The Hawks’ season just ended yesterday, meaning that the team has officially entered the offseason. That begs one question: what do the Hawks need to do to rebound for the 2015-16 season? What are the team’s weaknesses? Who is available for the Hawks to sign?
The way to answer those first two questions is with a status report of where the Hawks are right now. The following Hawks will be free agents this offseason:
Pero Antic (restricted)
Jenkins is likely gone and it appears as if Brand is preparing for retirement. Judging by his status in the Hawks’ rotation in games 3 and 4 of the series against the Cavs, Antic could be on his way out as well. Other factors to consider here are the recovery times for Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha, the play of Mike Scott in the playoffs, and Millsap’s own potential surgery in the offseason.
With all of that in mind, the Hawks will have money that needs to be spent addressing the wing and big positions. One thing that became abundantly clear in the playoffs is that there is no such thing as having too many shooters on the roster. Korver’s cold streak and subsequent absence was a major blow for the Hawks, and while Kent Bazemore made an admirable effort to step in, it was soon clear that the Hawks could use more shooting from the bench. Dennis Schröder is not a shooter (more shots than points in the playoffs) and Mike Scott became too streaky — in addition to his bad defense — to be a reliable option.
The other obvious weakness for the Hawks in the postseason was rebounding. Horford and a less-than-100% Millsap usually held their own, but the bench options of Antic and Scott were not the kind of guys that could remedy rebounding issues whenever the Hawks were in a rut. This issue was amplified upon Sefolosha’s injury, as he provided a rebounding boost from the small forward position when he was on the court. (8.2 rebounds per 36 minutes)
Of course, an important concept to remember here is how the Hawks play. Coach Mike Budenholzer preaches pace and space on offense, and activity, quick hands, and awareness on defense. The best fits for the Hawks are going to be players that exhibit most or all of these attributes.
Finally, something that sticks out heavily, is the salary cap. I will not go into all of the Hawks’ salary cap specifics here, but suffice to say, the Hawks will have money to spend in the offseason. Also important is the NBA’s new TV deal that will start with the 2016-17 season, which will likely send the salary cap soaring to at least $85 million. Because of these, teams may be willing to overpay for free agents this year, as they know those contracts will not be as large of a hit to their cap in the future. Combating that will be whether or not players desire long-term contracts, as they may opt for shorter contracts to take advantage of the future cap spike.
Taking all of that into consideration, I present my free agent targets for the Atlanta Hawks.
YOU PROBABLY WANT THESE GUYS BACK
Paul Millsap, F, Atlanta Hawks
Millsap averaged 16.7 points on 56.5% true-shooting, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists on the season. He was named an All-Star for the second consecutive season and was one of the most important defenders on a team that finished sixth in defensive efficiency.
Of course, all of those accolades lead to one conclusion: Millsap is on the verge of the largest payday of his basketball career. However, the Hawks may have the inside track on re-signing their star forward; the following is a quote from Millsap after the Hawks’ loss in Game 4.
Paul Millsap on his upcoming free agency: "This team is family, this team is close and that will play into the decision."
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) May 27, 2015
Millsap was a huge part of the Hawks’ success this season and his apparent loyalty to the team could be a factor in his upcoming decision. Millsap also injured his shoulder at the end of the regular season, which as mentioned before, could require surgery in the offseason. Why is that important? Possible surgery could damper some of the interest on Millsap over the summer, at least to the point where Millsap may no longer receive a max-contract like some have predicted he might be able to command.
The Hawks are the only team that can offer Millsap a five-year contract. (All other teams are limited to just four years) Millsap turned 30 this season and this could be the last NBA contract he signs. Under these circumstances, the Hawks should consider Millsap the highest-priority in free agency.
DeMarre Carroll, F, Atlanta Hawks
Before his injury in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Carroll had caught lightning in a bottle in the playoffs, averaging over 17 points per game in the first two series. This was after highly-regarded regular season, which saw Carroll shoot nearly 40% from 3 while being the Hawks’ number one defensive option on the perimeter.
Carroll was often referred to as the “glue-guy” for the Hawks this season, and the Hawks’ front office should take that into major consideration when assessing the future prospects of the team that won 60 games. Carroll has transformed into the archetype “3-and-D” player with the Hawks, which would be a difficult position to fill if Carroll found himself on another team for the 2015-16 season.
Naturally, this success presents a problem for the Hawks: Carroll figures to have many suitors in the offseason and he will see a large pay raise from the $2.5 million he made in each of the past two seasons in Atlanta. However, if the Hawks are looking to keep the same starting five from the team that earned the franchise their first berth in the Eastern Conference Fianls, then they may have to break the piggybank to upwards of $10 million annually for Carroll.
OTHER REALISTIC OPTIONS
This section is based around one principle: the Hawks do not have $Texas to spend and are in need of guys that would willing to play off of the bench. There will be some starting caliber players here, but if the Hawks do re-sign Millsap and Carroll, then they will need to be thrifty in finding players to add depth.
