The Atlanta Hawks are fresh off their first victory in State Farm Arena since November 22, defeating the reigning NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks 121-114. Nate Mcmillan’s shorthanded squad fought through all four quarters, giving Mike Budenholzer’s team their first loss of the season when leading at halftime.
The Hawks currently sit 7.0 games out of the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference, which would keep them out of the play-in tournament; they’re 4.0 games out of the 10th seed, which is the last spot in the play-in tournament. The postseason is a ways away, but Atlanta has to start making up ground if they want to position themselves for a playoff run.
The Hawks took the first step against the Bucks; you can’t go on a run without winning the first one. For much of the season, Atlanta has been one of the worst defensive teams in the Association with a pedestrian offense when Trae Young is off the court. This forces many Hawks fans to think the team needs an infusion of new talent via trade.
Well, the first domino in that narrative fell. Trade deadline season began last week for the Hawks as they dealt Cam Reddish to the Knicks for Kevin Knox and a protected first-round pick. Many, including me, were puzzled by the move. Naturally, I believed Travis Schlenk was setting up a blockbuster-esque trade, parlaying these newly obtained assets into a superstar.
Not so fast, Hawks fans. Following the trade, it was revealed that Reddish had requested out of Atlanta months ago; Schlenk always planned on moving him once their needs were met, which was a first-round pick. The Hawks GM simply acquired what he could for a player that wouldn’t be a part of the team’s future.
That isn’t to say there aren’t potential trades that could improve the Hawks roster, but as the trade deadline approaches (February 10), do they really NEED to make a move?
The Hawks’ performance against the Bucks was very atypical for them this season. That isn’t to say this team hasn’t found a spark and can’t string together several more victories. Trading away Reddish could’ve very well brought this team closer together, and the victory over the Bucks could volley them into a win-streak.
The Hawks are far too talented to be seven games under .500, so I can understand frustrations and demands for Schlenk to shake things up. However, I don’t necessarily see it as him needing to tweak the roster.
The Hawks are still an extremely young team. Against the Bucks, Onyeka Okongwu showed exactly what developing the young pieces will do for the Hawks in the future. Big O played outstanding and stifled Giannis Antetokounmpo, flashing his incredibly high ceiling. Atlanta has a solid young core that needs time to continue to progress, and trading for a player could hinder that development.
Injuries and COVID have ravaged the Hawks; nobody has seen what this team can really become. This final month before the deadline will tell Schlenk all he needs to know about where his team currently stands.
It isn’t time for the Hawks to push their chips in for an All-Star caliber player. As Chase pointed out, a young, overachieving team can sometimes force GMs to make significant changes too early.
Even though the Hawks made the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago, they’re clearly not a serious championship contender this year. Saying they NEED to acquire someone at the deadline is incredibly shortsighted. Trading away young assets to win immediately isn’t how sustainably successful organizations operate. The reality is the Hawks need their core to take another step forward to have any shot at a title.
Trading for one single player likely won’t push the Hawks over the edge; moreover, it would be a rush to judgment by Schlenk, who certainly needs more clarity on where his team stands before making a move. Depending on how the Hawks progress over the next month, there could be a need to make a move to propel them into the second half of the season, but we aren’t there just yet.
Imagine how good De’Andre Hunter, Onyeka Okongwu, Kevin Huerter, and Jalen Johnson could be next season. Any substantial trade will require Schlenk to part ways with at least two of those players. It is far too early for the Hawks to cash in on them when they could turn into stars in Atlanta.
Right now, the Hawks championship window is a lengthy one; if they start trading away their young pieces for veterans, it will shrink substantially. This isn’t to say Schlenk can’t find a trade that benefits the team in the short and long term, but fans need to recognize rushing to judgement may not be the best course of action.
A trade isn’t necessary for the Hawks to make the playoffs or even make another deep run, but at this point, they’re far from that. This isn’t the same NBA or Eastern Conference as last year. With pressure from ownership to win right now, Schlenk will absolutely be open to improving the roster through trade, but he won’t do something drastic to win right now at the cost of the future. The Hawks have a great core, and the strategy should be to continue that development until they’re squarely within striking distance of the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Monday’s performance against the Bucks showed exactly how good this team can be — as is.
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