ATLANTA — When Travis Schlenk was employed because the Hawks’ basic supervisor in 2017, proprietor Tony Ressler said reasonably emphatically, “I didn’t bring him in for me to make basketball decisions,” and we are able to now view these phrases with some amusement, or a minimum of a giant, fats, “Oy.”
But in these days, Ressler meant it, and he let Schlenk take a sledgehammer to an ageing roster. Dwight Howard was dumped, Kyle Korver was traded, Paul Millsap, Thabo Sefolosha and Tim Hardaway have been allowed to go away in free company. Coach Mike Budenholzer, having been stripped of autonomy over the roster, pouted after seeing his 60-win roster from two seasons earlier torn down for a rebuild. The Hawks completed 24-58 and Bud fled for Milwaukee however it proved to be the proper path to success. Three years later, Atlanta reached the Eastern Conference finals, and even when that urged some overachievement, there was no doubting the group’s course.
The NBA commerce deadline is Thursday. The Hawks are at a crossroads once more. But this isn’t the best week to swing a sledgehammer.
The group has expertise however simply as clearly wants change to contend sooner or later. Approaching wage cap issues mandate vital strikes earlier than subsequent season. Maybe basic supervisor Landry Fields can promote an asset or two for draft picks or expiring contracts earlier than Thursday. But this is a company in flux in any respect ranges. The greatest time to evaluate the massive image, outline priorities and reshape a roster is within the offseason when different groups are in the identical mode and have time to course of and manipulate the wage cap.
If the place to begin for Atlanta’s fledgling basketball operations workers is, “We can contend in the East,” it’s assuming rather a lot. The Hawks are a .500 group (27-27). They’ve performed two-thirds of the season. They usually have performed higher the previous few weeks however nonetheless have the look of a group that at greatest will win one spherical of the playoffs and at worst will get bounced within the play-in spherical (assuming it will get in).
They are two video games behind the sixth-seeded Heat to keep away from the play-in spherical. They are 2 1/2 video games forward of the Eleventh-seeded Pacers to overlook getting in altogether. This is a extra vital season than most to get into the draft lottery as a result of they really personal their first-round choose and that’s not the case in 2025 or 2027 (each unprotected). So it’s not the time to go all in on the commerce deadline.
Also, contemplate the scenario on a number of fronts.
• Ownership/entrance workplace: It’s at all times doable that owner Tony Ressler will take a step again and permit his new entrance workplace, headed by Fields, assistant GM Korver and an assortment of mostly newbies that includes Ressler’s son, Nick, to kind issues out. It’s simply as doable that he’ll wish to rent a brand new prime government after the season to assist information the 34-year-old Fields. (As The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported, the Hawks had discussions with former group scout and government Chris Grant, who served beneath former fallen basic supervisor Danny Ferry. But they’ve since backed off.) If there may be any likelihood of change within the entrance workplace, it appears logical that ought to happen first earlier than any vital roster choices are made.
• Coach Nate McMillan: He may have one 12 months plus an possibility left on his $6 million per 12 months contract after this season and there’s a risk he won’t be again for quite a lot of causes, not the least of that are: 1) The group has declined because the shocking convention finals run, even when it isn’t essentially all his fault; 2) He not works for the overall supervisor who employed him; 3) He has an up-and-down relationship with guard Trae Young. If Ressler fires McMillan, shouldn’t the brand new coach have enter on what present gamers he’s snug with and which of them don’t match his philosophy?
• Salary cap: I’ll attempt to recap this with out making your eyes bleed. Next season would be the final on Dejounte Murray’s contract earlier than free company, and it is a good time to remind you it took a haul of draft picks to get him. DeAndre Hunter’s latest extension kicks in, together with his wage leaping from $9.8 million to $20.1 million. Young shall be at $40 million-plus, John Collins at $25 million and Clint Capela at $21 million. The group has wage commitments to a minimum of 10 gamers for $142.6 million. If Bogdan Bogdanovic workouts his $18 million possibility – not inconceivable contemplating the situation of his knee may make it troublesome for him to safe a multi-year deal – the payroll jumps to $160.6 million (sixth highest within the league) for under 11 gamers. That’s effectively above the projected wage cap of $134 million and proper on the luxurious cap stage of $162 million. In brief, it’s a full-retail payroll acting at Dollar Store ranges.
• Trae Young: Don’t take this because the Hawks will discover buying and selling their star level guard and advertising and marketing centerpiece. But how the pairing with Murray develops is essential transferring ahead because it pertains to roster constructing. It’s additionally price noting that whereas Young and lots of of his followers consider the participant receives undue criticism, questions on his popularity lengthen far past media and a few followers. Young did not make it into the All-Star Game for the third time in 5 seasons, and it wasn’t due to these two entities. He completed seventh total in voting amongst Eastern Conference guards. This was the breakdown of voting events: followers fifth, media sixth, gamers twelfth. This doesn’t assist the “Players want to come here to play with Trae” narrative. He wasn’t added to the convention group by coaches. If this means how he’s perceived by gamers and coaches, how will that influence roster-building efforts transferring ahead?
• Options: Yes, Fields may alleviate subsequent 12 months’s downside now by dealing Bogdanovic. They additionally may lastly deal Collins, who brings some abilities that different groups would really like. But Collins’ commerce worth isn’t excessive now, partly due to his contract. Unless there’s an amazing provide on the desk, there’s no clear upside to buying and selling Collins or one other common rotation participant now. Most trades on the deadline contain a purchaser and a vendor, not two groups anticipating to get higher. Moving Collins, Capela or one other main piece within the offseason, when extra groups might be concerned, makes extra sense.
It all may make for a boring commerce deadline for the Hawks. But there’s an excessive amount of uncertainty earlier than the deadline and there shall be uncertainty after it. The issues can’t be fastened earlier than Thursday.
(Photo of Trae Young gesturing after a 3-pointer: Chris Coduto / Getty Images)