ATLANTA -- The first year of the rebuild is over. Rejoice.
The Atlanta Hawks (24-58) finished their worst season since 2004 when they only won 13 games. It came to an end when they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 121-113 on Tuesday night at Philips Arena. The only thing is, most fans wanted them to lose. So no harm done.
Their chances of getting a higher pick in the 2018 NBA Draft increased courtesy of the defeat, and those chances will be even higher if the Orlando Magic lose to Washington Wizards on Wednesday.
As painful of a season as it may have been for the fans, it had its silver lining for head coach Mike Budenholzer and the team. Budenholzer said after the game he was proud of his team and their daily willingness to get better despite the circumstances.
"It’s not easy to go through a season that we just had," Budenholzer said.
Their opponent knew all about rebuilding, they just like to refer to it as "The Process." After several years of trades, top draft picks and personnel changes, the 76ers are not only competitive, they've clinched home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs and are in the midst of a 15-game winning streak, the longest in franchise history.
They've had 1st round picks for two consecutive years (Ben Simmons in 2016 and Markelle Fultz in 2017), and Joel Embiid was contributing heavily until suffering an orbital fracture that's kept him out since last month. However, they've continued to win without him. They added veterans around the talented, young core, and they've got themselves a team.
Budenholzer sees them as a blueprint towards success.
"Obviously the whole league, including us, looks at them as someone who has a bright future. There’s a lot of lessons be be learned," he said.
The Hawks may have the 1st overall pick, but we won't know until May 15 when the ping pong balls decide the order at the NBA Draft Lottery. Don't count on it. Expect somewhere between 3-6.
But forward Taurean Prince, who finished the last four games of the season averaging 25.6 points per game, is guaranteeing the team will already be on the upswing come next season.
"I do know for a fact that next year’s team will compete. We’re going to come out to win every week no matter who’s out on the floor or what situation we may be in," Prince said.
Strong words, and it's easy to get swept into his confidence, especially because of how he's commanded the floor lately. The 2016 first-round draft pick acquired from Utah is quickly turning into a leader and reliable scorer.
But there are questions surrounding the futures of guys like Dennis Schroder, who's facing a possible felony, and Kent Bazemore, who still has two years left on his $70 million contract with the second year being a player option, and whether he's a guy worth building around.
All things General Manager Travis Schlenk has to deal with this offseason.
There's something to be said for these guys sticking it out through a long, rough season and bonding while learning each other's game. There is a chemistry in the locker room that can't be ignored.
"The ability for us to fight and play tough in all 82 games this year has been significant force in our confidence for next year so when we bring in the next group of guys or whatever our team situation is going into next year, we’re going to go ahead and start strong," rookie John Collins said.
The Hawks went toe-to-toe with the 76ers on Tuesday night. A few guys had poor shooting nights, and it was the veterans for Philadelphia who had the hot hand. They're not perfect yet, but they certainly are on a steady rise.
It's not absurd to think the Hawks can be that in a couple of years.