Finally caught up with Rick Sund today. Here’s the transcript of the interview. . . .
Q. I haven’t talked to you since the end of the regular season. You did better in the playoffs but you did worst during the regular season . . .
I pretty much predicted that. I did a radio show and they brought that up that you pretty much said the team wouldn’t be as good during the regular season but better in the playoffs and that’s pretty much what we were.
Q. But do you look at regular season, where you had some blowout home losses and the offense and defense regressed and . . . .
I think other than–Oklahoma City and Chicago were the only two teams that didn’t have a lot of highs and lows during the season. Certainly LA did and Dallas did and Miami did. Your [media] colleagues had Spoelstra fired three times. So it’s been up and down and we fell right into that. We’ve been up and down. I’d like to think that helped us. I’m hoping that was one reason we were stoic during the playoffs.
Q. Do you think this core group has peaked?
Q. How can it be better?
In some ways it might be a little bit like Dallas, although we were younger than Dallas. Dallas went three straight years with disappointing playoffs and eliminated in the first round and I think that prompted Cuban the other day to grab the mic and say, ‘For all you people that didn’t believe in us . . . ‘ Because they kept their core group together including Kidd and Nowitzki and Marion and they got criticized for that quite a bit. And they got beat pretty much embarrassingly, by their standards, in the last three years. I think we have learned along the way. We will look at the possibility of making our team better. We do every year. We’ve made two major trades the last two years and we will continue to look and see if there is something that makes us better.
Q. You look at Dallas, they did make a trade that helped them so . . .
Yeah, well, you asked me about the core group and that’s what I’m responding to. The core group of our players have, I think, improved every single year. I’ve had that question every year, even the year I got here: Can this core group get even better? And they have, I think, in terms of ultimately the playoffs.
Q. So you are not inclined to break it up?
I didn’t say that. I said we will continue to look. Your question was, ‘Can this core be competitive again?’ I think we were pretty competitive in the playoffs. I think we can continue to do it but I think we will look, like we do every year, to see if we can do something to make our club better.
Q. Maybe that was the wrong question, then. Do you think this group is good enough to reach your goals?
Q. The CBA is up in the air. As it looks now you don’t have a lot of flexibility so how can you improve the team considering those constraints?
I can’t even answer that until we know what the rules are.
Q. Are you hoping to end up with more flexibility in the new CBA?
We can’t even comment on the CBA and I won’t. I think, for good reason, we have one voice, that’s David Stern. Until we get what the new collective bargaining is, it’s very, very hard to assess.
Q. Listening to Al and his comments, it’s clear he prefers to play the four and thinks he’s more effective there. Would you look to get a full-time center to accommodate him?
I don’t know. So many of the players that are really, really good, and Al is one of those, they have the ability to play dual positions. I think he’s established himself he can play five; he’s established he can play four. That’s a good combo for us.
Q. You are just back from Chicago and Minneapolis. You don’t have the No. 18 pick that you traded, but you do have the second-round pick. Any hope of getting help from the draft?
We look at the last 10 years who has been drafted between 45 and 50, because that’s kind of a grouping. It’s too early. The Chicago combine is over, the group workout in Minnesota is over. We have got some group workouts we are doing here in June and you are always hoping you can get someone who has an upside of some sort. It’s difficult to find someone to come in and find someone who can play right away. When you have a good team, it’s difficult to get someone who is drafted [even] in the first round to come in and play right away.
Q. You said after last year you are of the mind that you don’t need an MVP candidate to be a championship contender but when you look at it historically, almost every single champion has had that first team All-NBA guy so how . . .
It is going to be very hard for us to get that MVP candidate unless you pick one or two [in the draft]. And we are not picking one or two. Or unless you happen to have–a few years back when they had free-agent money, to get one in free agency. It’s going to be tough, so we are going to have to do it the hard way. We are going to have to do it similar to what Detroit did in their day, when they had the Eastern Conference finals five straight times, went to Finals and one won, where it is a collective effort. Unless we get an MVP or unless someone emerges as that kind of guy.
Q. Do you have that kind of guy?
I don’t think we have an MVP candidate.
Q. What I mean is, do you have that guy on your team who can emerge into that kind of player?
Time will tell on that. It depends on what happens in the next year or any kind of player transaction or in the future. But basically we have pretty much built it around get as much talent as we possibly can, blend it around and have a team effort. Now we’ve got two players on this roster who have made All-Pro, we have got two players made All-Star and another one knocking on the door. We’ve got a player in Hinrich who has been kind of that gritty, tough complimentary player and has made All-Defense. So it is going to have to be a collective effort.
Q. How is Teague’s health?
He is coming along fine. No surgeries.
