I have never been shy of praising Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk. He’s pretty much nailed every decision since being hired in 2017, tearing the team entirely apart and rebuilding from the ground up, something the Hawks needed to happen a decade ago.
During the rebuild, he continued to ace decision after decision. He drafted an All-Star caliber player, John Collins, with his first pick as general manager. That’s especially difficult when you’re picking 19th overall like the Hawks were. He then brought the city its first superstar since Dominque Wilkins the very next year in Trae Young — a draft that also produced Kevin Huerter. Sure, Luka Doncic was sitting in his lap, but I can’t fault him for going after his guy (who also happens to be pretty damn fantastic) and picking up an extra lottery pick in the process. Then, in the subsequent draft, he traded up to snag De’Andre Hunter, who looks to be well on his way to developing into an All-Star caliber player as well.
All the while, over this three-year timeline, Schlenk was also maintaining financial flexibility and stockpiling future assets. He then flipped one of those assets into Clint Capela at last year’s trade deadline, who has become a star in Atlanta.
Despite this, there were still reports that Schlenk was on the hot seat and could be fired if the Hawks didn’t make the playoffs this season. I initially thought that was completely absurd, but after the way the team underachieved in the first half of the season, I began to begin it was a legitimate possibility… then Schlenk did more genius Schlenk things.
It all began with the firing of Lloyd Pierce. Schlenk didn’t hesitate and pulled the trigger on moving on from the man he chose to take over after Mike Budenholzer wanted no part of a rebuild. Immediately, things took a turn for the better.
The Hawks are 15-5 since McMillan took over, and the high-priced offseason acquisitions have finally found their groove under their new head coach. Danilo Gallinari, who looked like an old man at your local YMCA (not the good one) for the first half of the season, is averaging 16.1 points on 47.3% shooting from the field and 43.4% from behind the arc off the bench. And Bogdan Bogdanović, who hasn’t been shy about discussing the differences between Pierce’s and McMillan’s coaching styles, has been inserted into the starting lineup and is averaging 17.5 points, 3.8 assists, and 3.5 rebounds on 53.6% shooting from the field and 50.0% shooting from the three-point line.
A couple of months ago, those two offseason acquisitions looked like busts. Now, they are carrying the Hawks to new heights, and Schlenk still had one more trick up his sleeve at the trade deadline.
Despite the noise, Atlanta didn’t decide to move on from John Collins or make any blockbuster splash for that matter. However, they did complete a deal with the Clippers to bring Lou Williams back home in exchange for… Rajon Rondo.
While I’m well aware of Rondo’s leadership skills and the value he brings during the postseason, he just wasn’t cutting it in Atlanta, averaging career-lows in points, rebounds, and assists. Ridding of his contract in exchange for a three-time Sixth Man of the Year that still has plenty left in the tank was a no-brainer. Since the trade, Lou Williams is averaging ten more points than Rondo was off the bench and one more assist — talk about highway robbery.
The Hawks are far from being in the clear, but after four straight wins, they are currently a game ahead of the Heat and Hornets for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Things could go in reverse to end the season, but it sure seems like this success moving forward is more than sustainable, especially when considering that John Collins and De’Andre Hunter have not even been playing. When the Hawks are healthy, they very well might be the deepest team in the NBA. That will show come playoff time, and once again, Travis Schlenk deserves most of the credit.