Feature Image: Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)
There’s one thing I love about the NBA: when the action on the court finally ends, the NBA keeps going. And it comes thick and fast too. Game 7 of The Finals took place on June 19th, the NBA Draft just took place last Thursday (June 23rd) and now we’re about to head into the free agency period, beginning July 1st.
In free agency, you’re always treading in murky waters, but more so than ever this summer. Why? The salary cap is set to rise from $70 million to a whopping $94 million, with the salary floor (the figure of expenditure that teams have to reach) reportedly believed to be $84 million. Most teams are set to have at least $20 million in cap space, so teams are going to be throwing money left, right, and center.
It’s going to be fascinating to see how it all plays out, but what about for the Hawks? What’s their situation heading into free agency?
“What we have, we hold”?
The Hawks’ summer — just as it was last year — is set to be a very busy one. Franchise cornerstone Al Horford is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, while Kent Bazemore is also hitting the market off the heels of his best season in the NBA. We’ll get to the Hawks’ other free agents later, but it’s all about Horford and Bazemore.
Let’s start with Horford, Atlanta’s cornerstone, and I have some things to say to his naysayers.
Look, I’ll be the first to admit that Al is not the greatest rebounding center out there. And I get it, Hassan Whiteside is a better rebounder, but if you think Hassan Whiteside is a better player — more so the idea that the Hawks are better off with Whiteside than they are with Horford — then you’re out of your mind.
General question I like to ask when it comes to free agency: is there a player available on the market who is better than the player you’re considering letting go? In this case, the answer is no. As an overall package, there is NO CENTER better than Al Horford on the market this summer. None.
What other center on the market can defend to the elite level Al Horford can, in ALL facets of defense, not just when it comes to blocking shots? What center can stretch the his man with his mid-range game and three-point shooting? What center can thread the needle like Al Horford? What center can lead a team like Al Horford can? No center that is available this summer, I can tell you that much.
So don’t argue to me about Whiteside being the better option for the Hawks, and don’t talk to me about how Dwight Howard is the player that the Hawks need instead of Al. And if you still feel that way, then I don’t know what to tell you. Stats aren’t everything, and if you were to watch all of those players (particularly Whiteside) on a consistent basis you’d appreciate the complete package Al Horford brings to the table a whole lot more.
I don’t write with bias (only when it comes to Mike Scott) and anyone who has read my work will know that, so believe me when I say that Horford is the better player out of both of those guys and any other center available this summer.
Thankfully, the Hawks front office is run by competent folk who know what they have in Horford, and there is no question whatsoever that they want him back. While Horford has said the team have “a lot of things to address” this summer, he feels good in Atlanta.
“There are a lot of things that we need to address. But the biggest thing for me is I feel good here. I have a great relationship with Coach. That is important to me and my teammates. Atlanta is a city that welcomed me from the first day. I like the way the team is going, I feel like we can win here.” — Al Horford
There’s no question that the best move for everyone involved is to bring Horford back, which means meeting whatever his demands may be. I’m a little iffy about the fourth and fifth year of any potential deal since he’ll be 34 and 35 making close to $30 million per, but that’s just something what you have to do if you’re the Hawks. Whatever it takes to bring him back, because this team is much worse off without him.
I would be very shocked if Horford ultimately did decide to leave. If the Hawks didn’t offer Horford the fifth year he wanted, then maybe it’s conceivable that he considers leaving, but other than that…
“I know, and I believe in my heart, that this is a special place and I feel like the way the Hawks organization is going, it’s going in the right direction. People should want to be a part of this.” — Al Horford
Kent Bazemore’s situation, however, is a whole different kettle of fish…
The Hawks own Al Horford’s Bird Rights, meaning that they can go above the cap to re-sign him. But since Bazemore has been with the Hawks for only two seasons (and not the three years that qualifies teams for full Bird Rights), the Hawks only own his Early Bird Rights. The Early Bird Rights allow teams to go above the cap by up to 175% of the player’s previous wage (e.g. Bazemore’s wage for the 2015-16 season) or 104.5% of the league average salary — whichever figure is greater.
Per CBA expert Larry Coon, the league average salary for the 2015-16 season was approximately $5.7 million, and Bazemore’s estimated salary (per Basketball Insiders) for the 2015-16 season was $2 million. As you could probably guess for yourself, 175% of $2 million is a lower amount than 104.5% of $5.7 million. Therefore, the Early Bird Rights would allow the Hawks to exceed the salary cap by $5.9 (ish) million to re-sign Bazemore and no more, otherwise they have to use their cap space to re-sign him. And they’re going to have to, as Bazemore has played well beyond that kind of salary.
What kind of cap space are the Hawks working with? Well, let’s go through that now.
(Real quick, it’s worth noting that I’m just going to assume the trade that sends Jeff Teague to Indiana and Taurean Prince [12th overall pick of the Jazz] to Atlanta goes through)
Let’s go through the guaranteed salary for the 2016-17 season first.