Danny Green, G/F, San Antonio Spurs
Green is one of the capable starters on this list and becomes a more realistic option should the Hawks not re-sign Carroll. Green is similar to Carroll in that he is one of the best 3-and-D perimeter options in the NBA, meaning he is also likely to receive an annual salary in the $8-10 million range.
It may be difficult to lure Green away from a proven winner like the Spurs, but the Hawks have a couple of things on their side here:
1) The Hawks run a similar system as the Spurs and Green is familiar with Hawks head coach Budenholzer
2) The Spurs’ future is currently up in the air, as Tim Duncan’s contract is up and it is unknown if he and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich will retire
I’d imagine that Green stays in San Antonio, but the Hawks should target him and try to poach him away from their model team.
Amir Johnson, F, Toronto Raptors
Johnson started 72 games for the Raptors in the 2014-15 season, but he would be an interesting option for the Hawks as the first big off of the bench. Johnson is a great finisher at the rim, can work in the post, and has experimented with a 3-point shot over the past few years to some success. (41.3% on 46 attempts in 2014-15)
The questions about Johnson will be how valuable people perceive his defensive value to be. Johnson is a good defender, but playing next to the dreadful Jonas Valanciunas in Toronto have made it difficult to evaluate how useful he can really be on defense. There is also the question of when his decline will start; though he is only 28, Johnson has already been in the NBA for 10 seasons. (Trivia tidbit: he was the last high schooler to be drafted in 2005)
Ed Davis, F/C, Los Angeles Lakers (player option)
I was a big fan of Davis last year when he was a free agency, so I was perplexed when it took so long for him to sign with a team. Eventually he signed a deal with the Lakers for the minimum, which was even more perplexing to me, as I thought he was worth more than that.
Well, Davis’ play in the 2014-15 season showed that he was definitely worth more than that and it would be shocking if he opted not to enter free agency. In 23.3 minutes per game, Davis averaged 8.3 points on 60.1% shooting from the floor. He would be an immediate remedy to the Hawks’ rebounding woes, as Davis averaged an impressive 11.7 rebounds per 36 minutes in 79 games for the Lakers.
The knock on Davis is that there is no proof that he can shoot. He’s a career 56.6% shooter from the line and he rarely took shots from the field that were outside the restricted area. However, on the shots he did take, the percentages were not terrible. (they weren’t great, either)
Would the Hawks take a gamble on Davis as the team’s third big and try to improve his shooting? It is definitely an option, as at least Davis is skilled around the rim with both scoring and rebounding that he could give you positives if he can’t shoot.
Al-Farouq Aminu, F, Dallas Mavericks (player option)
Aminu’s story is similar to Davis; it took a while for him to find a team, he signed for the minimum, and likely outplayed his contract to the point where he shouldn’t opt-in.
Aminu can’t shoot, but he’s a good enough rebounder and defender that he’s a net positive player. (plus-4.2 on/off per 100 possessions with Dallas in 2014-15) Aminu is not an ideal fit for the Hawks, but he should come cheap enough that he would work to provide depth on the bench, where he can defend both the 3 and 4 positions. He is also young enough — only 24 — to the point where he can still be developed.
Kosta Koufos, C, Memphis Grizzlies
Need a rim protector and rebounder off of the bench? Koufos can do exactly that. His offense has not been great in Memphis, but it was good when he was in Denver a few years ago. It would be interesting to see how Koufos functioned in an offense that afforded him a little more space around the basket.
Koufos would be a great fit with the Hawks, but here is why that is a problem: Koufos would be good on a lot of teams and he could see his salary balloon from the $3 million per year that he is currently making. What could keep his price in a reasonable range for the Hawks is the number of good bigs available: Millsap, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol, and LaMarcus Aldridge on the primary market, and Robin Lopez, Greg Monroe, and Tyson Chandler on the secondary market. Other big names like Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Brook Lopez could become available, too.
If Koufos somehow slips in the market and is available for a decent price, the Hawks should absolutely attack.
Pero Antic, C, Atlanta Hawks (restricted)
I know a lot of Hawks fans are done with Antic, but hear me out. No matter how ugly his play may look at times, one thing remains constant: the Hawks are usually better when Antic is on the floor. (plus-1.3 on/off per 100 possessions)
Of course, the Hawks may have Antic’s replacement already in Mike Muscala. Plus, there is still Edy Tavares, the 7-foot-3 second round draft pick from 2014 that the Hawks are interested in developing. However, if the Hawks find themselves with a lack of other options, bringing back Antic on a one-year, minimum deal would not be the worst thing for the Hawks.
Mike Dunleavy Jr., F/G, Chicago Bulls
The Hawks could use another shooter and Dunleavy, at almost 35 years old, is still one of the best shooters in the league. With the turmoil in Chicago over the handling of Tom Thibodeau’s job, Dunleavy could be seeking another city for employment for the 2015-16 season.
Outside of his shooting, Dunleavy is not a great defender, but at 6-for-9, he has enough length and mobility to keep opposing offenses honest. He is a below-average rebounder and can make passes when needed.
