Hawks Offseason Report: Game Over! Start Again?

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2016/17 Record: 43 – 39 (First Round Exit)

2017/18 Salaries: $95,447,414 (Under The Cap Team) – full ATL salary cap situation – here.

Incoming Draft Picks: HOU ’18 1st (4-30), MIN ’18 1st (15-30), CLE ’19 1st (11-30).

Outgoing Draft Picks: Nil.

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Perhaps the biggest offseason move for the Hawks came just a week after the 2016/17 season ended and involved no players. After a first round loss at the hands of the Wizards and with a huge summer coming up, Atlanta shook up its front office. Mike Budenholzer would relinquish his role as team President and while Wes Wilcox would stay with the team, it would no longer be as the General Manager.

While it was reported as Budenholzer giving up the role, it has to be suspected that the Hawks were saving Bud from himself. Since taking on the dual position, President Bud had pandered to the needs of Coach Bud (and perhaps ownership) more often than not. This move allows him to do what he does best, coach the team,  and potentially avoids a complete separation down the road.

Fast forward approximately a month and Travis Schlenk was hired as the Hawks new GM. Schlenk had a first round pick to use in another month’s time but far bigger decisions loomed on the horizon involving his current roster. Faced with several key players coming out of contract when July 1st hit – Paul Millsap (Unrestricted) and Tim Hardaway Jnr (Restricted) being the main two –  the new GM had some choices to make.

These were the types of decisions that Schlenk was hired for.

After not offering Millsap a contract and likely never considering matching Hardaway’s $71 Million contract offer from the Knicks, it was obvious the Hawks were finally rebuilding the franchise. Not only were they re-tooling but they were going in a complete opposite direction. If it wasn’t clear enough after the earlier trade of Dwight Howard, then it certainly was a week into Free Agency.

In many ways, Howard was the symbol of the Hawks current plight and cutting him loose was Schlenk’s signal that Atlanta was not going to waste any more time. Taking the decisions away from a Coach that is always going to want the most talent he can get his hands on and giving it to someone not attached. Goodbye to the Old Hawks. Schlenk has been charged with the responsibility of rebuilding the franchise and armed with his experience at the Warriors of how to build properly towards a Championship. Hello, New Hawks.

Short term, the damage comes in the form of loss of talent and experience.

The losses of Millsap, Howard and Hardaway plus other key veterans, account for 83 seasons of experience and 5,550 total games. That’s 30 more seasons and over 2,000 more games than the entire 17/18 roster has combined. The average age of the new look Hawks has dropped by two years and would drop significantly further if it weren’t for new additions Marco Belinelli and Luke Babbitt. Both of whom are not part of the Hawks nucleus going forward.

Long term, the damage may come in the form of trades and a little tanking for optimum draft position.

It’s the nucleus that Atlanta needs to focus on and the Hawks should look to move anything  not tied to their budding core. Taurean Prince, John Collins and DeAndre’ Bembry are all candidates for age and potential, while Kent Bazemore and Miles Plumlee may stay put for the time being purely because of their contracts. That core is promising but the Hawks desperately need a further injection of young talent.

That’s why everyone else can, and should, be discussed. The ultimate goal being acquiring further assets (picks or unproven potential) while giving maximum minutes to the young players currently on the roster. It will help development but more importantly, draft position.

Ersan Ilyasova, DeWayne Dedmon and Marco Belinelli all need to be considered as trade chips this season. Whilst they have been brought in to provide much-needed leadership, as the trade deadline nears they could be valued commodities for playoff bound teams looking for depth. Shot-blocking and/or shooting is something every team is always looking to add when they can and depending on their play, it could also be why the Hawks look to move them on.

While the short-term team friendly contracts all three are under would be attractive to teams, they may not prove all that lucrative on their own. The Hawks could stockpile  second rounders or add them to another more attractive piece in a larger trade. That piece could be Dennis Schroder. Although still only 24 years old, Atlanta will need to ask itself if he can be the starting PG on their next playoff bound team. They may jump off him early if a team comes knocking or cash in later, should his likely high usage translate to great stats and an inflated value.

Any trades that are made will add to a handy little treasure chest, that Schlenk has at his disposal. Whilst the current yield should arguably be even more fruitful, the Hawks have no draft picks owing to others and will currently go into the ’18 Draft with three first rounders and ’19 with two.

Everything going right, the Hawks should land a top five pick in a draft that currently has five stand out prospects. Mohamed Bamba or DeAndre Ayton would both fill a position of need for the Hawks at Center, while Luka Doncic would be a welcome addition on the wing with his shooting and play-making ability. However with no current Hawks player worthy of avoiding a best player available strategy, even top prospects Michael Porter and Marvin Bagley would be on Atlanta’s radar should they luck into a really high pick. Whatever happens, Atlanta need to make sure they land in that top five.

Following what occurs at the pointy end, they will also have two picks in the 20-30 range from likely playoff bound teams. As well as their own early 30’s second. Depending on internal growth and who they land at their top pick, the Hawks could package their remaining picks for a talent like combo-forward Miles Bridges and take a flyer on the second round scoring talent of Allonzo Trier. That would be a very good haul from the ’18 class.

