On the day they parted ways with Pierce, nobody wondered how far the Hawks would go in the playoffs. The bigger concern was if they’d ever again hold a fourth-quarter lead. When a rebuilding team stops progressing — young players are supposed to get better, right? — the question becomes: Are our young players just not good enough?
We have our answer now. Since Travis Schlenk came here as general manager, his Round 1 picks include Collins, Young, Huerter, Omari Spellman, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Oneyka Okongwu. Spellman was a flop and is gone. Reddish is injured. Okongwu, a rookie, plays a few minutes every game. Collins, Young and Hunter are starters; Huerter is a rotational sub. That’s a fine haul from four drafts.
It was clear from the Hawks’ flurry of offseason motion — they landed Gallinari, Rondo, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn, Solomon Hill and Tony Snell — that Schlenk felt his team wasn’t far from winning. His vision wasn’t shared by one and all. The Hawks finished last season 20-47, too low to qualify for the Disney bubble. Still, there was this guy, who was acquired at the 2020 trade deadline but who, owing to a sore heel, hadn’t played before last season met its abrupt end … this guy, you thought, might make a difference.
Capela spent six years with Houston despite being the antithesis of what the Rockets had in mind. Houston based its existence on James Harden and 3-point shots. (In his career, Capela hasn’t made a trey.) The Rockets fell so deeply in thrall of GM Daryl Morey’s analytics — core tenet: the only shots worth taking are a 3 or a layup — that they dared to go even smaller. They shipped out Capela, who’d averaged a double-double three years running, in a four-way deal that brought them Robert Covington, Jordan Bell and a second-round pick in 2024.
The Rockets just finished with the NBA’s worst record. Harden works for the Nets. Morey is president of the 76ers. Capela led the league in rebounding. He finished fourth in blocked shots, 10th in field-goal percentage, 13th in player efficiency rating. He has never been an All-Star, but he’s a pro’s pro.
In this series, Capela hasn’t been the first, or even the fourth, most noticeable Hawk. He never is. He has taken 26 shots over 134 minutes. He’s averaging 9.8 points. He’s also averaging 13 rebounds. He has blocked nine shots. In Games 3 and 4, the Hawks were plus-34 with Capela on the court. He’s not the guy putting up gaudy offensive numbers. He’s the guy doing everything else.
Yes, it’s weird. For all the time the Hawks devoted to tanking and and drafting, for the $113 million they lavished on Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic in November, their shrewdest addition was the result of the Rockets getting antsy. Capela was a Hawk for almost 11 months before he played. He’s playing now. The Hawks are good again. We say no more.