ATLANTA -- Despite being swept in the playoffs for the second straight season at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavaliers, Mike Budenholzer doesn’t believe the Atlanta Hawks should break up their core.
“Losing to Cleveland twice is tough,” Budenholzer said after the Hawks met Monday for the final time this postseason. “But to the fan base, to people who think [about making major changes], if we want to find a way to beat, whether it be Cleveland or whoever the great teams in the league or our conference are, blowing it up is probably not the way to beat a team like Cleveland.”
The Hawks figure their best chance of remaining competitive and relevant is to try to bring back Horford. Horford, a four-time All-Star, will turn 30 in June but could very well command a maximum contract. Considering that he is a center who can shoot from the perimeter, Horford could draw plenty of attention in free agency.
“There are a lot of things that we need to address,” Horford said of his impending decision. “But the biggest thing for me is I feel good here. I have a great relationship with Coach. That is important to me and my teammates. Atlanta is a city that welcomed me from the first day. ... I like the way the team is going, I feel like we can win here.”
Horford and the Hawks sound as if they want the same thing. But they also want to close the sizable gap between themselves and James’ Cavaliers.
The Hawks have won a total of 108 regular-season games the past two seasons and reached the Eastern Conference finals a year ago. Horford was asked what he wants to see the team do to improve before making his decision.
“I’m just going to wait and see what Coach and [general manager] Wes [Wilcox] feel like we need to do,” Horford said. “I’m sure they will talk to me at some point. Paul [Millsap] and some of our leaders, they usually run things by us. That is important to do. But they have some big decisions to make.”
Besides keeping Horford, which could require handing the stretch center a five-year maximum contract, Atlanta wants to re-sign Bazemore. The talented forward became a full-time starter for the first time this season and may just be scratching the surface of his potential. Bazemore, who turns 27 later this summer, averaged 11.6 points and 5.1 rebounds this season.
The Hawks know that making any other significant additions could be difficult if they’re able to re-sign Horford and Bazemore. They could make a trade since they have two quality point guards, Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder.
Teague has been the starter, but Schroder wants to start too -- and Schroder was the point guard Budenholzer went with to finish a do-or-die Game 4. Teague sat out the entire fourth quarter.
Budenholzer isn’t ready to reveal his plans at point guard for next season. Teague is entering the final year of his deal worth $8 million.
The Hawks, though, have repeatedly talked about seeking to improve from within this offseason. Having veterans like Millsap and Horford add new weapons to their games is a step in that direction as younger players such as Bazemore, Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr. continue to develop.
“I probably got a little away from the post this year trying to expand my game and do different things,” said Horford, who averaged 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks this past season. “That is a point of emphasis, that I will try to be better in the post and be able to put the ball down a little more on the floor.”
As for the Hawks’ drive to get past LeBron, Budenholzer says Atlanta will continue to try to add to the core rather than shake it up.
“We value continuity, we value what this group has done, the success that they have had,” Budenholzer said. “And a lot of times continuity is your best hope in taking that next step. Can you have a balance of continuity and some additions and bolster it and walk that fine line of adding and embracing continuity?
“So if the question is about beating somebody, I guess for five or six years, whatever team LeBron James has been on, the East has been trying to figure out how to beat that team. We are just like the rest of the East right now, and that is the challenge.”