All of a sudden the Hawks young core could include Schroder, Prince, Bembry, Collins, Bamba/Ayton as well as Bridges and Trier. There is hope in that roster and something to sell for the new GM. It will certainly take some time but building through the draft is what Schlenk has seen work first hand and will no doubt be the plan for the first roster he gets to have final say on.

It’s a fresh start in Philips Arena but things might be a little ugly for a while. It’s still the right choice. Ownership might be a little nervous considering the Hawks were in the bottom half of the NBA for total attendance (26th last season), whilst putting a very good team on the court. It’s still the right choice.

Coach Bud might be a little nervous considering he will be leaning on younger players a lot more next season, with his entire starting five having less experience (23 seasons) than Howard and Millsap (24 seasons) alone. It’s still the right choice. Plus the fans might be a little apprehensive with Vegas predicting the wins total to be somewhere around 34, where you have to go all the way back to 2007 for a total that low. But you guessed it, it’s still the right choice.

Make no more mistakes mistake, Travis Schlenk has ensured that this upcoming season is all about the future.

Projected Starting Five:

 

Projected Depth Chart:
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Overall Offseason Grade: B

2017/18 Prediction: 28 – 54

The Hawks had a disastrous offseason, worthy of an F Grade, if you simply compare those coming in with those who left. However they made the right moves for a team pivoting towards a rebuild and Schlenk can’t be punished for the mistakes of the past regime. Simply put, this team won’t be very good next season and you could even argue should get even worse. They get a decent mark for now that could further improve if they make the right decisions throughout the season.

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Player To Watch: DeAndre’ Bembry

DeAndre’ Bembry could be the big winner from the Hawks summer transition. Last season he lived very much in the shadow of teammate, Taurean Prince. Playing largely at the same position, Prince was picked higher in the draft, featured in 21 more games, amassed 600 more minutes and even became the starting Small Forward come Playoff time. All while Bembry sat on the bench, waiting for his time to come. There simply wasn’t enough time for the both of them last season, but that all changes with the mass exodus of Hawks from last season. Whilst it’s not a competition, Bembry will likely back-up Prince on the wing this coming season and looks to have far more offensive upside than his Sophomore teammate. The tables may turn for Bembry, as the Hawks will be desperate for an injection of talent on that side of the ball.

Four Key Questions:

1. Can DeWayne Dedmon play himself into a bigger contract?
DeWayne Dedmon chose to break free from the Spurs grip, when given the chance. Whilst impressing last season under Coach Pop, the Spurs did tend to shift away from Dedmon at the pointy end of the season which may have swayed Dedmon’s decision.  Signing a $6 million contract for this season, Dedmon gets a nice pay rise but also flexibility going into the following season with a player option. Bigs are a dying breed in the modern NBA, but ones who can defend out in space, protect the paint and finish around the rim are still valued commodities. Dedmon may earn himself another bump for season 18/19 if he can play close to 36 minutes a game and hold up to his Per36 averages of 10 points, 12 rebound and 2 blocks a game. On this Hawks team, he will get a lot of time to showcase his talent while only competing with Plumlee and Muscala for minutes at the 5.

2. Will Dennis Schroder be the Point Guard of the future?
Schroder will still only be a 24-year-old going into the season but the question has to be asked; will he be the starting PG on the next Hawks playoff team? His fifth season and second as full-time starter, might answer that question. With a new GM handling player movement, all “old” assets have to prove their worth all over again. Schroder was okay on a good Hawks team last season but there were often question marks over how hard he played and his ability to run the team. He no longer has Millsap to defer some play-making duties to and it will be a lot harder to patch over the cracks on a bad Hawks team next season.

3. Does Kent Bazemore have a bounce back year in him?
After getting his big payday last offseason, Kent Bazemore had what could be politely called a “down” season in 16/17. While the Hawks would have been disappointed with the output, they weren’t the only team willing to pony up the cash for his services last year. That’s because what Bazemore brings to a team is valuable in today’s NBA. His poor overall baseline stats last season were mostly highlighted by a big dip in his efficiency, where he shot the ball the worst he has since his rookie season. Ideally he is the fourth or fifth option in a team’s starting lineup, rather than the second or third he looks to be this season. But Bazemore can start his bounce back by setting an example on the defensive end of the floor. It’s that end where recent Hawks teams thrive and this team will be no different. It’s also that end where Bazemore can actually be a leader for the young core.

4. Can the Hawks land the Number One overall pick?
It’s going to take some luck but as the old adage goes; luck is when preparation meets opportunity. The lottery ensures nothing is ever guaranteed however, the Hawks can make sure they are prepared as best they can be pre and post the Draft Lottery. Playing the young guys heavy minutes will accelerate their development, as well as increase the number in the loss column this season. The Hawks will likely be competing with the likes of the Bulls, Suns, Nets (Cavs), Kings, Magic and Lakers (Sixers) for lotto balls this season and it may come down to who does the best job of tanking towards the end. Atlanta need to be prepared to lose heavily for the sake of their future and even if they don’t win the lottery, they could also be prepared to move up using other assets if they really like the top prospect.


Info courtesy of:
Basketball Reference
Basketball Insiders
Real GM
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