LAS VEGAS – For at least a few moments, Atlanta Hawks general manager Landry Fields had some time to sit down and reflect.
Otherwise, Fields had a busy offseason with hopes to improve the Hawks’ chances of mirroring their success in 2021 (Eastern Conference finals) instead of repeating what happened in 2022 (first-round playoff exit).
The Hawks blew open the 2022 offseason by trading veteran forward Danilo Gallinari, three future first-round picks and a Draft swap to the San Antonio Spurs for All-Star guard Dejounte Murray, a rising young star that could complement Trae Young well in the backcourt. Then, Atlanta traded Kevin Huerter to the Sacramento Kings for Justin Holiday, Moe Harkless and a lottery-protected 2024 first-round pick. And before taking in Atlanta’s Summer League game on Monday, Fields indicated the Hawks might make some more moves.
“We don’t sit here and pretend we’re in championship contention,” Fields told NBA.com. “That always takes time for everyone. We want to look at what are the next moves we have to make.”
Will that involve the Hawks participating in a blockbuster trade or just improving on the margins? Stay tuned. Fields delved into the busy offseason with NBA.com, touching on the aforementioned trades, how Young can continue to grow, a possible De’Andre Hunter extension, John Collins’ trade rumors and more.
Editor’s Note: The following 1-on-1 conversation has been condensed and edited.
NBA.com: Understanding that things remain fluid, how would you evaluate the current roster you have?
Landry Fields: Going into the offseason, you wonder if there is ever an All-Star available that makes sense for our group? That’s always going to be an objective for most teams. Then it’s about defense, specifically at the point of attack, and then a secondary ball handler. Who is somebody that unloads some of the stuff on Trae and they can play off of each other? That’s where Dejounte became a thing for us. We wanted to get that done as well as have all the other intangible components he brings. With landing him, we feel really good about it. Obviously, we made the trade for Kevin to get a first-round draft pick. That was really helpful as well as getting two guys that we think are a nice fit for what we’re trying to do from a rotational standpoint. Kevin was awesome for us, but it was a move we felt good about making to take the next steps.
I know you can’t talk specifics, but philosophically how do you and the front office consider the pros and cons of pursuing a home-run deal knowing the amount it would require as opposed to pursuing moves that are just singles or doubles?
That’s always a case-by-case thing. Philosophically, you always maintain an openness to it. When you look at this league, there are a lot of good players. You don’t just swing to take a swing on a player and hope it works. There’s still a value system that you have in place. Human beings are not everything to everybody all the time. You have your strengths, and I have mine. What are things we can have that have this integrated approach to maximize what we have? You always want to run it through that filter. That’s the fun part about it. It’s complex.
Are you leaning toward one way or the other?
No. We’re at a good place right now. But I wouldn’t say we’re closing the door on things.
With Dejounte playing now with Trae, how do you see the fit working with how they share ballhandling duties and playing off the ball?
That’s something we didn’t have last year. So, coach Nate [McMillan] and his staff are going to be creative to make that work. We bet on the character makeup of Trae and Dejounte. Both of those guys want to win, and will do what it takes to win. They need that because their roles will be a lot different than they were last year, from both respective teams. As long as they’re able to do what it takes, Coach [McMillan] then comes in and is able to get creative with how they’ll operate. From a front-office standpoint, we’ll determine if we need to inject more here, here or here. Hopefully, all three of those are working at the same time.
What impact do you expect Dejounte to make defensively both from a team standpoint and how it will impact Trae?
The point-of-attack defense was really important for us. Dejounte started off making his mark by being a good defensive player. We know that’s there and he has expanded his game to being a playmaker and has excelled as a shooter. As long as we get that length around the perimeter, we can lower the defensive breakdowns. It puts less pressure on our backline. If Clint [Capela] has to come over, he’s going to break rotations. If we can take a few of those out, it would be great. We had about 7 ½ points between either where we were at (112.4 points per game) and the 30th team on defense (Houston Rockets; 118.2) and to the first team (Boston Celtics, 104.5). How can we overcome that and put ourselves in the top five? With fewer defensive breakdowns, all of a sudden we are getting into that ballpark.
What is Clint Capela’s role in this?
He has to do a hell of a job around the rim. We’re counting on him to maintain that.
With Trae blossoming into one of the NBA’s young stars, where does he go from here with building off of that?
His growth all starts with his desire to win. I do think he’s a legacy guy. He’s about, ‘what do I got to do to bring a championship to Atlanta?’ His growth will be less about addition. It will be about addition by subtraction. ‘What is it that you’re going to take away that will open things up elsewhere?’ You know you’re going to need that to impact your game for the group to continue to perform. You can see it more and more – that higher degree of humility comes in. What do I need to continue to do to get better?
What impact do you expect your other deal will make (with receiving Holiday, Harkless and a lottery-protected 2024 first-round pick)?
Justin Holiday gives us more length around the perimeter and an ability to shoot from the perimeter. That opens things up for Trae and Dejounte with an ability to space the floor. That gives room for Clint and John as they’re working down in the interior. Hopefully, De’Andre [Hunter] continues to take the steps that he needs. With Moe, he’s a guy that plays hard and gives us depth at the four. It’s helpful in that regard. He’s a vet. He’s got great character and we like what he brings to the locker room. He’s not the most outgoing guy, but enough so that we feel there’s an impact there, too.
That trade also offered some luxury tax relief. What has ownership’s message been both about spending and saving on luxury taxes?