Paul Millsap: $20,072,033
Tiago Splitter: $8,550,000
Kyle Korver: $5,239,437
Thabo Sefolosha: $3,850,000
Dennis Schröder: $2,708,852
Tim Hardaway Jr.: $2,281,605
Taurean Prince: $1,931,900
DeAndre’ Bembry: $1,249,800
Mike Muscala: $1,015,696
Edy Tavares: $1,000,000
That’s part one.
Part two consists of the decisions the Hawks have to make, which are as follows:
Mike Scott: $3,333,334 non guaranteed
Lamar Patterson: $874,636 non guaranteed
Let’s just say, just for arguments sake, that the Hawks bring all three of those players back/Mike Scott isn’t sent to prison.
Part three: cap holds.
Al Horford: $18,000,000
Kirk Hinirch: $5,692,415
Kent Bazemore: $2,600,000
Kris Humphries: $1,200,000
We’re going to add these three totals up and figure out the Hawks’ expenditure, but before we do, we’re going to take away Hinrich’s, Bazemore’s, and Humphries’ cap holds since the Hawks will probably renounce all three since they have no need for the Bird Rights on Kirk, don’t own any with Hump, and as we’ve discussed before, Early Bird Rights mean virtually nothing when it comes to re-signing Bazemore.
$47,899,232 + $4,207,970 + $18,000,000 = $70,107,293 (estimated salary expenditure)
(Take that figure with a grain of salt: it is certainly subject to change and is not final by any means whatsoever)
With the salary cap set for an estimated $94 million, the Hawks figure to have just under $24 million in cap space to spend before re-signing Horford to the max.
So, now that we have a fair idea where the Hawks stand with cap let’s get back to Bazemore, whose signature with the Hawks is far from guaranteed, not so much because of him but because of the business side of things on the Hawks’ end that are in play here.
In today’s modern NBA, decent/good wing players are highly coveted. A few years ago we saw Gordon Hayward sign a four year, $63 million offer sheet with the Charlotte Hornets, which Utah matched. We saw Chandler Parsons also sign an offer sheet with the Dallas Mavericks worth $45 million over just three years. And just last year, as Hawks fans remember, we saw DeMarre Carroll sign a four year, $60 million deal. There are other examples of wing players on lesser money, but still high — perhaps — when you consider the player, but the point is this: Good wings are hard to come by and, as such, they are coveted free agents who get paid well. Especially if you can shoot moderately well from three-point range and can defend. Bazemore ticks both of these boxes, and he’s going to be a well sought after free agent by many teams who want to improve their wing positions, once their Kevin Durant pipe dreams are quickly extinguished.
Bazemore was going to warrant a decent contract regardless of this cap spike, but in a summer where teams have more money than they know what to do with? His value is going to rise exponentially because of this cap spike. Money is going to be thrown around like you’ve never seen before. Heck, we’re about to live in a world where Harrison Barnes is going to earn $20 million a year. That’s how much money is going to be thrown around this summer, and you can bet that a lot of money is going to flung at Bazemore too.
The demand for Bazemore is going to be high… Do the Hawks want to be the team that overpays for Bazemore? Do you want to be the team that pays him $15 million (or more) for the next four years? At what point do you simply say, “this isn’t worth it going forward”? Atlanta may reach this road with Bazemore, and they may have to be OK with another team overpaying for his services.
Because of his position, because many teams lack good wing players, because good wings are highly coveted, because Bazemore can hit threes and defend, because he is one of the better wings available, and because teams have so much money to blow this summer, Bazemore is going to receive massive offers this summer. Technically, the Hawks have the cap flexibility to give him any sort of contract he wanted, but is that a wise thing to do? At what point do you just say “enough is enough, you can have him”?
Bazemore, however, has stated that his preference would be to remain in Atlanta.
“I would love to return here. I think the past two years I’ve taken a tremendous leap. Not only my professional year but personally. I’m growing more into myself and figuring out life. This place has a special place in my heart.” — Kent Bazemore
His agent, Austin Walton, has also said his client’s preference is Atlanta, mainly because the Hawks were the team who “took a chance on him”
“He prefers the Hawks because they took a chance on him. Before he really had an opportunity in the NBA, they saw something in him. They gave him an opportunity and he’s had a chance to flourish here. He really likes coach Bud and the front office. He likes his teammates. And he has really made it a home. He’s gravitated to the city and the fans. He’d like to stay here if possible. Hopefully, Atlanta wants him here.” — Austin Walton, Bazemore’s agent
Reading that, you can’t help but wonder if Bazemore may be willing to give the Hawks a slight discount to stay, but I think it’ll be extremely hard to do so when so much money — money that he has never experienced being flung at him before — is being thrown around.
It makes more logical sense (considering the extreme financial price — short and long term — it would take to re-sign him) for the Hawks to allow Bazemore to walk, but Hawks GM Wes Wilcox has said that retaining Bazemore is a “priority”.
