AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Hawks are ready to take another important step in their rebuilding process.
General manager Danny Ferry has already gutted the roster and brought in a new coach. Now, it's on to the draft Thursday night, with the biggest step of all -- free agency -- just around the corner.
"The draft is essential in team building, especially within this new (collective bargaining agreement)," Ferry said in a recent interview. "So we have to go about each draft with great respect, and understand the value these picks have to our organization."
The Hawks have back-to-back selections in the opening round -- Nos. 17 and 18 -- and two more choices in the second round at 47th and 50th. Naturally, there's a lot of talk about Atlanta packaging that plethora of picks to move up, or perhaps move down and pick up some additional choices for the future.
"Those discussions have and will obviously continue to be there between now and the draft," Ferry said. "We'll weigh the opportunities, look at the players available in front of us and behind us with the goal of building a team for the short term and the long term. The draft really helps this, especially when you look at the long term."
The Hawks haven't gotten much help out of the draft over the years, with their last significant pick -- point guard Jeff Teague -- coming at No. 17 in 2009.
Atlanta is better known for its draft day blunders, most notably in 2005 when then-GM Billy Knight, despite an obvious need at the point, passed over Chris Paul and Deron Williams to pick forward Marvin Williams.
Williams was an enigma during his career with the Hawks, which finally ended last summer when Ferry dealt him to the Utah Jazz largely to get his contract off the books. The same day, Ferry traded All-Star guard Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets, ridding the team of its biggest contract and setting up a major reconstruction heading into the coming season.
The Hawks made the playoffs in what was essentially a lame-duck year, with a roster comprised largely of expiring contracts. Center Al Horford, guard Lou Williams (who is coming back from season-ending knee surgery), and second-yard guard John Jenkins (last year's first-round pick) are the only players definitely under contract for next season. Teague, a restricted free agent, could be back, too.
A lot more will be different. Ferry dumped coach Larry Drew to bring in a colleague from his days in San Antonio, longtime Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer. The Hawks also appear set to part ways with hot-and-cold forward Josh Smith, who has been with the team since 2004 and is one of numerous unrestricted free agents.
With so much uncertainty about what the team will look like next season, there's been little indication of who Ferry might be targeting in free agency, which begins next week. He might tip his hand a bit by who he chooses in the draft, though the Hawks are unlikely to land anyone who can provide major help right away.
"We'll always work to emphasize players who fit the idea of caring about the group as well as having the talent level that can make us competitive," he said. "The goal is to put yourself in position where the sum is greater than the parts."
This is not thought to be an especially strong draft class, with no clear-cut consensus about the best player and plenty of speculation about who the Cleveland Cavaliers will take at No. 1.
But Ferry is confident he can land some useful players, no matter where he winds up picking.
"Each draft is unique in its talent level," he said. "There's always a number of players in each draft who are capable of positively impacting our program. The job of the scouting department is to identify those and find guys who fit the identity and culture we want to have going forward."
This will be Ferry's second draft with the Hawks, but the first where he's really had a chance to oversee the process. Last season, he helped select Jenkins and second-round pick Mike Scott just three days after being hired as the GM.
This time, there's no doubt who's in charge.
"There's a lot of challenges," Ferry said, "but a lot of opportunities."
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