Dejounte Murray would be great for Hawks at right trade price

Atlanta's Trae Young drives past San Antonio's Dejounte Murray last season. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta's Trae Young drives past San Antonio's Dejounte Murray last season. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

It’s obvious why the Hawks are seeking a trade for Spurs guard Dejounte Murray. He would be a great fit next to point guard Trae Young. The Hawks need good defenders, especially on the perimeter, and Murray checks that box. Murray is under contract for two more seasons, and the price is a bargain if you believe, as I do, that his breakout season at 25 years old is the true measure of his value.

The question, as always, is what getting Murray would cost the Hawks. If team president Travis Schlenk can acquire Murray without surrendering core players, then he will have made the Hawks better. If Schlenk can do that while also not giving up multiple first-round draft picks, then he will have pulled off a heist. The Spurs aren’t suckers, so I’m thinking a third team would have to send picks to San Antonio as part of a Hawks deal for Murray.

LJ Ellis of Spurs Talk reported Tuesday afternoon that San Antonio is seeking “four first-round draft picks with little to no (lottery) protections.” The Hawks have an extra pick that’s protected from picks 1 through 16 in the 2023 draft and from 1 through 14 in ‘24 and ‘25. Giving up that pick plus three others in the first round for two seasons of Murray would be a lopsided deal in San Antonio’s favor.

Ellis reports that the Spurs would accept Hawks center Onyeka Okongwu in lieu of one of those first-round picks. Okongwu, the No. 6 overall pick in 2020, should be considered a core player. He’s already a good defender with the potential to expand his offense. Okongwu won’t be a free agent until after the 2023-24 season. I’d keep Okongwu, unless parting with him is necessary as part of a package for a player better than Murray, and I say that as someone who likes Murray for the Hawks.

Murray wouldn’t be a splashy acquisition. He just made his first All-Star team in five years and has been a full-time starter for only the past three. The Spurs missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons after making it an NBA-record 22 consecutive years. Now it appears Gregg Popovich is willing to send Murray away so that the Spurs can be bad enough to get a high pick in the 2023 draft, which will feature potential franchise players at the top.

The Hawks ended their tanking era three seasons ago. Young was the prize of that process. He took them to the 2021 Eastern Conference finals. The Hawks finished 10th in the East last season, made the playoffs via the play-in tournament and then were dominated by the Heat in the first round. That series exposed the Hawks’ shortcomings: lack of defensive grit and no playmaker and scorer who produces consistently when opponents deny Young the ball and space.

That’s where Murray comes in. If he joins the Hawks, he’d be their second-best guard. Murray became a much bigger part of San Antonio’s offense in 2021-22 and produced 21.1 points and 9.2 assists per game. Murray’s shooting efficiency was solid and his turnover rate excellent. Three-point shooting is Murray’s weakness, but that wouldn’t be a big problem with the Hawks.

For one, Murray is a strong finisher at the rim. The Hawks don’t have a perimeter player who does that consistently. Also, Murray could run the point for the Hawks so Young could play off the ball more. The benefit would be twofold. Young is an excellent spot-up shooter, and if he has fewer playmaking responsibilities, that would lessen the chances he gets worn down like he did during the Miami series.

Murray is the kind of dogged defender needed to play alongside Young. He collects steals and deflections at a high rate, is a great rebounder for his position and was part of San Antonio’s best defensive lineup last season. Murray has developed in San Antonio’s defense-first culture. If the Hawks acquire Murray, they would hope that his attitude rubs off on his new teammates.

All is not lost for the Hawks if they don’t make a deal for Murray. NBA free agency begins Thursday. Schlenk can make room on the books for a quality free agent by waiving forward Danilo Gallinari by Thursday. That’s when all of Gallinari’s $21.45 million contract for 2022-23 becomes guaranteed instead of $5 million.

If the Hawks waive Gallinari before the deadline, they can sign a free agent to a contract with a salary starting at about $10.3 million without paying the luxury tax. Solid wing players can be had for that amount or less. The players I like include Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Victor Oladipo, Gary Harris, Bruce Brown and T.J. Warren.

Murray is better than those players. Really, it’s strange that the Spurs are willing to trade him. He’s young enough to fit into their plans and makes a reasonable salary. That’s why I’m guessing the Spurs won’t let him go unless they get a big haul in return. The Hawks should be willing to pay a significant price because Murray would make them better. They just shouldn’t go so wild with an offer that Murray would be joining a team with a hollowed-out roster.