Q. After what Teague did against Chicago, do you feel good about point guard with him and Hinrich?
I felt good about it before Chicago with Hinrich and Jeff. He should be a senior in college, graduating this year. He’s just a young guy. He’s always had some real great physical tools. He just had an opportunity where he got an opportunity for consecutive playing time and he responded well. And that’s what you have to do in this league, when your opportunity comes, take advantage of it. And to his credit, I think most of the time he has had an opportunity. . . . . Even a year ago, when we said, ‘We are going to let you play, don’t worry about it win lose or draw,’ and he had a nice game against Cleveland. This year against Boston and it was a situation where Jamal missed four or five games, Joe didn’t play, and Jeff played real good in that game. We did the trade where Mike left and he got significant minutes and in that time. To his credit he has done a really good job for a young player and only getting spot play, role playing, that when he got an opportunity to get consistent minutes he responded pretty well.
Q. Do you see that continuing going forward as far as him getting consistent minutes?
I think so. For him, it was a real confidence booster. Because it’s hard when you are a role player and waiting for your opportunity and your turn as a young player, you need to take advantage of that. And he did and that’s good for him and good for us.
Q. When there was trade speculation last fall about Josh, you talked to him and reassured him. Now that there is more speculation, and he seemed frustrated with a lot of the criticism he got during the playoffs, do you talk to him again?
No, I’ve talked to him a number of times—collectively, our team—and the age of the Internet, bloggers make trades and then media feel compelled to write, and don’t worry about that. If an opportunity presents itself to improve our club, they know we would do it. Bibby got traded, Mo got traded, we traded for Jamal, we traded our draft pick—they know we will pull the trigger. But one thing I’m not into is addition by subtraction or shopping one guy or two guys. We are looking to see what makes us better as we go forward.
Q. But I think the difference this time with Josh is the frustration is coming from him as far as saying ‘I’m taking too much of the heat.’
He hasn’t expressed that to me.
Q. Is there any chance Pape Sy will be in the plans next season?
Too early to tell. He’s under contract so he will be here unless he is involved in a trade or something. We will go forward to see how his improvement is. He didn’t get a chance for much playing time, although with Chicago I think it was good that he was on the roster because with Hinrich being hurt and a few games at the end he got to get out there and play a little bit. But he’s a a young player, too.
Q. Larry was in his first year as a head coach. How did he do?
I make comparisons to Larry with Nate McMillan. I was with Nate his first full-time year, first training camp. One time I had a kind of a real nice talk with Nate, I said, ‘You will be better in year two than you were in year one, you will be better in year three than year two, you will be better in year four than year three. Because even tough you were an assistant coach and you were a player it’s completely different position when you move over 25 inches.’ I think Larry got better. I think he was very good in the playoffs. I think his confidence level and his belief in the players and the players’ belief in him improved and that’s just the maturation process that coaches go through.
Q. Why was the team so much worse at home this season?
I don’t know. I didn’t think we would get 34 wins again at home. I felt one thing is for sure, we are a more comfortable team on the road today than the year before.
Q. I only keep bringing up the blowout home losses because you don’t usually see that with winning teams.
Every team has clunkers. We had more than you normally do. The big thing is, Can you bounce back from the clunkers? Do the clunkers affect you going into the playoffs? And they didn’t. Our team seemed to show some resiliency to those. Hopefully you don’t have them again. But we had more than you would expect.
Q. Who do you see as the teams you are chasing? Obviously there is Miami now, is it still Boston, Chicago . . .
We said last year before the season started, we wanted to keep the teams behind us, behind us and make strides in front of us. And Cleveland became Miami with LeBron. I think we made strides on Orlando and we didn’t keep Chicago behind us, they leapfrogged everybody. We did keep everybody else behind us. Again, we need to do that. It’s the same goal as Orlando, Miami, Boston. I think it is pretty much going to be the same. The league gets better. There is no question the Eastern Conference was better this year. That’s another reason I didn’t think our record would be as good but by the time the playoffs came around I thought we would be better.
Q. Larry’s offense didn’t go the way he planned as far as getting team to play that style all the time. Do you still think this . . .
I don’t know. You have got to ask that question to Larry.
Q. Joe got the contract and he had his worst year since he’s been here. He’s getting older, he had the injury, so are you concerned . . .
