My hate for tanking is well documented. Chasing the ping-pong ball dragon is a dangerous way to run a franchise. Habitual losing breads bad habits for players and kills coaching careers. Now, after 44 games, the Hawks are tied with the Warriors for the best odds in the NBA Draft Lottery.
For most of the season, Hawks fans (including yours truly) held out hope for a late-season push, and they will for sure heat up in the second half of the season, given that they have the weakest remaining strength of schedule according to Tankathon.com.
However, despite the more manageable schedule, the Hawks are given a 0% chance of making the playoffs according to ESPN’s BPI. To make matters worse (or better if you want the #1 draft pick), the trade deadline is looming. It’s very likely the Hawks will be offloading some of their veterans on expiring contracts.
So, given where the Hawks stand and where they want to be in the future, it’s time to prioritize the goals for the remaining three months of the schedule.
1. Continue to Develop Their Young Core
This should come as no surprise since the Hawks started this process back in November. The rookies have had the chance to go through important growing pains this season. Meanwhile, Trae, Kevin, and John have all made strides forward. Coach Pierce and the front office have done a great job in this area.
2. Maintain Cap Flexibility
I’m preaching to the choir on this point. G.M. Travis Schlenk has remained steadfast in his goal of ultimate cap flexibility in 2020. It’s tempting to go after a player like Andre Drummond now, but why sacrifice any assets when the Hawks can sign any willing free agent this summer.
3. Tamper, Tamper, Tamper
Ok, not the organization. The Hawks don’t want to get penalized by the league. But Trae is going to the All-Star Game next month, and there is nothing wrong with letting him do some “networking” when he’s around other top players in the league. Atlanta is a very attractive destination for players.
4. Top Draft Pick
The basketball gods have a way of punishing teams that blatantly tank and rewarding teams that continue to fight and compete. There is no way the Hawks end with the worst record in the league. Trae won’t allow it. If Atlanta can get lucky in the lottery, that is great; if not, then it’s not the end of the world.
Reinforcements are on the way this offseason, and Trae will finally have some firepower beside him. A top young rookie would be a nice feather in the cap of the organization, but they already have plenty of project players. Chasing the worst record in the league shouldn’t be a goal.
Barring something unforeseen, we can close the door on the Hawks “making the leap” this season as a team. Now the focus should be player development and team building. The final three months are critical for the Hawks getting to where they want to be in the future.