ATLANTA — Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew knows his players are excited about the team’s new up-tempo approach.
To gain his favor, though, the Hawks must commit themselves to defense.
Drew directed the team through its first practice of training camp on Tuesday, and his message was clear.
“The misconception is that you go up-tempo and you stop guarding,” he said. “You don’t allow the players to (let) that to sink in or even give it a thought.”
“We’re still going to be a team that’s going to guard and defend. It’s my job to make sure of that.”
Off-season moves by new general manager Danny Ferry reshaped the roster to add speed and quickness.
Ferry brought in Lou Williams, Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow and rookie John Jenkins to complement fast players already on the roster such as Jeff Teague, Josh Smith and Al Horford.
Though possibilities are exciting offensively, Drew insists that players must excel on defense if they hope to earn minutes and chances to score.
“Our emphasis still, as it has been the last two years with me as head coach here, is defense,” Drew said. “We don’t get out and run unless we defend. That’s going to be the tone that’s set throughout this training camp.”
Beginning his eighth season on the Atlanta staff and third as head coach, Drew is eager to see how his five returning players – Smith, Horford, Teague, Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson – blend in with the new group of veterans.
Williams, Harris, Morrow, Kyle Korver, DeShawn Stevenson, Johan Petro and Anthony Tolliver have a combined 44 years of experience.
The arrival of newcomers and the departure of longtime starters Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams gives the team a new identity.
“We’ve gone smaller but quicker and faster,” Drew said. “Our club has been built around that.”
Atlanta was considered an up-tempo team last year with Teague at point guard, and its defense wasn’t too shabby, either, with a No. 6 ranking in points allowed.
But the trades of Johnson, a six-time All-Star, and Williams, a former No. 2 overall draft pick, took away length and size, so Drew spent time the past few months tinkering with some of his long-held philosophies to adapt his schemes to a leaner, quicker roster.
“It was a process of elimination with some of the stuff I ran last year, and then I had to add some things that would fit these guys,” Drew said. “I did it all summer. It seems like I was never satisfied with certain things.”
Smith hopes Atlanta’s new look will make his ninth season his best with the Hawks. The 6-foot-9 Smith, an Atlanta native, has long had a reputation for great potential, but is still waiting to earn his first All-Star appearance or help the Hawks advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history.
“I’m not running away from it,” Smith said. “I understand a lot of it lies on my shoulders. I’m willing to embrace all criticism. If y’all want to put games on me, I’m willing to do that as well. That’s what it takes to be a leader. Accept the criticism as well as when you do good.”
Horford, a two-time All-Star, is enjoying a fresh start with his old team after missing most of last season with a torn pectoral muscle.
‘’I think in the past, we were all very used to each other,” Horford said. “Now it’s totally different for us. We have a bunch of new guys, so for me it’s kind of like my rookie year again, coming in here and not knowing what to expect. Just kind of jelling because we’re a brand new team.”