Hawks GM on Trae-Dejounte fit, John Collins trade rumors, De’Andre Hunter extension, and more

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The Hawks have had quite the eventful offseason. Atlanta made one of the biggest trades in club history when they acquired Dejounte Murray from the Spurs in exchange for veteran Danilo Gallinari, three future first-rounds, and a draft swap. Murray is the first All-Star Trae Young will have ever played with and might be the perfect complement to the offensive specialist. Once free agency began, the Hawks signed Aaron Holiday. Then, the team traded Kevin Huerter to the Kings for Justin Holiday, Moe Harkless, and a future first-rounder.

However, before all of that, Landry Fields was promoted to general manager as the Hawks aim to get back to the version of the team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Fields recently caught up with NBA.com and had an incredibly transparent interview on various topics. I highly recommend that Hawks fans read the full piece because it’s littered with interesting, informing nuggets.

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.

The possession split between the two All-Stars will be a story for much of the first part of the season. Young is one of the most ball dominant players in the Association, which has prompted many to spout off about how this backcourt duo won’t work. However, Young has plenty of experience and had success playing off-ball. It’s something he can do but hasn’t necessarily had the opportunity to at the collegiate and pro levels.

On the opposite end of the court, Murray is precisely what the club needs. He is an excellent defender who can hold his own in any perimeter matchup, forcing turnovers at an obscene rate. The former Spurs star led the league in steals last season, making him a key addition for a Hawks defense that ranked 28th in opponent turnover rate. Murray should be able to change the team’s defensive identity, consistently force turnovers and doing all the little things right —  i.e., helps in the paint and recovers to the perimeter.

They complement each other perfectly. Both young stars ranked in the top five in the league in assists per game last season, but they’re entirely different players. Ice Trae is a box office scorer, averaging 28.4 points last season, with unlimited shooting range but a small frame and a defensive liability. Murray is a downhill scorer who finishes at the rim with conviction but is inconsistent from deep, shooting 33% from beyond the arc over his career. As I mentioned earlier, he’s a menacing defender with a 6-foot-10 wingspan that can cover up some of Young’s deficiencies on that end of the court.

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.

Reports surfaced that the two sides were close in contract negotiations, but from Fields’ comments, it seems the team isn’t eager to agree to a deal that could potentially turn into a bad contract. Hunter remains inconsistent, which the Hawks GM acknowledges. The front office will not overpay for the former No. 4 overall pick’s services right now.

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.

Reports indicated that the versatile big man wanted out, but it seems those were inaccurate. And every Hawks fans should be happy. He’s still a valuable piece; as I’ve said on multiple occasions, Collins can be the third option on a championship-caliber team. You would be hard-pressed to find a more efficient power forward in the Association, and his defense is more of an asset than a liability. He’s consistently improved his game every season, but most importantly, he’s a team-first player that will do anything to win games, evident in Fields’ ‘ultimate professional’ comment.

Photographer: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire

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