In the first year as the Atlanta Hawks’ affiliate NBA G League franchise, the Erie BayHawks reached new heights.
In the 2017-18 season, the BayHawks finished with a 28-22 record, winning the franchise’s first division title and advancing to both the Eastern Conference Semifinals and Finals for the first time in team history.
General Manager Malik Rose was named the Executive of the Year. Head Coach Josh Longstaff finished third in Coach of the Year voting. The BayHawks had three players called up to the Hawks, including Jaylen Morris, who signed a multi-year contract.
You could say it was a successful year for the team out in Northwest Pennsylvania, especially after starting the year with four losses.
“After starting 0-4 and 7-13, things weren’t looking so great in Erie. But that’s when guys were learning the system that we put into place,” said GM Malik Rose. “That success we had was directly related to Josh Longstaff and his coaching staff. Those guys started to roll out the morals and the culture that we have been taught in Atlanta. It just took a little bit of time to take effect in Erie.”
Longstaff said the credit goes to the entire organization, from the top down.
“It was humbling for Malik to get Executive of the Year and for myself to get any votes for Coach of the Year, because it’s really a direct reflection of the players and what they did on the floor this year,” said Longstaff. “I think Malik kind of put it best: He said that Executive of the Year is almost ‘team of the year’ in a weird way. It’s just a reflection of what everyone did all year long.”
Longstaff, who has been an assistant coach at the NBA level with both the Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks, enjoyed plenty of success in his first head coaching job.
“The year really started with coach Longstaff,” said Tyler Cavanaugh. “He’s worked with guys like [Kevin Durant], [Kristaps] Porzingis, Russell Westbrook — guys like that throughout his time. He had a great opportunity this year as a first-year head coach, he took advantage of it, and that’s a credit to him and Malik for improving all the players within the organization.”
Cavanaugh started the season as a BayHawks prospect before earning a Call-Up to the Hawks on Nov. 5. He said the turnaround was incredible to see from the beginning of the year until he came back as an assignment player in January.
“I was there during training camp and coach Longstaff just wanted to implement the thought of just getting better every day,” said Cavanaugh. “They continued to work on that all season long. From when I was with them in November, then coming back in late January it was completely different.”
Having a first-year connection between the BayHawks in Erie and the Hawks in Atlanta, the two have created synergy from over 800 miles away.
“It’s amazing how through the evolution of this, how seamless the Hawks and BayHawks have become,” said BayHawks President Matt Bresee. “The culture that they established in Atlanta has taken over the process in Erie.”
With the Hawks being hurt with injuries in both the beginning and the end of the regular season, Atlanta used two-way players Josh Magette and Andrew White, along with call-ups in Cavanaugh, Morris and Jeremy Evans, making it an inconsistent lineup in Erie from day-to-day.
But Longstaff said the fluctuation was a great learning experience for him and his coaching staff.
“We had to figure out the plan based on who was in town,” said Longstaff. “What are the best things for us to do for them to put them in the best situation to be successful based on their strengths?”
This season the BayHawks were led by Magette, who has played four seasons in the NBA G League and was the league’s assists per game leader (10.2) for the third season in a row.
“Josh really set the tone for the BayHawks, as well as Jeremy Evans,” said Cavanaugh. “Having two older guys, veteran guys, who work everyday and set that tone and made it easier for the younger guys to follow.”
With NBA G League rosters changing from year to year and teams not knowing which players will return, sustained success in Erie comes down to keeping the culture and mindset the same moving forward, said Rose.
“I don’t want to be a flash in the pan,” he said. “We have to continue to hammer out good days, good weeks, good months and good seasons. That’s when we can become one of the model franchises in the NBA. Next year we can start from zero, build it up again, and you can then see that this model is sustainable.”