It turns out the Atlanta Hawks don’t need to make big trade after all

012622 Atlanta: Atlanta Hawks John Collins reacts on the bench after forward Onyeka Okongwu makes a massive dunk against the Sacramento Kings Maurice Harkless during the first half in a NBA basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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012622 Atlanta: Atlanta Hawks John Collins reacts on the bench after forward Onyeka Okongwu makes a massive dunk against the Sacramento Kings Maurice Harkless during the first half in a NBA basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk was wondering openly not long ago whether he made a mistake keeping last season’s roster mostly intact. He wasn’t the only one. Now, with the trade deadline looming, the Hawks have made a case that they can make another deep run with no major changes at all.

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That’s how far they’ve come in only two weeks. Schlenk can take until Feb. 10 to decide whether he’ll stick with the roster he has or make changes via trade. He already sent away Cam Reddish in a deal that mostly was about getting a first-round draft pick in return.

At the time of that deal, I argued that the Hawks needed another significant move to have a chance to go far. They’d been without key players for stretches, but their problems ran deeper than that. Since then, the Hawks have seemed to figure out their issues with no outside help.

The Hawks won seven games in a row before losing to Toronto on Tuesday with Trae Young out injured. Their offense remains among the NBA’s best. The defense has improved. The Hawks have rekindled the competitive spirit that carried them to the 2021 Eastern Conference finals.

“I feel like we’ve turned the corner, but it’s about staying consistent and doing the little things we need to do,” Hawks forward John Collins said Thursday before facing the Suns at State Farm Arena. “We know that we are one of the upper-echelon teams in the league.”

The standings don’t reflect that yet. Before Thursday’s games, the Hawks (24-26) were 10th in the East with 32 games to go. That’s just above the cut-off for the play-in tournament for the playoffs. The Hawks were 5½ games out of sixth place, which is the last slot for an automatic bid. The Hawks need to finish at least fourth to achieve their preseason goal of hosting a playoff series.

The Hawks appeared headed for the draft lottery when they were 17-25. They were giving up bushels of easy baskets every night and set to face a tough slate of opponents. They’ve looked more like last year’s team over the past two weeks. Still, that’s just one of two stretches of good play for them this season. There’s a bigger sample of bad play.

That made me wonder: Is what we’re seeing from the Hawks now for real?

Answered Collins: “I’m hoping all of it is real. I’m hoping none of it is fake. I don’t go out there and play my heart out for it to be fluff. We’re just trying to keep it rolling and try to figure out the best way to win and close out games.”

That task got easier as regulars returned to the lineup after sitting out with injuries or COVID-19.

Bogdan Bogdanovic has come back to be the consistent, secondary scorer and playmaker alongside Young. De’Andre Hunter adds toughness and tenacity as a wing defender and is efficient on 3-pointers. Second-year center Onyeka Okongwu has been so good on defense that coach Nate McMillan recently has trusted him to finish games instead of veteran Clint Capela.

The Hawks, to their credit, never cited those players or others missing games to explain away their struggles. Now they aren’t saying better health alone is the reason for the current surge.

“We did get healthy, but we’re playing better,” McMillan said.

Internally, the Hawks always believed they’d find their footing. They just needed regulars to be on the floor consistently so the team could develop chemistry and define roles. Now that it’s happening, Schlenk may be less inclined to make a major trade. If he does decide to do it, the biggest names rumored to be available on the market are guards Ben Simmons and Bradley Beal.

Either Simmons or Beal would increase the Hawks’ overall talent. It would come at the expense of breaking up a team that’s coming together for players that aren’t good fits.

Simmons is unique: a 6-11 point guard, terrific defender, great playmaker, terror in transition. Anyone who watched last year’s East finals knows his weaknesses. Simmons can’t shoot jump shots or free throws efficiently. Against the Hawks, Simmons eventually stopped shooting at all. He hasn’t played this season because he’s feuding with the 76ers.

Simmons would be great as a big, strong defender paired with Young. That would be more than offset by his need to be the playmaker and inability to shoot. Playing Young off the ball a lot more means he has it in his hands a lot less. Why do that when he’s the catalyst for an elite offense?

Beal said he wants to stay with the Wizards long-term. But he didn’t sign a contract extension before the season and can become a free agent this summer. He’s reportedly wavering on re-upping. The Wizards would risk seeing him leave for nothing if they don’t move him before the trade deadline.

The Hawks would risk the same if they acquired Beal. That’s in addition to the possibility that he’s not the right kind of scorer to pair with Young. Beal puts up points: 27.8 points per game over the past three seasons with good efficiency. But Beal is a ball-dominant guard, so he’d have to adjust his game with the Hawks. He’s also smaller than Bogdanovic and just an OK defender.

I’ve never thought Simmons would be a good get for the Hawks. A couple of weeks ago I might have said Beal is worth the risk. But this season’s Hawks have looked like last season’s teams since then. The Hawks have shown enough that now I believe they don’t need a major trade to go on another long run.