Kings’ star Kevin Huerter details key behind Atlanta Hawks’ ‘downfall’

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

This was the first season former Atlanta Hawks swingman Kevin Huerter spent wearing another NBA uniform following his trade to the Sacramento Kings over the offseason.

Before that, he spent the first four years of his career with the Hawks helping them get all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021 and landing a lucrative four-year, $65 million contract

While it came as a bit of a surprise, Huerter knows where things went wrong for that group.

“That was almost like the start of our downfall, was the run that we went on,” Huerter told J.J. Redick and Tommy Alter on ‘The Old Man & the Three’ on May 17. “We won before we were expected to win, or before we should have won let’s call it…That just put a fast forward on our timeline, and I don’t think our team as a whole was fully at that point.”

The Hawks have gone 84-80 since then, twice getting bounced out of the playoffs in the first round after just five games.

They dismissed Nate McMillan who took over and guided that run after 59 games this year.

“The expectations for that team just went through the roof the next year because we made a Conference Finals. And it was Conference Finals or Finals-or-Bust. And, maybe as a unit that wasn’t where we were yet.”

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To Huerter’s point, Hawks forward John Collins noted that he believed McMillan was better suited for a more mature group and that this group need more teaching.

The Hawks look to have found their guy in Quin Snyder.

That doesn’t mean that Huerter thinks that group was maxed out or that the Hawks did the right decision, even if he is happy with his new team.

Kevin Huerter: Hawks ECF team ‘skipped a step’

“I would say that team skipped a step, and we overachieved for that year, and we went on a great run. But, ultimately, two years later, all these expectations that have happened [and] everyone thought, ‘Alright, we gotta make a lot of changes because now we’re failing as a team’. When in reality we might not have consistently built to that point anyway. And I think we were getting that, we were building. It just never came to fruition.”

Huerter’s Kings snapped what was the longest playoff drought in professional sports in 2023.

It’s hard not to look upon that as a successful season even if it was cut short just one round (of doing battle for seven games with the defending champions) than the Hawks. In that same vein, it’s hard not to look back on that ECF group as anything other than successful.

They may have fallen two wins short of even appearing in the NBA Finals. But they also almost certainly got shaken up quicker than they would have had that run not happened.

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Both teams will look to improve this offseason with their sights set on even higher goals for the 2023-24 campaign