This coming season cannot be like last season — or the season before — for the Atlanta Hawks.
So decreed Dejounte Murray during his availability on media day, a time when optimism is seemingly endless for everyone.
“Be better than last year,” he said on October 2. “Establish an identity from jump, which I feel like we’re on the right road towards, just having the whole team here a month ago. Guys in early, happy to be in, and just working hard. Good in chemistry in the locker room, outside of the facility and carry on to translate to the court. So be better than last year, and win and be a top-four seed. Being a Play-In team is not optional.”
Murray’s point is not lost for a Hawks franchise that was 41-41 last season, finished as the seven-seed last having to fight through the Play-In Tournament last season, and has suffered back-to-back first-round playoff exits after a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Murray was asked about the leadership role that he’s taken since arriving via trade last summer.
“It’s just who I am as a person,” Murray said. “I don’t know how to fake or pretend. That’s just who I always been since a kid. My family, friends, anybody that know me since I was a kid, they’ll tell you I’ve always been a leader. Never follow a trend or the crowd or nothing. So that’s just me being me.
That much was on display when each of the Hawks’ rookies said that Murray was the first one to reach out to them after they were selected.
“At the end of the day, I’m just trying to help everybody,” Murray said. “Because we always can help each other, be there for each other, and grow with each other. So me, just if I see something, it’s not just me preaching it. I got to live by and stand by it as well.
“If I’m telling the young guy or anybody to work harder, I can’t be out there slacking or missing workouts or going through the motions. So I lead by example. Actions speak louder than words.”
Those sentiments are in the same vein as Trae Young’s comments about their potential.
“I think we can be we can be special,” Young said on the “Gil’s Arena” podcast on August 4. “For me, I don’t like necessarily talking about it. I like going out and doing it. So like it’s different for me talking about it. But I know we can be special.”
The Hawks were 35-32 with Murray and Young in the lineup last season. But both players believe they can reach another level as a duo and as a team with Quin Snyder at the helm. Snyder also espoused his desire for the dynamic pair to do their greatest leading by setting examples for their teammates.
Landry Fields Praises Dejounte Murray for Extension
Murray signed a four-year, $120 million contract this offseason when he could have earned $17 million or so more in the first year alone of a new deal had he hit free agency next summer.
Instead, he showcased even more of what is important to him with his decision.
“I’m a loyal guy,” Murray said. “I stand on loyalty. But my family, my friends, my work – loyalty is just who I am as a person. I don’t know nothing else but loyalty and love. So there was no surprising. When the trade happened, when I came from San Antonio, I was already committed to Atlanta even though I had … two years left on my contract.”
Hawks general manager Landry Fields was certainly appreciative of the star guard doing them a favor and taking below market value.
“Like I’ve always said: I count the years, I don’t count the money,” Murray said. “I don’t count other players’ pockets, other men’s pockets. I wasn’t raised that way. I come from zero so all of this is just a truly blessing and a testament of my hard work and who I am as a person.
“I’m loyal and I was committed from day one and nothing never changed.”
The Hawks will open training camp tomorrow, October 3, and play their first preseason game on October 10. Their regular-season opener is on October 25.