Talked to ASG’s Michael Gearon Jr for a playoffs preview story last week. Couldn’t get everything in, so here are some excerpts from the interview:
On the season
“It is good. I’ve been around the franchise since I was a kid. For us, when we came in here it was all about trying to build a team through the draft with a core group of guys, a young team. The goal we’ve had is get better every year. The goal this year is to move up from where we were last year. This is our third year in playoffs, and its’ not about making the playoffs. It’s about going as far as we can as a team.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys that believe in themselves, and when we are playing the right way we are as good as any team in the league. I’ve been waiting for this day since the end of last season, as a fan. Our your guys have matured, they are used to the playoffs.”
On Woody’s performance
“He’s done a good job. Getting the third seed, 53 wins, each year we keep getting better and better—regular season, he has done a tremendous job. But us a franchise, from the ownership down, we judge ourselves in the playoffs. It’s not just the regular season, its’ winning championships and we feel we have the right core here, culturally—coach, GM, players—and that’s what we are trying to do.”
On leaving Woody’s future up to Rick Sund
“Any owner that meddles with coaches and players, that’s a mistake. We have become a franchise that has become a standard for, we are loyal to our coaches, loyal to our GM, loyal to our players. I think loyalty goes both ways. I think (Woody) is the longest tenured coach in the East (tied with Doc Rivers). We brought Joe in here, and we’ve built with a bunch of good young players. I think we are capable of being an elite team, and that is what we have been building for.”
On intentions to bring back J.J.
“That’s always been the goal. Last summer, we committed to doing it back then. We think Joe likes it here. We like Joe here. We fought hard to get Joe here, as everyone knows. He’s a four-time All-Star. He’s been the face of this franchise and the team has been built around Joe.”
On his view of the Hawks’ offense
“I’m not a coach, I’m not a GM, but when you watch our team, when we move the ball, we are pretty good. Because we’ve got a deep team. We don’t have LeBron, we don’t have Kobe, but we’ve got a deep team where any night we’ve got a bunch of guys capable of performing at a high level. I look at our team kind of like the Boston Celtics of the 80s, when they had Bird, Walton, Ainge, Parrish, McHale–you don’t know on what night which guy is going to get the points. That is when we are at our best. And we’ve got two guys capable of breaking down a defense, Joe and Jamal. Not many teams have that. That is one of our strengths.”
On players’ support for Woody
“We stood by him when everyone in the world said, ‘Why are you standing by this coach with 13 wins, 27 wins, 30 wins.’ Woody is a good guy. I think one way you can judge a coach is whether players play hard for you, and these guys play hard for Woody.”
On direction of team
“It’s not easy to win 53 games, but I think it’s important you understand that as a franchise, we are not slapping each other on the back. We want to be an elite team for many years and we’ve got the core to do that because we are one of the youngest good teams in the league. I think it’s interesting that we started a youth movement. Portland did it, Oklahoma did it. Minnesota, Memphis. Maybe it’s not a good idea to go out and sign Kenyon Martin for $90 million, or trade Andre Miler for Allen Iverson, and realize that doesn’t’ work in Denver. . . . I’m gun-shy of trading for long-term, high-profile veteran, because if you look at the league historically, it’s hard.
“I’m glad we didn’t get impatient. We stayed the course and Woody was supportive of that. Coaches in this league, they lose and they trash the organization, they trash the players. It’s never them. One of the things I have always admired about Mike is when Josh was 18, 19, 20 he never said something about Josh in the paper. Childress, Marvin—he stayed the course. That’s not easy.”
On size of future payroll and using cap exceptions
“I have no idea. We haven’t made decisions based on payroll. If we had, we wouldn’t have gotten Crawford. We have always been committed to keeping our core together. Josh Smith was a restricted free agent. We knew Josh wasn’t going anywhere, but the way the league rules work with restricted free agents it’s a different process. With Joe last summer, we offered the max money we could offer him as a player. Rick is more the one to talk to about the mid-level (exception), but I’ve seen more mistakes with the mid-level than I have smart decisions.
“I love our core team, but there are two phases to this. We just finished the first phase. These questions are better asked after the postseason. I don’t know. You and I are sitting here talking today, but if we get swept first round, I might see our guys differently. I love our core, but I think what has allowed us to be successful has been flexibility. We turned Shelden Williams into Mike Bibby. That’s a pretty darn good move. We turned Acie Law and Speedy Claxton into Jamal Crawford. I don’t fault anything we have done today. I love Mo. He’s a great guy, he plays his tail off. It’s hard to find guys who do that for four minutes or 40.”