CHICAGO — Hawks players won’t tell you, definitively, who their leader is, their face, their most well respected voice, because it’s not clear who exactly that is.
If the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Milwaukee Bucks are basketball’s constitutional monarchies—with one player serving as the practical and symbolic leader of the team—then the 1-6 Hawks are a liberal democracy, with a decent amount of haves and a handful of rulers, but equal voice dispersed to all its constituents.
“Things go a little more smoothly when you don’t hear just one, two, three guys talking all the time,” Kent Bazemore said. “I think it works when you do everything by committee.”
The Hawks under the Budenholzer administration (2013 to present) have always been democratic in their leadership, even during times of success, though the current quality of play certainly hasn’t warranted any star treatment. 2014-15’s 60-win team was widely celebrated for its unselfishness, which was evident both on and off the court. The starting five, after all, was collectively given the Eastern Conference Player of the Month award.
Budenholzer’s Hawks teams have never had one defining, authoritarian voice. Dwight Howard attempted to disrupt that dynamic through his behavior last season, and was promptly jettisoned away. Besides virtually demanding for more minutes during his exit interviews, Howard’s selfish need to be the center—of the locker room, of the offense—resulted in multiple Hawks players screaming in jubilation at the news of his departure, according to Zach Lowe.
“We all get along with each other,” DeAndre’ Bembry told HawksHoop’s Eric Yeboah earlier this month. “We have no problems off the court. Us being cool off the court is where it starts and makes its way towards the court when we play together.”
This season, the departures of Paul Millsap and Howard have created a bit of a power vacuum in its wake, one that the likes of Dennis Schroder and Bazemore have begun to partition. But the two believe in the model of Hawks democracy in leadership. Bazemore, for one, prefers it.
Rookie John Collins applauds Bazemore’s willingness to embrace egalitarianism.
“We are a brotherhood when [Bazemore’s] with us,” Collins said. “He doesn’t mind doing it from the top to the bottom.”
Equality doesn’t mean that the elders don’t teach, though. Bazemore is loud, expressive, animated—especially on the defensive end of the floor—and that method of instruction has helped the younger players reinforce concepts.
“Any time I’m on the court, he tries to help me during the game on where I can do better,” rookie Tyler Dorsey said. “I think that’s what’s rubbing off on me [from Bazemore] the most—learning what to do in those game situations.”
Schroder, by contrast, leads by example, consistently setting the tone by hitting the deck for loose balls and making high-energy plays. It’s this dichotomy that Bazemore thinks makes their leadership tandem effective.
“It’s very, like, yin and yang,” Bazemore said. “Two different styles, and both effective.”
As helpful as Schroder’s on the court leadership may be, his off the court struggles—Schroder was arrested for battery and was suspended last season for failure to report—have been road blocks in his progression into a full-time governorship, and is further evidence of the Hawks’ current power vacuum.
Equality in voice can easily breed a power struggle, if manipulated accordingly. So far, through six losses in seven games to start the season, no one’s started to point the finger. There is a blueprint on how to maximize egalitarianism under Budenholzer’s watch, if 2015 is any indication, but whether the Hawks can find it—with entirely different, lower-quality building material—is the question. Liberté, égalité, fraternité: the Hawks way?
“We got multiple guys chatting, feeling like they’re being a part of the conversation,” Bazemore said. “We’re all in a dog fight together—the more the merrier.”