Many people expected the Hawks to make wholesale changes to their roster going into the 2023-2024 NBA season, but for the most part, that didn’t happen.
Atlanta is right now expected to go into the campaign with pretty much the same roster that led to a first-round exit at the hands of the Celtics. The only major trade they made was sending John Collins to the Jazz for nothing more than a second-round pick. The Hawks did ink a team-friendly extension with Dejounte Murray, but it’s difficult to imagine this team being much better than the one that finished 41-41 last season.
Eventually, Landry Fields and the new-look front office are going to have to take a hard look in the mirror. It’s been all downhill for the Hawks since their surprise trip to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals back in 2021, and nobody seems able to decide which direction they should go. A rebuild feels inevitable at some point if significant improvements aren’t made, which Danny Leroux of The Athletic pointed out when taking a look at the Hawks’ outlook for next year and beyond.
Unfortunately, shipping out John Collins was not nearly enough to get the Hawks out of their salary predicament beyond this season even with Dejounte Murray signing a reasonable extension that kicks in for the 2024-25 campaign. They are over the cap and roughly $20 million below the tax with nothing for pending restricted free agents Onyeka Okongwu and Saddiq Bey, so expect Hawks GM Landry Fields to have to offload at least one more big-ticket player over the next year-plus unless success this season makes ownership more willing to pay the tax.
The Hawks do have some big and moveable contracts on the books. Trading one of De’Andre Hunter, Clint Capela, or Bogdan Bogdanovic would give them some more financial flexibility, but it wouldn’t be substantial enough to turn around and go after another marquee free agent. It might only be enough for the team to re-sign one of their impending free agents in Onyeka Okongwu or Saddiq Bey.
Turning the Hawks into a contender with the way the roster is currently constructed feels next to impossible. They seem to be solely relying on some of their youth to develop into significant contributors, like A.J. Griffin, Jalen Johnson, and the aforementioned Okongwu. That very well could happen, but if it doesn’t, the Hawks will be left with a mediocre roster and almost no room to maneuver.
For an inexperienced front office, these are incredibly difficult waters to maneuver. But regardless of what direction they choose to turn in the future, real decisions are going to have to be made. Kicking the can down the road and continuing to be average is the worst thing any NBA franchise can do.
Photographer: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire