ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks suddenly had a hole in their frontcourt when young center Onyeka Okongwu underwent shoulder surgery.
Enter Gorgui Dieng.
Coming off a surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals and with strong hopes for next season, the Hawks announced the signing of Dieng on Monday.
The 6-foot-10 center split last season between Memphis and San Antonio, averaging 6.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 38 games.
“They have high goals here,” Dieng said. “That’s exciting. That lifts you up to give the best of your ability to help this basketball team.”
Okongwu, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 draft, had surgery after the season ended to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He is expected to miss about six months, which means he won’t be available until January at the earliest.
Backing up defensive stalwart Clint Capela, Okongwu played an increasingly important role off the Hawks bench during his rookie season. The 20-year-old got valuable minutes in the surprising postseason run, which finally ended with a six-game loss to the eventual NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks in the conference final.
But a lingering shoulder injury required major surgery, meaning Okongwu likely won’t be available for the first half of the upcoming season.
The signing of Dieng, who reportedly agreed to a one-year, $4 million deal, is likely the final piece to the Hawks’ roster heading into training camp.
The team took care of its major issues by re-signing forward John Collins to a long-term deal and quickly working out a new max contract with franchise centerpiece Trae Young.
Dieng joins a bench that played a key role in the team’s turnaround last season after a 14-20 start led to the firing of coach Lloyd Pierce.
The Hawks also re-signed veterans Lou Williams and Solomon Hill and received rave reviews for landing Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper on draft night.
“With the signing of Gorgui, we’ve added more size and depth to our frontcourt rotation,” general manager Travis Schlenk said in a statement. “He’s an experienced big with length who can space the floor and defend.”
Heading into the ninth year of a career that started with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Dieng is essentially a stop-gap until Okongwu fully recovers.
Dieng, who has a averaged 7.8 points and 6.0 rebounds over 553 regular-season games, looks forward to playing for a team on the rise.
He’s certainly got good memories of Atlanta, being part of a Louisville team that won a since-vacated national title at the Georgia Dome in 2013.
“Atlanta has been good to me so far,” said Dieng, a native of Senegal. “I’ve had some pretty good games when I’ve come here to play.”
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