The appeal of Dunleavy is that he will likely be a cheap option that can play off of the bench. The possibilities for the Hawks are also tantalizing: a Korver-Carroll starting unit with Dunleavy-Sefolosha waiting on the bench would give opposing teams nightmares. Dunleavy would essentially be what some Hawks fans think John Jenkins is.
Robin Lopez, C, Portland Trail Blazers
Lopez is one of the most underrated centers in the league and one of the few options that can be considered good enough to move Al Horford to the power forward position. Lopez is a good rim protector, rebounder, and has good hands around the basket. He dealt with some injuries this season in Portland — he missed 23 games — but he had played 82 games in each of the two previous seasons.
Like some of the other bigs on this list, the Hawks will likely question whether or not Lopez does enough to space the floor. Lopez is not a shooter, but he is a guy that is good enough around the basket that his presence along the baseline can draw a lot of attention.
Lopez would not be able to replace Millsap, but he would be a suitable backup option at a cheaper price.
PROBABLY NOT REALISTIC, BUT YOU SHOULD TRY REALLY HARD
Khris Middleton, F, Milwaukee Bucks (restricted)
The Bucks improved a lot this season compared to last, and a lot of that was thinks to the underrated play of Khris Middleton.
What made Middleton so valuable? He shot 40.7% from 3 on 3.4 attempts per game and was a superbly effective defender, showing the ability to guard as many as four positions. Middleton’s value showed up in ESPN’s real plus-minus (RPM) statistic, where the young forward ranked 10th in the entire NBA, just ahead of Kyle Korver, Danny Green, Tim Duncan, and Paul Millsap. Basketball-Reference also assessed Middleton’s value with a plus-15.4 on/off per 100 possesions.
Middleton would be a perfect fit for the Hawks if they do not re-sign Carroll, but as a restricted free agent, I find it hard to believe that Milwaukee would let one of their young stars go. It would likely take a max offer (four-years, around $60 million) for a team to have a chance at prying away Middleton from the Bucks, but it is not something I would consider impossible. (scroll down to see where I find it impossible)
LaMarcus Aldridge, F/C, Portland Trail Blazers
Looking at Aldridge last season, one of the things that I disliked most about his game was the volume of long 2s he took compared to the almost zero 3s he attempted. So when Aldridge attempted over 100 3s this year, I believe he became extremely valuable as a modern NBA power forward.
Marc Stein reported earlier this month that Aldridge was looking at options outside of Portland in his free agency and the Hawks should definitely try to take advantage if this is true. Aldridge is not as good of a defender as Paul Millsap in my opinion, but he is still very good and a commitment to shooting 3s at an even higher rate could make the Hawks’ offense even better than it has been with Millsap.
The roadblocks to signing Aldridge? He is going to command an extremely high salary, and he will have a lot of suitors. Also, prioritizing Aldridge means the Hawks will have moved on from Paul Millsap extremely early in the free agency process, which I do not see occurring.
NO CHANCE AND IT’S PROBABLY NOT WORTH THE INQUIRY
Kawhi Leonard, F, San Antonio Spurs (restricted)
This is one I have heard a lot. “The Hawks should go after Kawhi!”
Seriously, he won a Finals MVP as a Spur. San Antonio will match anything that Leonard is offered.
Jimmy Butler, G/F, Chicago Bulls (restricted)
He does not have a Finals MVP, but his case is very similar to Kawhi; the franchise sees him as a key building block and they have the ability to match. They won’t let him go.
Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies
Gasol is an interesting case and I almost put him in the section above after Aldridge, but there is one difference with Gasol: there haven’t been rumblings of him wanting out of Memphis. Gasol is the face of that franchise and I have a hard time believing that he would leave the city where’s he has been for his entire NBA career.
I WOULDN’T RECOMMEND IT
DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers (restricted)
Despite what Doc Rivers says to the media, Jordan is not an otherworldly defender. He can protect well at the rim, but Jordan can get lost in pick-and-rolls and often relies too much on his athleticism to try and makes plays. He may have finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting, but the Clippers’ rank of 15th in defensive efficiency says a lot more about his defense than any vote will.
Outside of that, Jordan can be a huge inhibitor on offense. He finishes extremely well when presented with opportunities around the rim, but he can’t create for himself and he is a historically bad free throw shooter. He may fit on some teams, but he would just be awful with the Hawks.
Greg Monroe, F/C, Detroit Pistons
Like Jordan, Monroe would be another massively expensive option that does not really fit with the Hawks on either end of the floor. Monroe can’t shoot, can’t defend, and would be a clear downgrade from what the Hawks could get at the same price Paul Millsap.
Monroe is young and has shown a strong talent on the boards. He still has a lot of time to develop the rest of his game. I just don’t see how it works for the Hawks right now when Monroe is likely to score a contract near the max.
There are more names that could fit in the various categories here, but this is just an early look at what the Hawks have to deal with in the upcoming free agency period. Where do you stand, Hawks fans? Should the Hawks try to make a major move, or should they stick with the roster from a 60-win team and give it another go?
*all stats from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted*