The Hawks won’t get a chance to make their pitch to Klay Thompson. He agreed to a maximum contract with the Warriors before free agency opened on Sunday, which was always the most likely outcome even after Thompson suffered a torn ACL during the finals. And the Hawks essentially punted on a pursuit of Thompson or other top free agents when they used up most of their salary-cap space in trades for Allen Crabbe and Solomon Hill.
Maybe that’s for the best considering some of the reported free-agent deals. With cap space the Hawks might be tempted to overspend on players who stymie their rebuild. On the other hand if, like me, you hoped the Hawks would start moving away the tanking side of the scale toward the winning side then it’s disappointing they are unlikely to add even one significant veteran.
The Hawks have roughly $14 million in cap space, which doesn’t get you much, and they appear ready to go into 2019-20 with a roster that likely will struggle to match their 29 victories in 2018-19. The possibility of slippage increased when Hawks free agent Dewayne Dedmon reportedly agreed to a three-year deal with Sacramento (it’s good to be an NBA center who can shoot 3-pointers). That came after the Hawks sent Kent Bazemore to Portland for a lesser player, Evan Turner.
Last season the Hawks struck the right balance between development and competitiveness. They improved on their 24 victories from rebuild Year 1 while providing on-the-job-training for John Collins, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter. The Hawks probably would have earned a few more victories if they hadn’t throttled down near the end and if Collins, their most productive player, hadn’t missed 21 games because of injury.
The Hawks could have a tougher time finding that equilibrium of development and competitiveness in 2019-20. They are looking at starting a rookie or bench-caliber veteran at small forward and center. Bazemore was sent away so the young wings can play and there isn’t a free-agent center as good as Dedmon. There also isn’t much quality depth among Hawks reserves, especially in the frontcourt.
Of course, there’s a chance the young Hawks players will improve so much that it more than offsets the team’s lack of experience and high-quality veterans. Collins can be an All-Star. Young and Huerter were starting-caliber as rookies with room for more. Omari Spellman, the No. 30 overall draft pick in 2018, has a chance to become a key contributor.
The prime directive for the Hawks is the continued development of those players and the acclimation of new rookies De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Bruno Fernando. That will be interesting to watch. The Hawks still will have their entertaining brand of playing fast, sharing the ball and shooting a lot of 3-pointers.
The Hawks also will have another season of watching the draft lottery standings and hoping for additional picks in 2020. They are owed picks from Cleveland (protected in top 10) and Brooklyn (protected in top 14). The Cavs will be awful again so that pick is iffy, but the Nets pick almost certainly will convey to the Hawks after Brooklyn added Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan.
At some point the Hawks will shift from their team-building focus from accumulating assets to trying to collect more wins. It won’t happen in the summer before rebuild Year 3. That’s better than splurging on a free agent whose contract crimps their cap. Still, I would have liked to see something in between: moves that give them a better chance to add to their victory total while keeping the rebuild on schedule.
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