The 2015-16 season was not a bad one for the Atlanta Hawks. They finished fourth in the conference, tied on points with division rivals Miami, and were swept by the Cavaliers (again), this time in the Conference Semi-Finals. Their offence slowed, their defence tightened but it was ultimately not enough.
All in all, this campaign was a step back from the 60-win 2014-15 season and so, this becomes a really interesting offseason. With a summer full of potential changes ahead, just how will the Hawks line up next year?
Draft Day: Trades
Part of Atlanta’s interesting offseason lies in what happens with the logjam at point guard. Jeff Teague holds the starting role but Dennis Schroder is a young player waiting for his chance to shine. They cannot play together and they cannot co-exist on the roster for long without one getting unhappy.
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At the trade deadline, the Hawks gauged interest in both players but there was no move. Teague was linked heavily with the Bucks, Knicks, and Pacers but it now seems like he could be traded to Philadelphia for Nerlens Noel, giving both teams a resolution to their logjams.
That doesn’t seem like a particularly fair trade, with all due respect for Teague, but it could still happen. Either way, one of the two guards will go whether it is Teague or the more-valuable Schroder. All things considered, it will likely be Teague who is moved. Schroder is younger and has intriguing potential, while the Hawks turned down an array of assets from the 76ers for Schroder earlier this season.
After Teague/Schroder, there is not much to move in Atlanta. They could look to offload the contract of Tiago Splitter in an attempt to have more options towards free agency but that wouldn’t likely get them much. Don’t bank on them bringing in a pick either.
Draft Day: Picks
That leaves the Hawks with picks 21, 44, and 54 and maybe another low pick if that’s how a trade falls. Those aren’t great picks and, to make matters worse, Atlanta has a pretty bad record with recent drafts. Last year’s pick, Kelly Oubre Jr was traded away in a deal for Tim Hardaway Jr, who was a pleasant surprise through this campaign but maybe fell short of a first pick in value.
Since drafting Al Horford in 2007, the Hawks have made seven first-round picks but only two of them have made a real impact, those being Teague, 2009, and Schroder, 2013. Adreian Payne was traded after playing three times, Damion James and Shane Larkin had their rights traded before making a single appearance, and John Jenkins never averaged more than 15 minutes per game in three years with Atlanta.
Maybe this year will be different but with 20 picks above theirs, Atlanta’s choice is difficult to predict. If the draft goes their way and injury concerns have Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine undrafted by pick 21, the Hawks should not hesitate. As a shooting guard/small forward, Valentine is ready to contribute at a position that might need reinforcing, whether it is in a Teague-less backcourt or a Bazemore-less wing.
After Valentine, it could be the home-grown Malik Beasley or someone like Tyler Ulis, so, either way, it is probable that the Hawks will target a guard or swingman to cover for potential losses in Teague and Bazemore. As I said, though, it would take a brave man to pick out one player as a certainty.
Retain or Release
Atlanta has five players entering free agency this year, four of those being unrestricted.
Al Horford will be one of the biggest names in free agency and the Hawks will likely try to retain him. The Hawks have long been Horford’s team and there is a very mutual love between the two. Horford loves the city and he is part of a team with very good chemistry, so it seems likely he will be re-signed.
"[The fans] loved me. I really love the city," Horford said to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
However, there are two foreseeable scenarios in which Al does leave. The first is if Atlanta management decides that last season’s regression shows the Hawks’ core has peaked and that a rebuild is necessary. In that unlikely situation, Atlanta lets Horford walk. Also, that team chemistry could work against them. If Teague is moved, Horford will undoubtedly be upset, as they have played and grown together for seven years, but could it be a factor in whether he re-signs. Again, it’s unlikely but it could happen. All in all, though, everything points to Horford staying put.
For Kent Bazemore, it is not so clear. He is yet another player to have broken out as Atlanta’s small forward and hits free agency with the potential to mimic his predecessor, DeMaree Carroll, and leave. Bazemore is a great fit for this roster and he is a great personality to have among a close-knit bunch. With a large pay rise incoming, Atlanta won’t be able to go over the cap to sign him, but they will likely make every effort to retain him should other endeavours - a.k.a. Horford - allow it.
Of course, if Atlanta chases a bigger name, such as Durant, Bazemore might not be a priority or Kent might value a higher offer from elsewhere more than the familiarity of home cooking. As with Horford, though, he’ll probably stay.
“I would love to return here,” Bazemore said to Vivlamore.
Elsewhere, mid-season acquisitions Kirk Hinrich and Kris Humphries will probably be let go, though it wouldn’t be a great surprise to see Humphries stay if Splitter leaves or his health is a concern. Mike Muscala is a restricted free agent and seems to be a favourite of Budenholzer, so he will definitely be retained.
If the Hawks re-sign Horford and Bazemore, they will not have much room to manoeuvre in free agency. Rumours about Durant possibly coming to Georgia will prove untrue for sure. Atlanta is hardly a landing spot for superstars and Durant won’t be breaking that trend even if the Hawks can free up the money.
There is also talk of possible interest in Dwight Howard, but that makes little to no sense for either side. D12 is far more likely to wind up in Washington, Portland, Milwaukee or Dallas.
After that nonsense, the Hawks will be left to chase role players who can shoot or rebound for either small salaries or the Mid-Level Exception. Players like Eric Gordon, Jared Dudley, Miles Plumlee or David Lee. If Horford and/or Bazemore walk, this will be a different story but don’t expect either of those things to happen.
Most Likely- With Bazemore: Schroder, Korver, Bazemore, Millsap, Horford.
Possible- Without Bazemore: Schroder, Korver, Dudley, Millsap, Horford.
Unlikely- Teague to Philadelphia: Schroder, Bazemore, Millsap, Horford, Noel.
Bench: Eric Gordon (or a player acquired for Teague), Dudley (if Bazemore stays), Hardaway Jr, Thabo Sefolosha, Mike Scott, Splitter, Valentine/Ulis/Beasley, Mike Muscala, Lamar Patterson (in the D-League), Walter Tavares (D-League).
All in all, Hawks fans shouldn’t expect their team to look radically different from their current outfit. Atlanta’s management will likely give their current unit more time and Horford will be returning. Bazemore will likely return too, but that one isn’t so set in stone. If Teague is traded, of course, whoever Atlanta acquires in that deal will likely join the bench. There might also be some interesting pieces added to the bench, like Eric Gordon and Jared Dudley, to give the Hawks a boost.
Budenholzer’s roster for the 2016-17 season will likely be a familiar one, sans Teague, for the Atlanta faithful, who can again expect their team to make the postseason with ease.