hawks as surprised by how well their season has gone as much as everyone else is, or did the organization feel as though this roster was capable of a giant leap?
- Chris Vivlamore: I’m not sure anyone saw such a dramatic leap this season but the Hawks thought they had a good team. They were third in the East last season before Al Horford got hurt and pushed the top-seeded Pacers to seven games in the playoffs, a series they probably should have won. With Horford back, they certainly thought they could be a contender in the Eastern Conference. Also, another season under Mike Budenholzer’s system — with nearly the entire roster back — was reason for heightened expectation.
Hoops Rumors: A healthy Horford has certainly helped, but aside from that, what’s been the most significant difference this season compared to last?
- Chris Vivlamore: The most significant differences from last season were the additions of Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore and the incredible progress of Dennis Schröder from his rookie season. Not much was made of the acquisitions of Sefolosha and Bazemore during the summer. However, they added much needed depth – especially at the wing behind DeMarre Carroll. That has led to an improved defense, which is really the staple of Budenholzer’s system. Too often last season, the Hawks would falter without Carroll in the lineup or as he tired from guarding the opposition’s top non-frontcourt threat. Sefolosha and Bazemore firm up the defense and allow the Hawks to come at an opposing star player in waves. Schröder has turned into a legitimate point guard in the NBA, which is a major step from last season. He continues to use his speed to get in the paint and either finish at the rim or kick to an outside shooter. He has also improved his outside shot, which can be a threat.
Hoops Rumors: The Adreian Payne trade seemed like a curious one. He hadn’t played much at all, but he’s a 15th overall pick and he wasn’t even around for a full season. What was the team hoping to accomplish with that deal, and were you surprised that the Hawks would give up an asset like that with so much uncertainty surrounding the front office?
- Chris Vivlamore: While the Payne trade was surprising, the thought process inside the organization was to free up a roster spot as Payne was stuck behind several others at the forward/center spot. He had Paul Millsap, Pero Antic, Elton Brand, Mike Muscala and even Mike Scott ahead of him. They ended up getting another first-round pick for him. I don’t believe the “uncertainty” around the front office had any impact on the deal.
Hoops Rumors: Budenholzer is acting as GM in place of Danny Ferry, but how much has the coach leaned on assistant GMs Wes Wilcox and Scott Wilkinson, senior adviser Rick Sund, and others in that front office? Who has the most prominent voice aside from Budenholzer?
- Chris Vivlamore: The front office continues to work much the same as it did with Ferry. It’s a group effort with Wilcox and the basketball operations staff doing all the same work. They all meet and hash out decisions that need to be made — not unlike it works with the Spurs — to arrive at a consensus. Ultimately, Budenholzer has the final say. Even when Ferry was involved, the organization used the team approach for player personnel decisions and other matters. In that regard, not much has changed.
Hoops Rumors: It’s tough to gauge where the roster is headed with Ferry in limbo and the ownership situation still up in the air. That said, do you get a sense from Millsap and Carroll that, all things being equal, they’d like to stick around if the money is right?
- Chris Vivlamore: The process really hasn’t even begun for Millsap and Carroll as they must go to free agency. I believe there will be plenty of suitors for both and each will get a significant salary increase when it’s all said and done. They have both earned a raise with their play. Quite frankly, they are bargains for what they have produced on the court. I think the Hawks want them back and are prepared to pay each. I think the players want to come back based on the success of the team and their increased roles in Atlanta. However, once teams start making offers you never really know what will happen.
Hoops Rumors: It doesn’t seem as though there’s been a shortage of potential bidders for the team, but you wrote that the sale process could drag on into June. Why do you think it’s taking so long?
- Chris Vivlamore: I wish I had a good answer for this question. I can just say with an organization that is so structured with different groups and individuals — who are so divided — that the smallest of details take forever to complete. The process of selling the franchise and arena is a huge undertaking to get every group on the same page – or at least in enough agreement to move forward.