Hawks seal their fate by keeping Dejounte Murray past trade deadline

Here comes another early exit from playoffs, if they make it
Hawks guard Dejounte Murray (5) argues a call with an official during the Hawks win at State Farm Arena, Tuesday, January 30, 2024, in Atlanta. The Hawks won 138-122. (Jason Getz / jason.getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Hawks guard Dejounte Murray (5) argues a call with an official during the Hawks win at State Farm Arena, Tuesday, January 30, 2024, in Atlanta. The Hawks won 138-122. (Jason Getz / jason.getz@ajc.com)

The NBA’s trade deadline expired Thursday afternoon with Dejounte Murray still on the Hawks roster. It’s difficult to judge whether standing pat was the right move without knowing the specifics of the offers they got. But this directionless front office has squandered any benefit of the doubt.

After trading massive draft-pick capital for Murray in summer 2022, the Hawks made deals that made the roster worse but saved money for team owner Tony Ressler. The Hawks couldn’t realistically expect to recoup the two draft picks they still owe for Murray. Now they have Murray, no first-round draft picks in 2025 or 2027 and no real chance to make a run in this year’s playoffs (assuming they even make it).

There was a market for Murray. The Lakers and Pelicans reportedly were the two teams with the most interest in acquiring him. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Pelicans also wanted Hawks backup center Onyeka Okongwu as part of a Murray deal. The Hawks decided to pass on the offers on the table.

It’s possible the Hawks will find a favorable deal for Murray this summer if they don’t change their minds about trading him. The league resets after the draft and the postseason. Teams will be looking to add or subtract pieces. Murray is a valuable one because he’s a good player in his prime with a bargain contract through 2026-27.

But, based on past performance, it’s not probable the Hawks will swing a good trade for Murray later. They have a recent history of signing players to extensions, getting poor team results and then keeping those players until after their trade values declined (Clint Capela and De’Andre Hunter). And since acquiring Murray, the Hawks have traded starters Kevin Huerter and John Collins for cheaper players who weren’t good enough to crack their rotation or never played for them at all.

The Hawks are getting diminished returns since they stopped tanking and started trying to win with Trae Young. The run to the 2021 Eastern Conference finals looks more like a fluke every day. The next season the Hawks won 43 games, played their way into the postseason and then lost to the Heat in five games. The Hawks won 41 games in 2022-23, played their way into the postseason and then lost to the Celtics in six games (progress!).

The Hawks (22-29) are on pace to win 35 games this season. That’s after they won four consecutive games last week. They hadn’t won as many as three games in a row since Oct. 29-Nov. 4. The coming schedule looks relatively easy on paper, but don’t count on that. Nothing is easy for the Hawks because of their inability to consistently stop opponents from scoring.

Surprisingly, Murray is part of that problem. He came from San Antonio with the reputation of playing good defense and was solid last season and earlier in this one. Murray has since developed a habit of approaching opposing ballhandlers in a way that seemingly invites them to attack the paint. Murray helps the Hawks with his scoring and secondary playmaking, but he won’t be part of the defensive solution so long as he’s checked out at that end.

Improving the defense was a big part of Quin Snyder’s charge when the Hawks hired him a year ago. But he seems intent on having them play a style that doesn’t work for the personnel. Then again, it’s hard to make any system work without players who are strong defenders at the point of attack. The Hawks have neither the personnel nor the connection to scramble and recover once ballhandlers get inside the perimeter.

The transition defense is even worse. To watch the Hawks is to be amazed at how easily opponents score even after taking the ball out of the basket. There was one prime example during the Clippers game Monday. The Hawks scored with 2.1 seconds left in the third quarter for a two-point lead. Incredibly, the Clippers created a wide-open 3-point attempt with two long passes, and Daniel Theis made it with 0.3 seconds to spare.

The Hawks’ front office didn’t do anything to improve the defense before the trade deadline. Surely, the decision-makers weren’t swayed by the four consecutive shootout victories last week. The Hawks followed that with losses to the Clippers and Celtics, two contending teams that easily exploited their shoddy defense.

The Hawks rank 27th in defensive efficiency per Cleaning the Glass (garbage time excluded). The Wizards, Pistons and Hornets are below them. Those teams are on track to post records that would rank among the worst in NBA history. The Hawks are better than them because they rank 10th in offensive efficiency.

The Hawks were a good scoring team the past two seasons, too. It didn’t matter much in the playoffs.

The Heat grinded the Hawks to dust with their defense. The Hawks scored enough against the Celtics but gave up way too many easy baskets. The Hawks are headed to a similar fate this season if they make it through the play-in tournament (they can forget about avoiding it by finishing sixth or higher in the East).

That will make two one-and-done playoff appearances for the Hawks in two seasons of the Young-Murray experiment. They were willing to move Murray at the trade deadline, but ended up staying pat. There’s little evidence that this Hawks’ front office will get it right if Murray is dealt this summer. The team’s decision-makers haven’t gotten much right lately.