HAWKSVILLE – A group that numbered 20 just a few weeks ago is now down to just 13.
It was cut day at the Hawks’ practice facility Wednesday, and the scene was grim.
Mario West and Courtney Sims got the word that their time was up before practice, so there was already a feeling that something (or more accurately someone) was missing.
But the gut-punch came later when rookie center Garret “Big Glacier” Siler got his pink slip afterwards.
As his teammates filed into the locker room each one glanced at the big fella with one eyebrow raised. He returned fire with a hollow look in his eyes and the peace sign. Even though they all knew this was not only a possibility but most likely a probability, it didn’t make the event any easier to swallow. Othello Hunter is the only free agent camper that remains from the army of eight that showed up with designs on landing one of the (three) open roster spots available.
Second-year forward Othello Hunter is the last man standing. No one should be surprised. He made the team the same way last year. And he’s gotten loads better since then. So he his inclusion was well earned (the Hawks’ roster stands at 13 players heading into the final two preseason games before next week’s regular season opener against Indiana).
Hawks coach Mike Woodson was worn out after having to speak to all three players. He was the one that championed West’s cause two years ago, when the energetic but undrafted rookie from Georgia Tech put on a hustle showcase in training camp to make the team.
“People probably thought I was crazy and didn’t know what I was doing,” Woodson said. “But I wasn’t crazy. This kid is probably the hardest working kid I’ve ever coached as far as coming early, staying late and making every single second of practice competitive. And when we put him in the game, he did some good things for us. And over the time he was here he got better. So this is tough, really tough. Anytime you cut a kid it’s a tough day. But for me, it’s tougher than you can ever imagine because I became so attached to him and his work ethic. That’s what you try and teach young guys. That’s the first part of being a player in this league.”
It wasn’t easy for the regulars to watch guys like West, Sims and Siler leave, either. After all, relationships were formed. Friendships were cultivated. Good times were had by all.
“It’s tough because I’ve been in their shoes before,” Zaza Pachulia said. “So this hurts me in so many ways. You get used to having guys around, especially when they are guys with great personalities like the guys we had here. They brought so much positive energy to this team. They were unselfish. And they listen to you and they’re trying to get better. It would be different if they weren’t such great guys.”
The 13th man on a 12-man team as a young teenager, Pachulia talked about the feelings he had on cut day years ago for the junior national team in his native Georgia. “I had all my bags packed thinking I was making the team and all my friends back home thought I’d made it, too,” he said. “I was only 14 at the time, but it felt like I was already in the big time.”
He was crushed when he learned that he was the odd man out.
“It was such an exciting time for me just being their in the training camp,” Pachulia said. “I thought I was going to Italy. And then when they told me … I will never forget that day. I used that as motivation to get better and work even harder. And that’s how these guys have to take this, as motivation. It has to give them energy and make them want to fight more to make it. And they’re good guys, so you know good things will happen for them. Hard work always pays off at some point. You just have to stay positive.”
Sims was the D-League MVP last season and has NBA experience, so finding another job won’t be hard. West has two years of NBA experience under his belt and could chase his fortunes with another NBA team or explore his options overseas. Siler’s a behemoth with plenty of ceiling. Pro basketball is obviously his future.
However, he was still trying to get over the initial shock of the news when I saw him last. He said he has just spoken to his agent and that he would figure out a plan for his next step.
It wouldn’t surprise me if any of these guys showed up on the Hawks’ radar again, maybe even this season.
“Hopefully,” Siler said with a half smile. “I guess we’ll see what happens down the road.”