Bradley’s Buzz: The Hawks got lucky. Can they now get it right?

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) and Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray (5) talk to one another during a break in their game against the Chicago Bulls at State Farm Arena, Monday, February 12, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) and Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray (5) talk to one another during a break in their game against the Chicago Bulls at State Farm Arena, Monday, February 12, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Tony Ressler took ownership of the Hawks on June 25, 2015. The team had just gone 60-22, the best record in the history of a franchise that began in 1949 as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. It had just reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time.

Nine years and one day later, the Hawks have hit but one high under this owner: In 2021, they again reached the conference finals. Under Ressler, their regular-season record is 325-388. They’ve finished above .500 four times. They’ve made the playoffs five times, twice via the play-in tournament. They’ve advanced past Round 1 twice.

Ressler’s Hawks hold the first pick in tonight’s NBA draft. In nine drafts under this owner, this club has officially chosen one player who has become an All-Star. That player is Luka Doncic, who never played for the Hawks.

The famous draft swap of 2018 looked OK for a while. Trae Young, acquired for Doncic’s rights, led the Hawks within two games of the NBA 2021 final. Not much has gone right since. In December 2022, they nudged aside team architect Travis Schlenk. In February 2023, they bid adieu to coach Nate McMillan. Successor Quin Snyder is 46-57.

To be fair, Young has been an All-Star and remains a major talent. That said, last season only deepened the belief that the Hawks were better when their best player didn’t play. Without Young in 2023-24, they were 14-14. With Young, they were 22-33, counting the play-in loss to Chicago.

If we accept that Young is no longer the answer, we must accept that the Hawks have erred in many if not most major choices since Ressler took over from the dysfunctional Atlanta Spirit. The new owner’s first key decision was to stick with the ad hoc administrative pairing of Mike Budenholzer and Wes Wilcox. Ressler in June 2015: “What was working was Bud, Wilcox and (CEO Steve) Koonin. I want that to keep working.”

In July 2016, the Hawks of Bud/Wilcox made the mistake of signing Dwight Howard while Al Horford, the centerpiece of the best-ever Atlanta Hawks team, was also a free agent. Horford signed with Boston. Howard lasted a year here. Wilcox was out as GM in 2017, clearing space for Schlenk. No longer the team-builder, Budenholzer exited as coach in 2018.

His successor, Lloyd Pierce, was handed a team in rebuild mode. He lasted 2-1/2 seasons. He was succeeded by veteran assistant Nate McMillan, who three months later had the Hawks in the Eastern finals. If we’re seeking the shrewdest move of Ressler’s tenure, the pivot to McMillan was it. Alas, the giddy summer of ‘21 soon yielded to a colder reality.

The 2021-2022 season ended with a 43-39 record and a Round 1 loss to Miami. In essentially his final act, Schlenk swung a trade for Dejounte Murray, the cost being nearly all the Hawks’ draft capital through 2027. The idea was to find a backcourt complement to Young. Numbers show that Murray is better when Young isn’t on the court, which wasn’t what anybody had in mind.

An organization that hasn’t been sagacious at making choices faces a boatload of them. The Hawks must decide what to do with the No. 1 pick in a draft that mightn’t have a legitimate No. 1 pick. And, in grand Hawks fashion, what to do with the first overall pick is their second-biggest issue.

The biggest is Young/Murray. Surely one must go. That’s easy to say, harder to do. Will any trade partner give anything approaching value in return for a guard whose worth has been compromised by the past two seasons? Are these Hawks capable of acing both the trade market AND the draft?

They came close to picking No. 15, as opposed to No. 1. Had the Hawks gone 2-0 in the play-in tournament, they’d have made the playoffs and missed the lottery. By losing to Chicago on April 17, they were handed a 3% chance of landing the No. 1 pick. In sum, they got outrageously lucky. Now they need to get smart.

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