Bradley’s Buzz: Draft’s done. Now the real Hawks’ summer begins

Zaccharie Risacher speaks to members of the press after being selected first by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the 2024 NBA Draft at Barclays Arena on Wednesday, June 26, 2024 in Brooklyn, NY. (Hyosub Shin / AJC)



Zaccharie Risacher speaks to members of the press after being selected first by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the 2024 NBA Draft at Barclays Arena on Wednesday, June 26, 2024 in Brooklyn, NY. (Hyosub Shin / AJC)

The Hawks have added Zaccharie Risacher, a player they deemed the most talented of his draft class. Thus concludes Part I of the club’s reset summer. Part II officially begins Sunday. That’s when free agency hits. That’s when big deals get made.

The Hawks haven’t been very good at winning – they’re 120-126 over the past three seasons – but they aren’t a team that expects Risacher to be their best player soon. On paper, the Hawks should have been better than their tepid record. On paper, the Hawks looked stronger than, say, the 50-win Knicks.

Part II of the Hawks’ summer of ‘24 will involve subtraction. The draft hadn’t ended before the pruning commenced. In the hours between Rounds 1 and 2, they landed the rights to Nikola Djurisic, the 43rd player taken. He could be stashed overseas for the foreseeable future. In return, the Hawks shed AJ Griffin, the 16th pick of the 2022 draft.

Counting Risacher, the Hawks’ roster includes nine significant players. Kobe Bufkin, taken 15th in 2023, doesn’t fall under that heading, having worked 17 games as a rookie. Saddiq Bey, who’s a solid player coming off knee surgery, can become a restricted free agent. Given that Risacher is also a forward, Bey’s services might no longer be required.

That cuts the list to eight, still a big number. Four Hawks – Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, Clint Capela and De’Andre Hunter – are set to earn an aggregate $112 million next season. That’s not an outsize outlay if you’re playing deep into postseason every spring; it is if you’ve landed in the play-in tournament three seasons running.

Capela no longer seems a keeper. Hunter never quite has. That Onyeka Okongwu is about to enter his fifth NBA season having yet to become a starter makes us wonder if he will. That the Hawks played better last season when sixth man Bogdan Bogdanovic was on the court – and when either Young or Murray wasn’t – is why the team’s post-draft decisions are more complex that deciding how to spend the No. 1 pick.

It’s tempting to imagine the Hawks keeping this top seven – Young, Murray, Bogdanovic, Johnson, Hunter, Capela, Okongwu – and tossing Risacher into the mix. The Celtics would trump that for talent; not many other East teams would. But, were talent the measure that matters, the Hawks wouldn’t have landed in the lottery.

On the June 2015 day he assumed ownership, Tony Ressler said he wanted to keep the ad hoc front office that had presided over a 60-win season. (The Hawks haven’t seen 50 wins in any season since.) Today’s issue is the reverse: Should this club stick with what hasn’t worked?

We keep thinking a course correction means jettisoning Young or Murray. It might also entail cutting ties with Capela, who led the league in rebounding in 2021, though that was a while ago, or Hunter, who was the fourth player drafted in 2019 and the Hawks’ fifth-leading scorer last season.

Then we ask: Is there a frothing market for any of those? Capela is an old-school big man in an NBA that’s all new-school. Most competitive teams already have a Hunter. Murray is more an off-guard than a point, and off-guards are never in short supply. Young might be more trouble than he’s worth. Caveat emptor, as they say.

(Weird as it sounds, a slew of clubs would leap at the chance to land Bogdanovic, who’s 31 and who isn’t making $20M per annum. He’d be an astute add to any bench.)

Once free agency hits, things happen fast. We’ll know more soon about what the Hawks are planning/hoping/wishing. At this moment, we’re just guessing. They could trade their biggest name. They could trade nobody. They could be much better next season. It’d be hard to get worse.

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