Zaza Pachulia is coming off a year in which he surprised many with his play in Dallas. Pachulia was a double-double machine in the first half of the season and nearly made the all-star game (in terms of votes). His career really took off in 2005, when he started 78 games for the Hawks. He spent eight full seasons with the Hawks where he spent a majority of the time as the backup to Al Horford. The hustle and the work on the boards is what made him a fan favorite in Atlanta and it would be great to see him back in a Hawks uniform again. Atlanta definitely needs to add more big bodies off the bench, and Pachulia could be a solid veteran presence that can help the Hawks on the boards and play bigger at times during games. The big Georgian center is not the sexiest option, but he will be an inexpensive one that would be worth the price.
Festus Ezeli or Bismack Biyombo
Unlike most of the other positions this free agency, there are quite a few centers up for grabs this summer. Both Festus Ezeli and Bismack Biyambo played big roles for great teams off the bench this season. I am lumping them together because I see a lot of similarities between their games and the type of money they will be receiving this summer. We all got to see what Biyombo can do when he got the opportunity to start in the playoffs. Ezeli is a similar player that played a slightly lesser role because of the great depth of the Warriors. They are both in their early 20’s and due for huge pay raises. It is unlikely that either of their current teams will be able to pay these rising stars. The combination of their fantastic defense and ferocious rebounding has them on a lot of teams radars. Their offensive games are not there yet, but there is plenty of untapped potential. Both of these guys would go a long way in helping to compete with teams like Cleveland, but I do not think Atlanta is close enough that one of these guys will put them over the top for that kind of money.
Whiteside has become a beast for the Heat over the last two season and is in line to get paid this offseason. The Hawks were one of the best teams in blocks this season even though they lacked a true rim protector. Whiteside is the best shot blocker in the league and a frontline of him and Millsap would be the most dominant defensive duo in the NBA. Atlanta would likely have to let go of Horford, which would be a huge loss, but Whiteside fixes a huge problem. His rebounding ability would fix a gaping hole that has been in the Hawks over the past two seasons. The upgrades on defense and on the boards would be huge in the postseason. If Whiteside ever became a more dominant offensive presence, he could become the best center in the league. He still has a lot of room to grow as player and does not have a lot of miles on him.
For the first time in Howard’s career, it seems he might actually have interest in playing for his hometown. The Hawks are always after this guy when he hits the market, but this time it could be a little different. His number have been on a steady decline since his departure from Orlando and he was not much more than an average center last year. He also has injury issues and will likely be on the wrong side of his 30’s when his next contract ends. A lot of teams will be after his services and it will probably take too much money invested to get this deal done. Atlanta also could not afford Horford, Millsap and Howard, so I doubt the Hawks pony up the money to sign Howard.
The Hawks big man is an unrestricted free agent and testing the waters of free agency. Atlanta has full bird rights since they drafted the former Florida center, so they can still sign other free agents and then go over the cap to re-sign Horford. Horford has been a staple for Atlanta and an elite big man in the NBA over the years but has yet to get Atlanta over the top. His struggles on the boards are an issue and its clear even if the Hawks re-sign Horford, that they will have to get bigger elsewhere. Atlanta needs to re-sign Horford, but hopefully they will not have to pony up the five-year max worth around $145 million dollars. That is simply a huge overpay for a player only averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds. The Hawks still need more help to become a championship team, and committing close to $150 million to a player who is not a superstar could really lock up the Hawks financially in the future.
Buy, but not for a full five-year max