The Hawks have plenty of options as the NBA trade deadline looms.
Between now and Thursday at 3 p.m., the direction of the franchise for the rest of the season – if not longer – will be determined. An ever-increasing number of rumors involving the Hawks continue. The organization has been taking phones calls from a number of teams about a number of players. Despite the due diligence, there is no indication the organization has settled on a direction to either do nothing, something minor or something major. That may come closer to the deadline when final trade offers are put on the table.
Here are the options facing the Hawks (in order of likelihood):
1. A minor move
The Hawks are 31-24 and fourth in the Eastern Conference. They won’t finish with the record or playoff seeding of last season, but this is still a quality team capable of postseason success. Can they win an NBA Championship? Perhaps not. It seems the teams with the best two players in the league, the Warriors and Cavaliers, could meet again for the title. The Hawks have a strong core of players that may just need another piece – a shooter or wing defender – to be in better position to make their run.
Hawks president of basketball operations/head coach Mike Budenholzer has repeated his stance that while the team has been inconsistent this season he will continue to protect the group.
The Hawks have recent history of making minor tweaks at the deadline to add a veteran or assets. Last season, days before they deadline, they traded first-round pick Adreian Payne to the Timberwolves for a lottery-protected pick from 2018-20. In 2014, they acquired Antawn Jamison only to release him. In 2013, they acquired Dahntay Jones from the Mavericks.
The Hawks have depth on their roster of 15. Young players with potential, such as Justin Holiday or Lamar Patterson, could be moved to make room for a veteran.
The Hawks also have assets with which to work. This year, they have their own first- and second-round picks and the Wizards’ second round pick. In 2017, they have their own first-round pick and in the second round have their own pick between 31-50 (pick 56-60 would go to the Spurs), the Nets’ selection and the Heats’ between 41-60. In 2018, the could have two first-round picks (Timberwolves) and two second-round picks (if Heat pick is not satisfied).
The injury to Tiago Splitter, should it prove serious enough to require season-ending surgery, could make a move necessary.
2. No move
The Hawks could determine that the best move is no move. They have been inconsistent this season. However, their defense has steadily improved and the offense has shown glimpses of returning to the space-and-pace style that worked so well last season. Players have said opposing teams adjusted to their system, starting in the playoffs, and they are still learning to counter. If management feels the team is close to a more permanent fix, they could very well stay with their current group.
The Hawks don’t have to make a move on anything but their terms. Teams around the league covet players like Al Horford and Jeff Teague. It’s the main reason their names have been the center of rumor mills. Horford is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and the Hawks could lose him for nothing. However, it’s unlikely a team is going to give up a player of significance when there is no guarantee he will remain or that they can chase in the summer. Teague is signed through next season and, while his numbers have dropped slightly, is still a top point guard in the league. The Hawks do have Dennis Schroder, but he may not be ready to take over the offense just yet.
3. A major move
The Hawks are not afraid to make a bold move. However, it would have to be one that significantly improves the team in order to give up players of the caliber of Horford or Teague. Breaking up a core of players that played for the Eastern Conference title just a year ago is a risky move.
The Atlanta fan base is currently experiencing a major re-tooling of the Braves organization and it hasn’t generated a lot of positive thoughts. Would the Hawks blow up a team that has been a playoff staple and risk losing the good will from last season’s historic season? Also, new ownership may have something to say about starting over with a franchise it just purchased.
If the Hawks are to make major changes to the roster, they will likely come this summer. Decisions will have to be made on Horford and Kent Bazemore, another unrestricted free agent. They could lose two-fifths of the starting lineup. Should Bazemore leave, the Hawks will have a serious hole at small forward with only Thabo Sefolosha, with a year remaining on his contract, on the depth chart. It may well be in the summer when the organization decides that Schroder is ready to take over at point guard or if Teague is needed for another season. Decisions will need on how the young players on the roster – Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike Scott, Mike Muscala, Edy Tavares, Schroder, Holiday and Patterson – fit into future plans.