Jabari Parker joined the Atlanta Hawks.
Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images
Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Intriguing Hawks moves: Parker in, Spellman out

The Hawks made two moves Monday. They signed Jabari Parker, who in 2014 was the NBA’s No. 2 overall draftee, and dumped Omari Spellman, on whom they spent a first-round pick only last year. On a scale all but broken by the weight of KD/Kyrie-to-the-Nets and Kawhi/George-to-the-Clippers, these didn’t really register. But they were, shall we say, intriguing. 

The Hawks made their big offseason noise in the draft, landing De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish. That was as good an outcome as a team that was unlucky in the lottery could have envisioned. They sat out the frantic first wave of free agency, which made sense: KD and Kawhi and their exalted ilk weren’t taking their talents to a team that just went 29-53 and was laden with youngsters. (Everybody saw what happened to LeBron in Year 1 in L.A.) 

When the Hawks got around to buying, they bought a player once seen as a cornerstone. Parker was taken just after Andrew Wiggins, who has been a slight disappointment, and just before Joel Embiid, who after getting healthy has become one of the league’s brightest lights, in June 2014. Parker, whose dad Sonny played in the NBA, was a Duke one-and-done, and his “one” ended badly. The Blue Devils were upset by Mercer in their first NCAA tournament game. 

Parker wasn’t an outright bust. He has averaged in double figures every year as a pro. If he hadn’t torn the same ACL in December 2014 and February 2017, who knows what he might have become? As is, he has started only 20 of 95 games since his second knee surgery, and he’s on his fourth organization in 13 months.

He’s 6-foot-8, but he’s a good enough shooter to be a wing — he has made 33.7 percent of his 3-pointers; the league average last season was 35.5 — and he’s not big enough to be a stretch-4. He’s a scorer, period. At a time where tweeners are a desired commodity — the Hawks just spent two top-10 picks on them — Parker is the tweener who has seen his value plummet. His Win Shares total for his second and third seasons was 7.6; in the two seasons since his second surgery, it’s 2.6.

Parker spent four seasons with Milwaukee. He signed last summer with Chicago — he’s from there — for two years at $40 million. The Bulls dumped him in midseason to the hot-mess Wizards, who declined their option to keep him. That the Hawks signed him for $13 million over two seasons tells us how far he has fallen. 

And that’s OK. When you’re a rebuilding team that’s not quite a contender, you live for moments when you can find talent — anybody drafted No. 2 is a major talent — on the cheap. What’s odd is that Parker is regarded as one of the NBA’s least ardent defenders, and the Hawks spent last season guarding nobody. (They finished 30th among 30 clubs in points yielded; they were 27th in defensive efficiency.) 

Parker was benched in Chicago in large part because he didn’t defend. This should have come as no shock, given that he offered a radio interview after signing with the Bulls in which he conceded he wasn’t looking to be the next Bruce Bowen. 

Quoth Parker: “I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense. There's only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won't, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.” 

Lloyd Pierce, the Hawks’ coach, has admitted he didn’t install much of his preferred defense last season because he didn’t think his young guys could absorb it. But is a team that needs to learn to stop somebody/anybody the best home for a guy who has never emphasized that aspect of the game? (Surely nobody knows the impact Andre Iguodala, a craftsman at both ends, made on the Warriors more than Travis Schlenk, who came to the Hawks from Golden State.) 

And yet: Parker is 24, which is younger than DeAndre’ Bembry, who just completed his third season and is the longest-tenured Hawk. Maybe this team is smart enough to get the best from Parker, which nobody has in a while. If so, he’ll opt out of the second year of his contract and look for bigger money elsewhere. If not … well, $13 million isn’t all that much. The risk, as is the case with all young teams, is whether you want to expose young players to a veteran who has become damaged goods. 

Which brings us to Spellman. This wasn’t a case of a new general manager dumping a draftee he inherited. Schlenk chose Spellman with the final pick of Round 1 in the same draft that yielded Trae Young and Kevin Huerter. Those two are keepers. Spellman is gone after 46 games. 

Spellman told esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore that he ballooned to 293 pounds last season. (The Hawks listed him at 245.) He’d played at Villanova, which does the pace-and-space stuff every NBA team does, and his ability to shoot from distance — another Nova staple — was what the Hawks liked. But he gained weight at a time when not gaining weight was part of his job description.

It takes a lot to give up on a Round 1 pick after one truncated-by-injury season. The Hawks just did, trading Spellman to Golden State for Damian Jones, who was a Warrior for three seasons and worked a total of 40 playoff minutes. (Eight in the postseason just past.) Jones is big (7-foot), but that’s about it. 

If you’ve decided a guy will never be what you want, there’s no reason keeping him in the effort to justify his acquisition. The Hawks had seen enough — too much, apparently — of Spellman. It will be fascinating to see how they feel about Parker six months hence.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.