A series that got interesting for 49 hours has yielded to an offseason in which much will happen. The Hawks gave the Celtics a run. For the second consecutive spring after their supposed breakthrough, the Hawks are also done after Round 1. Since losing Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on July 3, 2021, they’re 90-88.
Travis Schlenk, who oversaw a rebuild, was pushed aside in December. Nate McMillan, who made the Hawks play defense for a little while, has been gone since February. These Hawks were 29-30 under McMillan; counting the regular season, the play-in and their brief playoff stay, they were 13-15 under Quin Snyder, the new man with, we presume, a new plan.
Of the Hawks’ top eight players, six were here in the summer of ‘21. Returns have diminished. Given that Snyder was handed a five-year contract, he gets to decide who stays and who doesn’t.
The Hawks have probably seen the best of John Collins and Clint Capela. Bogdan Bogdanovich, who doesn’t start, just re-upped for four seasons at $68 million, an indication Snyder deems him a keeper. Dejounte Murray can become a free agent next summer; he could be outbound sooner than that.
Those are big names. None is the Hawks’ biggest name. Since June 21, 2018, every Hawks discussion has begun with Trae Young. Over Games 5 and 6, we were reminded why. He kept the series alive by scoring his team’s final 14 points in Boston. Two nights later, he missed 12 of 13 second-half shots. The Hawks can’t win without Young. Still unclear is how big they can win with him.
For two seasons running, the Hawks landed in the play-in tournament and exited soon thereafter. There’s too much talent on hand for that to keep happening. Then again, if these talents were apt to coalesce, they would have. Owner Tony Ressler had seen enough of Schlenk’s design. At issue is what Snyder has in mind.
Acquired at high cost, Murray was billed as the backcourt mate who’d complement Young’s conspicuous gifts. In the season before Murray’s arrival, Young finished eighth – between Jayson Tatum and Stephen Curry – in VORP (value over replacement player). With Murray alongside, Young finished 24th – between Kristap Porzingis and Lauri Markkanen.
The Hawks were 43-39 before Murray, 41-41 with him. As fashionable as it is to suggest that it’s Young who needs to relocate, he’s owed $129 million over the next three seasons. How many clubs would be willing to assume such an outlay for a player whose team has known but one shining moment, that in the increasingly distant 2021?
Snyder’s a bright guy. Back in the day, he was a point guard himself; he could develop into the Trae-whisperer. (McMillan was also a former PG who got Young’s attention, albeit briefly.) It’s hard to imagine the Hawks’ supporting cast won’t be different next season. It’s also possible to wonder if any cast can fully support a talent as singular as Young.
Much of the Hawks’ future hinges on what Snyder opts to do. More important is what Young decides he wants to be. There comes a time in every All-Star career when being an All-Star isn’t enough. The great Curry wasn’t above trying to play defense, which is how the two-time MVP became a four-time NBA champ.
Even with new teammates next season, this will still be Young’s team. He’s not, alas, getting any younger. He doesn’t have to change everything, but some things require changing. The splendid soloist needs to strike up the band.
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