“I will say Kent Bazemore is absolutely a Hawks priority. We love Kent. He is a huge part of what we do. I don’t think there should be any confusion as to how important Kent is to us.” — Hawks GM Wes Wilcox
Let’s ask the same question as we did with Al Horford: are there better wings on the market than the one you’re considering letting go? The answer is yes, there are.
Technically Kevin Durant is a free agent and while Marc Stein reported that the Hawks were trying to set up a meeting with KD, it’s pretty unlikely that he’s coming. But there are other quality small forwards/shooting guards available.
Nic Batum is a free agent (though it’s hard to picture him leaving Charlotte), Evan Turner is not a half bad player by any means, Evan Fournier is a restricted free agent, Courtney Lee is out there, and a player who I think is gettable who I also think would be great in Atlanta: Chandler Parsons. He would be my dream signing for Atlanta this summer, although his last two seasons have been cut short thanks to knee issues. If he could show that those issues are behind him, he would be a fantastic addition.
Though, there’s a case to argue that since a lot of these teams either own the Bird Rights to their free agents or have a ton of cap space to re-sign them with if they don’t (or both for that matter) that maybe it’s better for the Hawks to just keep what they have in Bazemore and meet his demands, rather than risk losing him and not being able to bring anyone else in. Because at the end of the day nothing is guaranteed in free agency. But of course, even if the Hawks do meet his demands there’s no guarantee that’ll Bazemore stay, since it’s his decision after all. Same goes with Horford.
We will see with Bazemore, but I find it hard to imagine that he’ll be back next season…
Possible targets in areas of need
The Hawks are in need of a backup point guard, as the departure of Jeff Teague will likely promote Dennis Schröder to starting point guard and the only other point guard on the team, Kirk Hinrich, is a free agent. There are a number of solid point guards available this summer who could fill this role well.
Of course, the Hawks could try and sign Mike Conley and maintain Dennis as a backup, which would be hilarious after all this “Dennis is now the starter” talk, but it’s unlikely to happen.
Actual backup options include:
Maybe Brandon Jennings
Ty Lawson (who I think would be available at a serious discount considering his awful season)
Fan favorite Matthew Dellavedova, though he’s a restricted free agent. Even though he is hated by many Hawks fans he’s a decent player, and one of those players you hate on every other team else but would love if he was actually on your side.
Jarrett Jack, if the Nets choose to waive him, but he is coming off an Achilles injury, the main reason — in combination with the majority of his salary not being guaranteed — the Nets are considering waiving him.
Contract year Raymond Felton
Greivis Vasquez is out there
Ish Smith is available
That’s just some of the crop, there’s loads of backup talent out there and the Hawks should have no problems finding a backup guard.
The backup big spot is also another area of need. Tiago Splitter’s health remains a huge question mark going forward, Mike Scott is facing legal issues, and it remains to be seen if Kris Humphries (a free agent) will be brought back. Personally, I’d like to see him back, the fans seemed to like him and he played well in his short stint with the team as he got a feel for the how the Hawks like to play, calling it “fun”.
It was fun basketball – guys moving the ball, running the floor, getting other guys open, worrying about us not individuals.” — Kris Humphries speaking after a 106-77 victory over the Lakers on his Hawks debut on March 4th.
But what if the Hawks don’t bring him back? Someone else will have to be brought in, because the Hawks need to have some sort of backup big outside of Splitter, because Lord knows if he’s going to be healthy ever again as a pro.
Some potential backup bigs include:
Pau Gasol, if he was willing to come off the bench
Brandon Bass, I think, would be great in Atlanta, since they love to run pick-and-pop, something he’s good at
Marvin Williams (The Return)
Bismack Biyombo, if the Hawks really wanted to pay top dollar
Quincy Acy, who is underrated
Andrew Nicholson is about to become an UFA, potentially interesting
Cole Aldrich, who also underrated in my opinion.
Superstar talent is hard to sign, but backup talent is a much easier to acquire and there’s plenty of options out there for the Hawks when it comes to backup talent.
It’s also worth noting that the Hawks do own Minnesota’s 2018 lottery protected first round pick. If they wanted to free up even more cap space, they could try package that pick in a salary dump of Tiago Splitter, and some teams might be happy to take that since every team will need to reach the $84 million salary floor.
It certainly feels like a summer where the Hawks have so much more to gain than they do to lose. If you look at Charlotte, I would say there’s at least two key players who aren’t coming back. I’d seriously be worried if I was a Hornets fan, so many different things could happen this summer since they have so many free agents. There’s a lot more to lose than there is to gain for them. While the Hawks could lose an awful lot in Horford if he left, I would say they’re not likely to lose him, and if Bazemore does leave it’s not the end of the world and the Hawks have cap space to bring in replacements.
Let’s see how it all unfolds.