ATLANTA — Atlanta Hawks management had to spend too much of the offseason saying "We're sorry."
Hawks players have a different message in training camp: "We're better."
Optimism is based on improved depth and a better understanding of second-year coach Mike Budenholzer's ball-movement system.
Twelve players return from last season's team that lost a tough first-round playoff series to Indiana.
All-Star center Al Horford, recovering from a torn right pectoral muscle, worked in his first five-on-five drills of training camp on Wednesday.
Horford said depth should be a strong point for the team.
"I think this is probably the deepest team I've been a part of since I've been here," Horford said. "I'm real confident in our guys, the way they work and how they've played. I'm so excited about our team."
Horford said he hopes to play in at least two preseason games and be ready for the regular season. He said his increased work on Wednesday was "really good news for me."
"I felt good and I was glad to be back in the flow of things, working in the offense and getting some reps defensively," Horford said. "That was important for me."
Atlanta's offseason was marred by the racially charged comments by co-owner Bruce Levenson and general manager Danny Ferry. Levenson is selling his majority share of the team and Ferry has taken an indefinite leave of absence.
Horford said it is "refreshing" for basketball to be replacing the controversy as the focus on the team. He said he never worried players would be distracted even though Ferry's long-term status remains uncertain and new ownership must be found.
"No, not with the kind of guys that we have here," Horford said. "We have players that are mentally very strong and guys that are professional and understand how to be a pro. Our focus is on our team."I'm glad that we can just focus on basketball and get ready for the season."
Two second-year players, forward-center Mike Muscala and guard Dennis Schroder, have impressed Horford and other teammates. The 6-foot-11 Muscala had 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots in Atlanta's 93-87 preseason win over New Orleans on Monday night.
Shooting guard John Jenkins and forward Mike Scott, each beginning his third season, also should be top backups. The projected starters are Horford, Korver, point guard Jeff Teague and forwards Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll.
The only notable veteran additions are forward Thabo Sefolosha and guard Kent Bazemore, who is recovering from surgery on his right foot in April. Bazemore also joined five-on-five drills on Wednesday.
Forward-center Adreian Payne, the first-round pick from Michigan State, is the only rookie in camp.
With so few new names, there is much talk of an increased confidence in Budenholzer's system.
"I just think everyone is very comfortable," said guard Kyle Korver. "Our management and coaching staff have done a good job of bringing in players who fit our system well. A big part of what we do is chemistry. This isn't an isolation-heavy system. A big part of what we do is predicated on ball movement and chemistry and having a good feel for each other.
"Having 12 of our 15 back for a second year, and having a few new guys that are catching on quick, it's just another year of building that."
Asked to compare the team's progress from his first training camp last year, Budenholzer said players' knowledge of his system shows on the court.
"I think the most tangible thing that you can see on the court is they are playing instinctively and the ball is moving and they're doing things," Budenholzer said. "We want to create a way to play and then they make plays within that."