Hawks make right call to cut losses with Dejounte Murray, keep Trae Young

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) celebrates a score by guard Dejounte Murray (5) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans in New Orleans, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) celebrates a score by guard Dejounte Murray (5) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans in New Orleans, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

Trae Young is a better and more unique player than Dejounte Murray. He’s the more efficient scorer. His playmaking elevates his team’s offense in a way that few guards can. Those are the reasons why I believed the Hawks should trade Murray and keep Young once it became clear the pairing wasn’t working.

They did that on Friday after finally accepting that they wouldn’t recoup the cost of what they paid to acquire Murray from the Spurs two years ago. In exchange for Murray, the Pelicans sent the Hawks guard Dyson Daniels, forward Larry Nance Jr. and two first-round draft picks. In summer 2002 the Hawks acquired Murray from the Spurs for three unprotected first-round picks and the option to swap another.

Do the math. The Hawks are acquiring two first-round picks, a young bench player and a solid veteran for a player who cost them three first-round picks and a swap. The Hawks can argue that Daniels, the No. 8 overall selection in the 2022 draft, is equivalent to one of those picks. But the bottom line is the Young-Murray pairing fizzled out with no playoff series victories in two seasons and with the Hawks cutting their losses on Murray.

At least they did so while making a trade that checks the right boxes. They recouped two first-round draft picks, even if they likely will land outside of the lottery. Daniels is a much bigger guard than Murray and should be a better fit with Young. Nance is a rotation-quality big man for a team with a thin frontcourt.

The Hawks have once again reshaped the roster around Young, their three-time All-Star point guard. They were motivated to acquire Murray after Miami denied Young the ball in a playoff series loss and none of his teammates could make consistent plays with the ball. The cost for Murray, an All-Star the previous season, would have been worth it if the Young-Murray Hawks took off.

That never happened. The Hawks won 41 games in 2022-23 (two less than the year before Murray arrived), made it through the play-in tournament and lost to the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Last season the Hawks won 36 games and bowed out in the play-in. The Murray-Young experiment wasn’t working.

I liked the idea of it at the time of the trade. I figured the ball-dominant guards would figure out how to make it work. They never quite did it. Murray was supposed to help cover for Young’s defensive weaknesses, but Murray wasn’t so great at that end. Last season the Hawks had a much better net efficiency (points scored minus points allowed per possession) with either Murray or Young on the floor without the other than they did with the two guards together.

One of the smallish guards had to go. The one who stayed needed more big, defensive-minded wings to play alongside them. The Hawks started that process by selecting Zaccharie Risacher with the No. 1 pick in the draft on Wednesday. They continued down that path by acquiring Daniels.

Daniels will add some needed defensive intensity and versatility. He’s 6-foot-8 with a 6-10 wingspan so Hawks coach Quin Snyder can use him in many different matchups. Daniels is a very good rebounder for his position. Shooting is his big weakness, but he’ll benefit from Young’s superlative ability to create good shots for his teammates.

New Orleans Pelicans guard Dyson Daniels, left, pulls in a loose ball as Denver Nuggets forward Peyton Watson pursues in the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

Nance’s contract expires after next season so eventually he could be either a trade chip or salary relief. In the meantime he can help the Hawks, too. Nance is a solid defender and a good passer.

The Murray trade doesn’t signal that the Hawks are starting over. Tanking wasn’t a palatable option since they didn’t control their picks in the next three drafts. It’s still not a realistic path because the two picks they acquired from the Pelicans likely will be in the late teens at best.

The 2025 pick will come via the Lakers, who should be a fringe playoff team. The 2027 pick will be the least favorable from the Pelicans or the Bucks, both playoff mainstays. The Hawks couldn’t get better picks for Murray even though he has more value now than when the Hawks acquired him from the Spurs.

At the time, Murray had two years remaining on his contract. Murray signed an extension last summer that runs through the 2026-27 season (there’s a player option for 2028-29). His salaries are a bargain for a player of his caliber: $25.3 million next season, $27.3 million in 2025-26 and $29.3 million in 2026-27.

It was a boon for the Hawks when Murray agreed to the extension. He surely would have gotten a richer contract as a free agent this summer. The Hawks envisioned the Murray-Young pairing making them a top-tier team in the Eastern Conference for years to come. It’s over after two lackluster seasons and a trade that made Murray a sunk cost.

The Hawks have less talent on the roster after the trade. Murray has proven himself as a good NBA starter while Daniels has not. But the Hawks should be better defensively with Daniels and Risacher on the wing. Maybe they’ll have better offensive flow at winning time now that Young and Murray won’t be taking turns going one-on-one.

The Hawks weren’t ready to rebuild, so they had to choose between Young and Murray. They made the right call. It just came at the cost of getting a lot less for Murray in trade than they gave away for him two years ago.