Hawks mailbag: When will next season start?

Hawks fans Robert Foushee (left), Woodstock, and Jon Cristofunelli (right), Alpharetta, are on hand to watch their team play the New York Knicks Wednesday, March 11, 2020, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. The Hawks season ended when the NBA went on hiatus due to the coronavirus.   (Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Hawks fans Robert Foushee (left), Woodstock, and Jon Cristofunelli (right), Alpharetta, are on hand to watch their team play the New York Knicks Wednesday, March 11, 2020, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. The Hawks season ended when the NBA went on hiatus due to the coronavirus. (Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)

The 2020-21 NBA season will eventually be upon us, so in this Hawks mailbag I answered reader questions about what that will look like, and what the team could focus on in the NBA draft Nov. 18.

Thank you to everyone who submitted questions.

When can we expect to hear more info about next season? As a season-ticket holder this is very concerning knowing that the start could be right around the corner. Still no info from the Hawks pretty much since the lockdown.

As someone who’d like to start planning out the next few months and get back to covering live basketball, I understand and share your frustration on this one.

First, some background: the league is hoping to get the season started a little bit before Christmas, proposing a 72-game season, per ESPN, but that’s a remarkably quick turnaround for teams who went deep in the playoffs, and from the draft (Nov. 18) and free agency (which will start in the days following the draft). You’d have a brief window for training camp, which would begin Dec. 1 in this scenario, according to ESPN.

For the record, I had heard from a few folks that this timeline was growing more and more likely, but that seems to have stalled in recent days as the NBA and Players Association negotiate. There are tons of financial implications to delaying the season further, and it could interfere with the Olympics. The short answer is, the window of opportunity for that scenario is closing, and if it’s not figured out sooner rather than later, you’re more likely to see an MLK Day start, or something in that range (it’s going to be pretty strange if the 2020 season begins in 2021, quite literally the wrong year, but if there was ever a time something like that was going to happen, it’d be now). There will be a vote later this week to determine the season’s start date, and because of the financial implications, there’s still a feeling the season will start in December, according to The Athletic.

So, sit tight for now, frustrating as it is. I’m right there with you, and so are individual teams like the Hawks, who aren’t at the forefront of the negotiations and are waiting for a decision as well.

Have we heard anything from the Hawks or State Farm Arena regarding fans in attendance for games when the league restarts in December/January?

There have been no announcements made yet.

Although commissioner Adam Silver has previously said he hoped playing in front of fans would be possible (and it would help make up a little financial ground), teams have not heard anything concrete on that front. Also, keep in mind that each state has different rules in place regarding large gatherings, so in some areas it doesn’t seem feasible given the amount of players and staff that will already be present.

It’s also more difficult for the NBA to pull off than other leagues such as the NFL or MLB, since all games are played indoors. If teams are able to start out with reduced capacity, it’ll just depend on what that number is, and would probably involve little to no fans in attendance. It’s also possible they rule out playing in front of fans altogether, which could maybe be revisited if things with the virus improve as the season goes on, or if a rapid-response testing system could make it possible for fans who test negative to attend a game.

Which is of higher value to the team with this lottery pick: an immediate starter, or immediate depth and long-term development?

I know many Hawks players, along with coach Lloyd Pierce, have said they hope to make the playoffs next year, and they’re increasingly of the mindset that the team is nearing the end of its rebuild.

I completely understand this, and I don’t think it’s unrealistic to say they’re getting to that point, especially with the addition of Clint Capela. But they’re not there yet, and we won’t really know if they’ve achieved that until they prove it on the court by playing at a more competitive level and winning. General manager Travis Schlenk has said next season is not necessarily a “playoffs or bust” situation, which I think adds up, given the team was 20-47 last year. I think the year for them to contend for the playoffs might be one year away, but they simply must be more competitive this year, especially after all the discussion of pushing for the postseason.

Long story short, I don’t think now is the time to get impatient. The Hawks have several needs that don’t necessarily include an immediate starter, for example, a backup point guard (looking at you, Tyrese Haliburton) and versatile wing depth (hey, Isaac Okoro).

If the Hawks take a wing, is there a chance that person could work their way into the starting rotation? Sure, depending on how he performs and competes for playing time. So I’m not sure it’s an either/or situation. If they take someone who will take a little longer to develop but is overall the more reliable pick and the one they feel the best about, I think that’s fine for the team’s timeline, since they’ve still got a little wiggle room when it comes to “winning now,” if you listen to Schlenk’s perspective, even though I know the team and fans are eager for them to do just that.

Who should the Hawks take with the sixth pick?

Here are my thoughts, although it’s hard to go by Schlenk’s “best player available” strategy when I don’t know who will already have been drafted and therefore who will be available at No. 6 on draft night.

That being said, there are two guys I’m torn between: Okoro, because the Hawks simply can’t be as bad as they were defensively last season and expect to right the ship, and Haliburton, because, if we’re talking about the Hawks' most pressing positional need, he probably makes the most sense. He could back up Trae Young and potentially alleviate the Hawks' second unit struggles (they massively struggled when Young went to the bench) in addition to playing alongside him.

I also thought Florida State’s Devin Vassell was a good option, but the recent video that’s circulating of him shooting with a bizarre form raises questions. According to Ian Begley of SportsNet New York, Vassell was just messing around taking shots from well outside the 3-point line at the end of a workout and hasn’t altered his mechanics, and if that’s the case, his name would still be on my list.

I’m also intrigued by Florida State’s Patrick Williams, given his defensive ability, though that may involve them trading down.

Do you have us moving up, back, or staying put at No. 6? If we trade the pick, what are we looking for?

Either staying put or trading down, for sure. I just don’t think this is a year to move up in the draft, when this class does not seem as top-heavy as others and there’s not a clear top pick.

As a team that found a way to get even younger last season, I could see the Hawks trying to bring in someone more experienced who is able to contribute from the get-go, if they go that direction.