Hawks may not be as far from top as thought

When you live in Atlanta and the question is posed, “So how do things look for next year,” there’s an involuntary reflex that leads every sports fan to respond, “Hopeless.”

It’s the continuing sense of doom that accompanies winning only one championship in 48 years of major professional sports — and, in the case of the Hawks, drafting Jon Koncak fifth overall in 1985 over Chris Mullin, Karl Malone, Detlef Schrempf, Joe Dumars, Charles Oakley and A.C. Green.

But while the Braves and Falcons continue to leave the masses in varying states of confusion and frustration, the Hawks’ potential for next season looks pretty good.

General manager Danny Ferry hasn’t made any decisions on next season’s team — the draft is nearly four weeks away, free agency is five — but consider what has happened in the NBA playoffs. Of the 12 playoff series in the first two rounds, five went seven games (including the Hawks-Indiana series), eight went at least six and there was only one sweep. Neither Eastern Conference finalist, Miami nor Indiana, has looked overwhelming.

None of this has escaped Ferry, who admitted he hasn’t completely shaken the series loss to the Pacers from his thoughts.

“The sting of not advancing in the playoffs is still there,” he said.

Ferry, who recently returned from a scouting trip in Europe, has been keeping track of the playoff series and said, “What has stood out to me most is they’ve all been competitive. I’m not necessarily relating this to us, but it hasn’t been a cakewalk for anybody. That’s a positive. The goal in the last collective bargaining talks was to create more parity and protect the smaller markets, and we’re seeing that.”

He didn’t want to make this about the Hawks, but I will: Only two years after an organizational teardown and the gap between the Hawks and the top is far less than could have or should have been expected.

That doesn’t mean that a team that started Pero Antic and DeMarre Carroll in the postseason is one player away from securing a parade down Peachtree Street, but it reaffirms how significant this offseason can be for Ferry.

“We have to add more depth. We have to add more talent,” he said. “The other teams will also get better. We’ll certainly explore everything. We have a lot of ideas and concepts about what we want to do, but we have to find out if they’re executable. We’ll make decisions based on both the long term and the short term.”

Vague enough?

Ferry will keep it that way. He can’t comment on any player under contract to another team, such as Minnesota’s Kevin Love, who may be traded because he’s one year from free agency. But you probably would be safe to assume the Hawks can’t satisfy the Timberwolves in trade demands, and there’s no reason to deal for Love if he won’t re-sign here).

The free-agency market won’t be set until July 1 (Luol Deng, anyone?). The draft is June 26. The Hawks currently draft 15th, Ferry could be in the market to move up, but he hasn’t decided yet.

“We’re not 100 percent sure who’s in the draft yet,” he said. “Same goes for free agency.”

I mentioned to Ferry reports that Sacramento may be willing to trade its No. 8 pick for a veteran player. He knew (duh). Seems like there’s an opportunity for the Hawks to swing a deal for that pick, and then package the 8 and 15 for a top-five selection and a potential star.

“We’re all playing fantasy right now,” he said.

Pause.

“Of course, as we get closer, you’ll still be playing fantasy, but I’m going to have to make decisions.”

Funny Dukie.

Is anything or anyone off the table in his offseason plans?

“No.”

Do you want to expound on that?

“No.”

A little?

“We really liked our group last year. They bought into how we wanted to play, and we also wanted to get better. … We have enough holes to fill that I don’t think we have to target one thing, and we can’t force one. The right wing may not be available. That’s the best answer I can give.”

Ferry isn’t going to do this for you. But I, Mr. Fantasy, will:

  • Jeff Teague isn’t going anywhere. He has elevated his game and made too much progress in one year under coach Mike Budenholzer to expect the team would move him.
  • Al Horford isn’t going anywhere. That’s not to say the Hawks consider him an untouchable. But he is coming off his second torn pectoral muscle and has missed more games (132) than he has played (114) over the past three regular seasons, so it’s logical to conclude his trade value is down.
  • Kyle Korver isn’t going anywhere. Ferry and Budenholzer consider him too valuable as a leader and a shooter.
  • Paul Millsap: assume nothing. He was an All-Star and the Hawks like him, but he has only one year left on his contract, and he has trade value. If Ferry thinks he can improve the team, acquiring a wing or a center, by moving him, he will.

It’s early. Ferry is still defining this team’s core.

“At some point we’ll have to value continuity,” he said. “But is that now or next year?”

I expect a change and an upgrade.

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