Starting off 14-20 in the season’s first half, the Hawks didn’t instill confidence they were ready to make a playoff push after years of rebuilding.
That lackluster stretch was disappointing especially considering how aggressive general manager Travis Schlenk was in reshaping the roster in free agency, after two years of a roster that certainly wasn’t built to win.
Thus far, though, things are shifting drastically under interim coach Nate McMillan, who took over March 1 when Lloyd Pierce was fired and has led the team on an eight-game win streak, ahead of Monday’s matchup against the Clippers. Two key differences - the Hawks are surging instead of crumbling in the fourth quarter and they’re beating the teams they should beat, ceasing to play down to an opponents’ level.
With the trade deadline coming up Thursday, the Hawks find themselves in a different spot than in years past, as they’re looking to win now and make the playoffs, not just build for the future. Who would they be willing to part with, and what do they actually need to add? That’s a big question Schlenk and the Hawks will have to answer.
For the record, here’s what Schlenk had to say about the deadline in early March: “Obviously we’re having conversations with all the teams around the league. Right now, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything on the horizon, but that can change. You rarely get teams’ best offers, nobody gets real serious until you get down to the last week or two. It’s hard to gauge. We certainly will look to do anything we can to do anything we can that feels like, is going to make us a better team in the short-term and the long-term. Those sometimes don’t go hand-in-hand, but we’ll look at any situation we think that will help us.”
So, Schlenk is speaking to evaluating the team from the bigger picture — something that might ding the Hawks in the short-term, but increase their chances at a deep playoff run or title run in the future. At the same time, the team is just now finding a rhythm, and you don’t want to hugely disrupt that.
As the face of the franchise, it’s safe to assume Trae Young is staying put. It probably doesn’t make sense to part with De’Andre Hunter as he comes into his own, or Clint Capela as he organizes the defense But the Hawks do have some young talent that could generate trade interest, and some veterans who provide salary-matching capabilities.
As of now, the Hawks have the No. 11 offensive rating in the league (113.3) and the No. 18 defensive rating (111.5), with a No. 9 net rating (1.8). They could still shore up the defense, though it should be pointed out they’re about to get a good defender back from injury in second-year forward Hunter, and will also finally beef up their backcourt defense when Kris Dunn returns from injury to make his debut, which is expected by the end of the month.
On that note, the Hawks have expressed interest in the Celtics’ standout defender Marcus Smart, per The Athletic, with an exchange potentially involving power forward John Collins and wing Bogdan Bogdanovic, and are expected to show interest in Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball. Atlanta’s talks for Ball have revolved around second-year wing Cam Reddish, per The Ringer, which also added the Hawks are seeking one young player and a first-round pick, or a package of similar value for Collins.
Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer
Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer
Ball would likely fit well with Young, who the Hawks have to cover for on defense. At age 23, Ball is a good defender, averages 14.2 points, 5.8 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game and is shooting 38.5% from 3-point range.
Reddish has tons of potential and is a consistent defender, but even before missing 12 games due to right Achilles soreness, he seemed to have regressed on offense. After finishing his rookie season strong, in his second NBA season, Reddish shot 36.5% from the floor (compared to 38.4% as a rookie) and 26.2% from distance (compared to 33.2% as a rookie). The Hawks could be potential suitors for Houston’s Victor Oladipo and have made Reddish and Bogdanovic available, per Bleacher Report, and may be trying to update their wing rotation, also mentioning Atlanta has been liked to Toronto’s Norman Powell (19.6 points, 44.4% from 3-point range).
Ahead of the deadline, Collins, who will be a restricted free agent if he’s still with the team after the season, is the most popular Hawk mentioned in potential deals. He’s a talented offensive player, second on the team in scoring (18.2 points per game) and has continued to produce despite the addition of Capela. He has also steadily improved on defense over his NBA career.
Collins is obviously a valuable trade piece, but he can also be a big factor in the Hawks’ success. He had 27 points and 16 rebounds in the win over the Lakers and has said he wants to stay in Atlanta and be in the conversation for a max deal, but both sides were unable to reach an agreement for an extension entering this season.
It’ll depend on what is offered in return, but losing Collins could pose challenges for the Hawks.
In early March, Schlenk said this on if Collins was part of the team’s long-term plans: “John’s a big part of our team, I think he’s second on the team in scoring right now, we all know how effective he can be offensively with his ability to finish in the lane and to shoot the ball from the perimeter. So we still view John as a part of our team, certainly. He’s made the decision this fall to go to restricted free agency, and that was his choice and obviously we respect it. But we’re going to have the opportunity to match any offer he gets. We’ll certainly make him an offer in free agency as well and he’ll have the ability to see if he can get an offer from another team. But at the end of the day, we view him as part of our team and I don’t see a restricted free agency situation where we would just let him walk for nothing.”