Well, I don’t worry about the old. When I am seeing Jason Kidd and Nowitzki and the Wades and all these people in their 30s, that doesn’t bother me. Joe has got a durable, strong . . . and he did have a lot of injuries and he had an elbow situation and pre- and post-surgery he is such a tough guy he played with that. Not really [concerned]. I was really happy with Joe’s playoffs. I thought he played really well, particuarly the games that we won, he stepped up big time, particularly in the fourth quarter. I think that’s part of the experience, being into it and the pressure. There are only three teams that have made it to the conference semifinals three consecutive years: L.A., Boston and us. Two of those teams have won the championship. Another thing with Joe, if it is correct I didn’t verify it, Joe has been to the second round a number of times and three with the Hawks. Carmelo Anthony, who was probably one of the most sought after players during the trade deal, he’s only made it to the second round once. [Note: That's correct.] Chris Paul has only made it to the second round once. Deron Williams has only made it to the second round once. All the years Kevin Garnett was with [Minnesota], he only made it once. Joe has made it three times. So he’s done a pretty good job of being the best player on your club in terms of getting there. Now his challenge and opportunity is getting to that next round. I think he gave a pretty good effort in the Chicago series.
Q. During the playoffs Joe expressed frustration with whether it was best share the ball or for him to try to do more. It seems like he never really . . .
I don’t know. That’s between him and Larrry. But from my perspective I thought he did a pretty good job. When the game was on the line, those close games. . . . You take any team. Oklahoma City. Some games Durant was really good in the fourth quarter, some games it was Westbrook; other games [Durant] was terrible in the fourth quarter. Take Miami. There were people that were criticizing Bosh in the first round. Somebody has got to do it. Most of the time, a lot of the time, it’s your best player. Other times it’s not. When Boozer did it for Chicago they were really good in those games. I try not to get too high on the highs or too low on the lows. The playoffs can really cause that. The highs and the lows of the playoffs are unbelievable from a fan and media perspective. Miami loses to Chicago in a fashion where Chicago pretty much dominated and dictated that game, and everyone wrote Miami off and said that’s it. There is no way that Miami is good enough, blah, blah, blah, blah. Dallas wins the first game, loses the second game, and [they said] ‘There is no way Dallas is going to be able to go into Oklahoma City as loud as that is and the enthusiasm.’ You don’t get too high on it. It’s a progress or it’s a leapfrog. Chicago leapfrogged. Ours is more of a progression and I think Joe did a pretty good job.
Q. When you say ‘progression’ it sounds like you think you are close to breaking through to that next level?
I thought we were pretty close this year, yeah. I really do. I think a good thing is, last year they were embarrassed in the second round. They didn’t play very good. Orlando manhandled them and they didn’t handle it very well. So they were disappointed by the embarrassment. This year they were disappointed that the opportunity was there, they were close, and they didn’t get there. There’s a big difference in the two. Big difference. I think that’s a progression. I heard Nowitzki say that the other day, ‘Hey we weren’t very happy with the last three years.’ They were concerned because they lost their last nine games to playoff teams in the Western Conference. Then they played New Orleans the last game of the season, it was meaningless, and they won. It’s all, What is your mindset? How does it go in the first playoff game, how does your momentum go? For us, they were focused in the Orlando series. They were focused in the Chicago series; Chicago beat them. But they were focused. It wasn’t a situation of them not competing or giving up. I think they thought it was going to be easier last year in the Orlando series and it wasn’t.
Q. What does the team need, in your opinion?
They need to continue to get the maturity. They need to continue to become the physical team they were in the playoffs. I think they need to deal better with the 82 games when adversity comes. This was a strange year because the whole league was like that with the exception of those two teams [Chicago and Oklahoma City]. Erik Spoelstra was fired three times by the media. You had a situation where the Lakers, three or four games before the All-Star game, ‘They’ve got to break it up. They’ve got to make a trade.’ And then they came out of the All-Star break and they win 17 of 18 games. You’ve got a situation in Dallas where Nowitzki gets hurt they lose six or seven in a row, he comes back they lose two or three more. Nobody picked Dallas. I’ve never seen a season—and maybe it’s because the league has gotten better—that was so up and down and all over the board with the playoff clubs. I think we as a team, to answer your question, we have got to stay more focused during the 82 games. We haven’t proved we are championship-caliber. We knocked on the door; we want to get there. Sometimes you will see really good championship teams coast through the year and say, ‘We are waiting for the second season.’ We can’t do that, even though we are one of the teams that the last three years made it to the second round. I think we have got to focus on that a little more during the season. I think that’s got to be one of our priorities because it helps with with positioning. I think we got a little lax on that because we have gone three straight years. Certainly we got lax at it when we got locked up the last couple weeks. Some of that, though, may have helped us because it got Teague more minutes.
Q. Those are mostly intangibles you are talking about. From a personnel standpoint, what do you think the team needs?
I don’t know. We are still in the process of evaluating that.
Q. Are you talking to Jamal about a contract extension?
I’m not going to discuss contract stuff. Jamal knows that we want to do everything in our power to bring him back but we don’t know what the [CBA] rules are yet.
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat