The Hawks declined to sign a defensive-minded wing player over the summer or after Marvin Williams and Mo Evans went down with injuries last month.
They quickly added that type of free agent in the wake of Joe Johnson’s surgery, signing veteran swingman Damien Wilkins to a prorated veteran’s minimum contract today.
“I think we’ll get a hard-nosed player, a guy who plays hard,” coach Larry Drew said. “A good defensive player who gives us a guy with size that can defend the [shooting guard] and the [small forward] spot. I’m more focused on his energy and the toughness that he brings and he’s a solid defensive player. That’s something you can never have enough of. We are very pleased to have him on board.”
Drew said Wilkins would get a “crash course” in the team’s schemes today but he wasn’t sure if Wilkins would dress for tonight’s game against Philadelphia.
Wilkins, 30, is a six-year NBA veteran who played last season with Minnesota and appeared in two preseason games with Memphis in October before being waived. He played two collegiate seasons at Georgia after transferring from North Carolina State.
Wilkins, the son of former NBA player Gerald Wilkins and the nephew of former Hawks star Dominique Wilkins, said he had conversations with the Hawks over the summer. The Hawks called again when Evans and Williams were out.
“But that’s all it was, [just] conversations,” he said.
Wilkins said he had recently contemplated signing with a D-League team so he could stay visible to NBA teams. He finished a workout Thursday and noticed he had multiple missed calls from his agent, who was trying to reach him with the news of Atlanta’s interest.
“I feel like a rookie all over again,” Wilkins said. “This is like a dream come true to play for a team that has been my favorite team pretty much my entire life watching my uncle play here. I still can’t believe it. It hasn’t hit me yet. I am sure it will when I suit up.”
Johnson is expected to miss at least a month after he had surgery to his right elbow Thursday. Under collective bargaining rules, Wilkins’ contract would become fully guaranteed for the rest of the season on Jan. 15.
In the meantime, Wilkins said he’s ready to play the role Drew has for him.
“He told me to provide a whole lot of energy and toughness off the bench at both ends of the floor,” Wilkins said. “He told me to mainly come and have a defensive impact on the game because that’s what this team needs to get to the next level. Those are things I can do.
“Offensively, I think we have a team that is certainly capable of scoring, so I am not assuming they are looking at me to come in and be Joe Johnson and replace what he can do offensively. That being said, the offense is catered to everyone. The opportunities will eventually come. But where I want to make my impact is defensively, toughness and energy off the bench.”