When the Hawks kept calling, Ryan Kelly kept answering the phone.
Kelly was an unrestricted free agent this summer after his first three seasons with the Lakers when the team declined to make him a qualifying offer. He had interest from other teams but he kept coming back to the Hawks even for a non-guaranteed training camp invitation.
The odds are long as the Hawks already have 16 guaranteed or substantially guaranteed contracts.
“I thought it was a really good fit in terms of the style of play,” Ryan said. “They are a team that has been calling me all summer because I think they value what I do. I needed a change, that’s for sure. Where I was, was just not working. I’m excited about this whole thing, a new home, a new opportunity and not to mention being on the east coast and a little closer to family.”
Kelly, who went to high school in North Carolina, played four years at Duke before the Lakers selected the 6-foot-11 forward in the second round (No. 48) of the 2013 NBA Draft. He started all 23 games as a senior at Duke and averaged 12.9 points and 5.3 rebounds.
In his career with the Lakers, Kelly appeared in 147 games, included 59 starts, and averaged 6.5 points and 3.3 rebounds. He did several stints in the NBA Development League.
Kelly said he watched the Hawks from afar and believed his style of play fit the ball-movement team. Once he signed, he watched video to get an even better idea of what he could do in the system.
“They think I’m a good player and they see that I can fit into their system,” Kelly said. “To go in and fight. No matter what, there is always a possibility for opportunity if you can play yourself into it. That’s how I look at it. I love competition. I love competing against some of the best players in the NBA and the world. I’m trying to take advantage of that.”
Kelly said he is encouraged by how he has performed early in training camp – especially in scrimmage situations where he can show his ability to shoot and pass.
“He is a really smart basketball player,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “That stood out when we had our optional open gym workouts. He is a guy when you have a pickup game, when you go to the park or the YMCA, you pick him. He’s going to make the right pass, the right shot. He can obviously shoot it. He showed a little bit of athleticism that maybe would be a little bit of a surprise. He’s a very good fit. When you talk about somebody who fits us, Ryan is one of those types of guys.”
Kelly, whose father-in-law is former NFL player and head coach Bill Cowher, hopes to get more opportunity to showcase his skills – for the Hawks and perhaps other NBA teams - during exhibition games that begin next week.
“My last couple years have been rough, both individually and as a team,” Kelly said. “It was good for a change. I’m excited about the future. I learned a lot from my experience there, I don’t want to say never because you never know where you are going to end up, but this is a great opportunity for me and I want to take advantage of it.
“It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be a battle. I’m going to try to take advantage of every opportunity. One, show the Hawks what I can do and that I’ve gotten better. And also, get an opportunity to show everybody in the league that I deserve to be here.”