The Hawks have been one of the league’s longest running treadmill teams. They extended their streak to ten straight postseason appearances, but not one of those times have the Hawks been real championship contenders. Those postseason appearances, while entertaining, have actually hindered the Hawks chances of taking that next step to contender level. Atlanta is not a city many free agents have interest in going to, so their best chances of landing a superstar player is through the draft. That is extremely difficult to do outside of the lottery, where the Hawks will be picking once again this offseason.
But there is that other way of landing a superstar. The one that involves giving up a lot of capital in hopes that this one player can lift the team to the next level. The one that doomed the Brooklyn Nets into a bottomless pit of no return. The one that the Hawks almost made when they offered the Indiana Pacers four first-round picks in exchange for Paul George. If Tony Ressler is as hell bent as he seems to be on remaining competitive, the Hawks still have plenty of capital to make a move, and there are several big names on the trade market this summer.
Chicago will be fielding offers for Jimmy Butler, Indiana has to be strongly considering dealing Paul George in the last year of his deal, and the Knicks look to be almost certainly moving Carmelo Anthony before the start of the season. All three of these superstars would put the Hawks near the top of the Eastern conference, but will put the future in extreme jeopardy.
Let’s imagine the Pacers pulled the trigger on the trade for George prior to last season’s trade deadline. The Hawks would have acquired Paul George for the next two seasons. Would that have been enough to topple Lebron James and the perfect Cavs? Keep in mind the Hawks would have virtually no cap space, and no picks to improve after the trade. It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to reach that conclusion. Even a Paul George led Hawks team is not knocking off the Caviliers big three and the deepest bench in the league. Lebron James is not slowing down, and the future of the East will continue to run through Cleveland in the coming years.
After the 2017-2018 season, every team will be courting George, waiting like kids on Christmas to see if he picks them. Even teams like Phoenix, Denver and New Orleans will be calling George hoping he might want to bail their cities out of basketball hell. Sorry guys, he is not coming to you. George has already showcased his interest in playing for the Lakers, and rumors have suggested that is where he will be headed after his contract expires. Maybe a team like Boston can lure him due to their wealth of riches and wonderful sports reputation, but George has already done the small-market thing trying to win a championship, and it did not work out. He is ready to play on the big stage, and he has every right to do so.
In the 2018 offseason, the Hawks would be looking at a pitiful roster and no draft picks for the next couple of years. The future of Atlanta basketball would look about as bright as the Brooklyn Nets right now. The same sort of situation would likely proceed if the Hawks tried to make a deal for Jimmy Butler. He may even cost the Hawks more than George would because he as two years remaining on his deal. Butler’s value continues to skyrocket as he improves, but Atlanta would still need more than just him to win a championship. Carmelo Anthony is a bit of a different story. The Knicks look like they would take a heavy discount on a player that is still on the border of being an elite NBA player. He would not hamstring the organization, and the Hawks would have one of the league’s most entertaining products. Although, it might take a room full of shrinks to convince Anthony to waive is no-trade clause and come to Atlanta.
The addition of one of these superstar wing players would also affect the playing time of some of the younger wing players, specifically Taurean Prince. Prince came on strong for the Hawks in the playoffs, and could be one of the Hawks best players in his second season. Many times it takes players a year or two to get used to what Mike Budenholzer expects out of his players on both offense and defense. Prince was able to learn and excel in his rookie season, which is something that has yet to happen under Coach Budenholzer. This should signify that the Hawks should start Prince at the small forward position and let him develop. If he can make similar steps in year two, Atlanta may have found a diamond in the rough.
The thought of the Hawks trading for a superstar is extremely tantalizing. After all, the numbers of true superstars to wear the Hawks uniform can be counted on one hand. The team would be the most competitive it has been since Wilkins was prancing around the Highlight factory. But NBA teams and fans alike have to take into consideration the current state of basketball. There are two super teams that will be nearly impossible to defeat in the near future. Unless your team already has multiple superstars, there is no sense trading away the future for one. The Hawks must maintain a long-term perspective of things and continue to develop and add to their young core while focusing on the future.