The amount of NBA doomsaying accompanying the Hawks these days seems to be out of proportion for a club a game over .500 a modest 38% into its season. But league sources insist there’s turbulence on the Atlanta horizon.
A good deal more than 16-15 was expected after the acquisition of All-Star Dejounte Murray, and while injuries and John Collins trade rumors haven’t helped the group find its collective stride, unrest within is said to be a significant problem. Multiple sources are indicating to Heavy Sports that the relationship between Trae Young and coach Nate McMillan has deteriorated further since a dispute/misunderstanding/spat led to the star guard choosing to not attend a December 2nd game against Denver.
“It’s a very toxic situation right now,” said one league executive. “It’s been going on for about a month now, and it looks like it’s getting worse.”
The issue certainly came to light nearly three weeks ago when, according to The Athletic, Young and McMillan disagreed on the day of game procedure as the former dealt with shoulder soreness. The coach reportedly wanted Young to go through shootaround before getting treatment, while Young didn’t want to participate in the walkthrough. It was reported that McMillan then told Young he could either come off the bench or not come to that night’s game. Young took Option 2 and was not present as Murray went for 34 points to lead seven players in double figures in a win over the Nuggets.
Already, the Hawks are dealing with some internal shifting, as team president Travis Schlenk has been bumped to a “senior advisory role,” according to multiple reports. He will be replaced by former NBA player Landry Fields.
Salty Language From Trae Young?
Since then, Heavy Sports was told Young directed salty language toward the sideline after McMillan called a play and reportedly took a long 3-pointer when the coach signaled for him to dribble toward the bench for a timeout.
Reached by Heavy Sports, a source close to the team labeled the claims “complete BS.”
But other NBA people describe an uncomfortable situation.
“When they win, everybody’s happy for a minute,” said one. “But when they lose, it gets messy. Instead of trying to get it figured out, there’s a lot of blame being thrown around.”
Said another, “I just know there’s a big problem between the two. His father’s involved. Trae’s trying to get Nate canned.”
One opposing coach summed it thusly: “He doesn’t like the coach, the coach doesn’t like him, and other players have issues with Trae also.”
“It’s not a good situation for anyone there,” another league source told Heavy Sports. “The team’s struggling, and the coach will probably eventually get fired, just because they don’t fire players that are making that much and that you’ve set up to be the face of your franchise. I mean, could you trade the player? I doubt it after what we’re seeing here. He’s got a huge contract ($37 million this year, followed by $40 million, $43 million, $46 million and $49 million), and I think teams are seeing him as kind of difficult.
“But you know how this goes; it only takes one team or one coach to think he’s just what they need. But it’d be hard to make the money work.”
Hawks Could Look to Deal at Trade Deadline
Young’s numbers improved significantly in the games against Charlotte and Orlando prior to Wednesday’s date with Chicago, but he’s shooting career lows of 41.2% overall and just 29.3% on 3-pointers.
“He also had problems with Lloyd (Pierce, the Hawks’ previous coach), so I think people could see a pattern,” said the latter source.
Perhaps some of Young’s reactions are to be expected based on human nature. At 24, he is in his fifth NBA season and has made himself a wealthy All-Star by fighting back hard against doubters.
“There were teams that questioned whether he’d ever be this good because of his size when he was coming out,” said one front office source from another club. “So it’s good to have that kind of fight in you. But at some point, you’d hope he’d realize the effect he can have on his team, both positive and negative. Sometimes you have to take a step back and maybe take a hit to make the whole thing work.”
The club seems to be seeking a more cohesive and complementary roster. The Collins trade rumors persist, according to those in the league, but there are those who wonder whether anything will get done in that regard.
“Collins is going to be tough to trade,” one general manager told Heavy. “I’m just not sure many teams are going to want to take on his contract ($102 million guaranteed over this year at $23.5 million and the next three seasons, the last of which is a player option at $26.6 million).
“He played well for them, and they ended up paying him the money because he was producing well. But now his production’s down a little, mostly because they’ve got two ball-dominant guards in Trae and Murray. And now with (Bogdan) Bogdanovic coming back healthy, they’ve got three ball-dominant guards. So you’re just not going to get the same production out of John Collins that you’ve had before. But even when he was getting you 18 and 10 (points and rebounds), I’m not sure that they appreciated him as a building block. I think they just viewed him as a nice player.
“But it comes back to the money when they try to trade him. He has talent, and I think everybody would love him for $15 million dollars.”
The Hawks no doubt like DeAndre Hunter at $9.8 million and AJ Griffin at $3.5 million.
“They have Hunter, who they like more,” the GM continued, “and then they have the rookie, (AJ) Griffin, who when he started in place of Collins had some really productive games. I think it’s a question of allocation of money. It’s a team that’s always fighting with the tax, and they can’t afford to pay a big tax. So I think, as much as anything, it’s not that Collins isn’t a good player, but they have versions of production at the 4 position for a lot less money right now.”
It’s likely that the 6-9 Collins wouldn’t be disappointed with a trade. His numbers are down across the board, but perhaps most tellingly in his usage, where he’s gone from 22.2 percent two years ago and 20.5 percent last season to just 16.3 percent in his 23 games this year.
“I know John Collins has been very unhappy, because he wants to touch the ball — like any NBA player, any NBA starter,” said a source. “It’s understandable. He’s not a bad player. He’s actually a good player. The problem is he’s not worth 23-and-a-half million. There are places he could go where he’d really be helping a team and really be happy, but right now that contract is in the way. We’ll see if anyone’s going to bite or if Atlanta’s going to make it worth another team’s while.”