Fresh off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hawks opted to essentially stand pat last offseason, hoping another year of chemistry would be all the team needed to take the final step towards championship contention. Their plan failed miserably. Nobody on the Hawks took considerable steps forward; meanwhile, the rest of the Eastern Conference loaded up in an attempt to catch the Bucks. For Atlanta, the result was the play-in tournament, and eventually, an embarrassing first-round exit at the hands of the Miami Heat.
The writing on the wall has never been more clear. Significant changes are needed if the Hawks want to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals and beyond, which is the ultimate goal for every organization, especially Atlanta. Ownership is ready to win now; they believe they have the pillars in place to make deep runs in the playoffs every season. Another first-round exit will not be tolerated, so it will be up to Travis Schlenk to pull the right strings this summer, or it could be his job that’s on the line.
The good news is that Schlenk has done a fantastic job maintaining flexibility with his roster construction. There’s not a single contract that is immovable. John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, and Onyeka Okongwu are all younger players that teams around the league would have interest in. Clint Capela and Bogdan Bogdanovic are a little older than that group, but again, they could be easily moved for picks or players. Danilo Gallinari could be kept, traded, or bought-out this summer. Only $5 million of his contract is guaranteed for 2022-2023. And the rest of the Hawks’ roster either has a very small cap number or is set to become a free agent. So while this past season was nothing short of a disaster, Atlanta remains in a very advantageous position when looking toward the future, which is why chaos can be expected this summer.
As far as potential moves, I don’t think anything is off the table outside of Trae Young being moved. The primary goal has to be getting a more top-heavy roster. For the past two seasons, the Hawks have relied on depth. The difference between the second-best player and the tenth-best has been minimal, which sounds great, but it doesn’t lead to championships in the NBA.
I would be absolutely shocked if the Hawks didn’t make finding a second All-Star to pair with Trae Young a priority. They need another player that can get buckets in bunches and take pressure off their star point guard. In the series against Miami, the Heat weren’t worried about anybody else beating them, and they came up with the perfect game plan, wearing Young down over 48 minutes. By the end of the series, you could see it in Young’s face; there was nothing left for him to give. I imagine you’ll see a lot of other teams begin to use that formula against the Hawks moving forward, which is why it is imperative they find a true second option. Off the top of my head, guys like Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal, if available, make a lot of sense.
The Hawks also must find some guys whose sole purpose on the floor is to play defense. It was overwhelmingly apparent throughout the entire season, and it’s something this team needs to have with Trae Young on the floor. I would be surprised if Atlanta brought back four of their five starters from last season. It feels like it’s time for the Hawks to cash in on some of their depth, add as much top-end talent as possible, and fill out the rest of their roster with defensive weapons. That’s easier said than done, but they have enough pieces and the right man calling the shots to make this team much more competitive come next postseason.
Photographer: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire
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