It’s funny. You can look at that and read comments from Tony [Ressler] and some people interpret that as: ‘Just start spending money and you can build it out as you want to.’ There’s a fallacy in that. What is great about Tony and our ownership group is that they are willing to go into the tax as long as we’re doing our job of discerning if that’s worth it. It’s the balance of the two. It’s not a ‘this or that’ sort of deal. We have to get out of that dualistic mindset. You take it case-by-case. Is this something we believe is worth going into the tax? You project out the next few years, all of a sudden you are a repeater tax team and that can hurt your roster construction ability.
We just want to be in a position where we’re able to maintain flexibility up front knowing that it could hinder the rest of our future. It doesn’t mean that absolutely no matter what that it is imperative that we get there. But it’s also about having good conversations on whether that move makes sense or not. We’re in the tax. But we’re not beating down the doors and saying ‘we have to get out so here is a fire sale.’ It’s not like that at all. That’s not the most exciting approach to front-office work. It doesn’t make for good reading and content. I totally understand. But if we’re not thinking like that, we would put the franchise in jeopardy short-term and long-term.
You mentioned De’Andre, how would you evaluate his past season and how he improves from here?
He had a few ups and downs. There were points where you thought he needed some development. Then there were other points where he was really good. You always see the flashes of what it could be. His growth point is about continuity and being able to use that length and great body that he has to guard his yard. Can he do that guarding up and down against quicker and bigger guys as well?
Have you started any extension talks with him?
It’s real preliminary right now. We like De’Andre and want to get something done. It’s just so early right now. I couldn’t tell you one way or the other on where that’s going.
How do you look at John Collins philosophically while weighing his long-term fit and value versus what that can bring in a trade?
I always get asked that question one way or the other. John is a valuable player. If you’re building a roster with any team and you’re looking at how you can get better, teams often think this way: ‘Well, the Hawks have a really good player that makes a certain amount of dollars that works for what we’re trying to do.’ So, there are a bunch of concepts they’re going to throw our way and say, ‘What do you think of John?’ The truth of the matter is that John Collins is still on the Hawks. We still have value in him, too. This isn’t one of those, ‘We have to get off of John.’ That’s absurd. There’s a misinterpretation of that. You always think of the player from that standpoint because he is constantly in talks. You try to make sure with him that we check in and make sure he’s doing all right. It’s something where it’s less about wondering if he’s the long-term fit and it’s more about the fact that he gets called on a lot. The moment those calls come up, people talk. Then all of a sudden, here we are in the media with this thought that John Collins is not wanted by the Hawks.
How has Collins reacted to this?
He’s the ultimate professional. He always has been. That’s one of his great values. For a guy to hear his name constantly in this, he’s able to maintain a level of professionalism and focus and will to work. You have to give the guy credit for that. A lot of players in this league don’t get enough credit for that.
How did you see McMillan handle the ups and downs of last season?
Coach has been great. After the season, as a staff, Travis [Schlenk] had a chance to sit with him. He was working with him throughout the offseason. It’s his renewed approach to things and his viewpoints. He was leading by taking ownership and responsibility. It was good to see. You need that. I know he’s excited about the group. But he’s also hungry to get back to where we are, too. He’s been here day in and day out in Vegas. He’s been in the gym at our facility. He’s always been there.
Knowing that things are fluid, how would you assess what the team’s on-paper identity is?
We still got to get to the season and see what this looks like. But we still have the offensive power with Trae. He drives that and is a specialist in that regard. You add in more of that with Dejounte and still leaning on tightening up the defense. If you want to put a word on the identity, I think back to that Eastern Conference finals run, there was this ‘Atlanta swag’ that I think our guys all had. That was a culmination of things they were doing on both sides of the ball. Even with last year talking about defense, in the second half of the season we did continue to progress. Early on, we just weren’t good. The law of averages kept us down. When we’re locked in and bought into guys taking their steps with each other from a chemistry standpoint, rooting for guys and cheering them on, those things all worked out well for us in that run. We’re trying to get back to that. That was the specialness of Trae on offense. There was a defensive component. Guys were guarding their yards. There was a toughness about it. Then they brought some of their character and defensive identity to the whole process.
To your point about uncertainty if this team is championship-contending worthy, what are they capable of doing?
It’s fluid. We’re taking a step forward with Dejounte. The guys in the rotation are fairly young. So, there’s still development to be had. Of course, that’s our vision — to create a championship culture and a championship environment where guys are progressing toward that. But guys are still at where they’re at from a youth standpoint and skill standpoint. So, to say we’re exactly this or exactly that is hard to do. I know it’s bad writing. I should say, ‘We’re a championship team!’ But come on, let’s be realistic that we’re taking the right and healthy steps.
After serving as assistant GM for the past two years, what additional responsibilities has Travis delegated to you?
You name it, I’m a part of it, whether it’s talking through trades or talking through contract negotiations or talking with agents or draft and free agency. All of that is stuff he and I take on together. I felt like this past three or four months, it became more heavy. It’s all part of the building process. First, we’re talking to San Antonio about Dejounte. Right now, we’re going to get into these De’Andre Hunter [extension] discussions. We’ve all been a part of it. Working with Travis has been really good. There’s a complementary piece of what he does and what I do. He doesn’t have this big ego. It’s about how can I do right by you and your family. He’s a family man, himself. So, I appreciate that. That hits me personally with my own core values and making sure I don’t get lost.
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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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