What path should the Hawks take in free agency?

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With Clint Capela set to make his debut next season, a budding duo of stars in Trae Young and John Collins fed up with losing, and a young core filled with potential, the goal for 2020-2021 is out in the open — make the playoffs and compete once they get there. Capela talked about this with the AJC’s Sarah K. Spencer a few days ago.

“The main goal is really to be a winning team, have this winning mentality, be able to night in, night out go get wins,” Capela said. “Tough wins. Even wins that you don’t deserve. I’ve been with teams where we had a lot of wins, 58, 65 wins, and those kinds of seasons, you win games even when you play bad. So I really want to maybe bring that mentality that you have to bring it every night, just enough to win. It doesn’t matter if you play good or bad, but you have to have that dog mentality to make stops, to at least get a win.”

With that in mind, this offseason will be critical, especially since it will be short, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. The Hawks don’t know where they will be picking in the draft, but they know it will not be any lower than eighth, and they have a 48.1% chance of picking in the top four with a 12.5% shot of landing the #1 overall selection. Atlanta could do several things with that pick, including package it in a trade for a more proven product. But regardless, it will be another piece added to this squad that is oozing with potential.

Two days following the draft, NBA free agency will begin, and it will be perhaps the most interesting free agency ever, especially for Hawks fans. Atlanta will be one of the only teams able to afford free agents with so much money coming off the books. That was the case before the coronavirus struck — affecting revenues — and will be even more true once the league begins to feel those effects next season and beyond. The Hawks will be in a fantastic position to poach any free agent they desire, including restricted ones.

However, while that sounds like Atlanta will finally make an intriguing case for a big-name star to join them, that is not necessarily realistic. Unfortunately, the free agency class this offseason is extremely weak. Anthony Davis — a top-ten player in the game — will surely opt-out of his player option, making him an unrestricted free agent, but there’s no way he will be interested in saving another rebuild with the Hawks after forcing himself out of New Orleans because they were not competitive enough

Besides Davis, the only other star that may hit the open market is DeMar Derozan, and he could decide not to opt-out of the $27.8 million he can earn in the final year of his contract with the Spurs. But even if he did, the Hawks would have to decide if he is worth the financial commitment he would demand. The last thing Travis Schlenk wants to do is handcuff himself after years of work to become financially flexible, so the Hawks should look at free agency a little differently. Even though they will have the most money available to them of any NBA team, it doesn’t mean they should spend it.

The smart move, and the way I expect Schlenk to handle free agency, is to keep his options open. The Hawks aren’t too far away from having to decide on whether John Collins is worth a max contract (I believe he is). A year after him, Trae Young will surely be in line for a lucrative extension, meaning Atlanta needs to be smart with their money, waiting for an opportunity to land another star to pair with their blossoming duo. That’s likely not going to be available this offseason — at least not in free agency — but 2021 is a different story. Here’s a list of some stars that are set to become free agents in two offseasons:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Lebron James
  • Chris Paul
  • Kawhi Leonard
  • Blake Griffin
  • Paul George
  • Gordon Hayward
  • Mike Conley
  • Kyle Lowry
  • Rudy Gobert
  • Steven Adams
  • LaMarcus Aldridge
  • Victor Oladipo

Of course, some of these names aren’t feasible for Atlanta. However, it’s safe to say the 2021 offseason will reshape how we look at the league for years to come, and Travis Schlenk only needs to convince one of these names to take a chance on Atlanta. Becoming more competitive in 2021 will go a long way in doing so. 

The Hawks should be looking for players that have something to prove, especially in a market that should be dry. They need to stick with their plan of handing out fatter short-term deals that can strengthen the second unit and help mold this young core. Perhaps there’s a player out there — like a Joe Harris or Davis Bertans — that makes sense to add on a multi-year contract. The Hawks are in desperate need of a sharpshooter, but even one of them could handcuff Atlanta from adding a star in 2021. It may not be what the fans want to hear, but Travis Schlenk needs to continue to exhibit patience because going all-in in free agency this offseason doesn’t make much sense. 



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