Al Horford left the Atlanta Hawks a year ago, and now Paul Millsap is gone, too, leaving the franchise with very little to show for having drafted/signed two of the Eastern Conference’s most consistent (and consistently underrated) stars and piecing together a 60-win team just a few short years ago.
The consolation prize this most recent, most unfortunate offseason appears to be Diamond Stone, a second-year big man the Hawks finagled out of the Danilo Gallinari sign-and-trade to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Unfortunately, Stone was buried deep at the end of the L.A. bench last season as a rookie in a Doc Rivers system that already featured an All-Star NBA frontcourt, so most casual fans have no idea who he is. He played in only 7 games, a few minutes at a time, and obviously hasn’t yet had an opportunity to show what he can do in the NBA. For an Atlanta Hawks team mired in youth and with minutes to spare, Stone realized he might finally get his shot the minute he got the news about the trade.
“I was working out with the Clippers, and one day I got a phone call telling me I was a Hawk,” Stone told Basketball insiders. “There were a lot of emotions at first because I made some great relationships with the program and everybody out there, but think as far as me as a player, I think I’m ready to take that next step. The Hawks are a perfect opportunity for me to do that.”
Already, Stone is getting in good with his Summer League teammates, some of whom will be on the Hawks roster with him when training camp rolls around in the fall.
“This is a perfect opportunity, not just for me but for guys like John Collins, Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry,” he said. “I know we’re a young team, but I still feel like we can really bring some noise. Everyone’s doubting us, saying that we’re too young a team to compete, but we really are ready to compete with the best of them. So I really feel like it’s going to be a fun season.”
Stone, a former top high school recruit and McDonald’s All-American, is a monster of a man, only 20 years old but built like a statue. He smiles a lot, though, and already seems like someone the rest of the young Hawks Summer League team has accepted as one of their own, which is nice considering Prince and Bembry are among those who will be on the team’s roster next season.
While fans might know much about Stone just yet, he’s hopeful that the fans will appreciate him once they see what he can do.
“I’m loud,” Stone laughed. “I compete every night. I want to win as bad as they (the fans) do.”
While the Hawks have played two Summer League games thus far, Stone himself only has played one. The Gallinari trade only happened last week, after all, so his reporting to the Hawks’ coaches and trainers in Las Vegas was not something he saw coming. In fact, when Stone played for Atlanta in Vegas this past weekend, he wore bright royal blue shoes with red socks, not having yet had time to find shoes in Atlanta’s colors. It almost was like he still was a Clipper from the ankles down.
“It was a last-minute phone call to come out here and a last-minute decision on shoes, so I didn’t have a lot of time to get new ones,” Stone said, chuckling.
Now, he’s just struggling to learn the plays and adapt to his new teammates in time enough to make an impact at Summer League.
“It’s not hard to be disoriented because I love basketball and I love guys who can compete, and I can already tell these are guys that can compete,” he said. “I love seeing guys that are competitive, and these guys really are. We’ve fought from being down here in Summer League, coming back from being down big, and I love seeing them not give up.”
In his debut with Atlanta on Sunday, Stone scored 11 points and chipped in five rebounds in just 14 minutes of play of what ended up being a Hawks win. Offensively he’s still raw, but defensively he’s strong and mature and smart, which should be enough to earn him some minutes in Atlanta this coming season.
Hawks fans are going to love Stone’s good nature, his huge frame and his desire to make an immediate impact defensively. He might not be a household name just yet, but Diamond Stone isn’t the kind of name you forget.
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