With the NBA trade deadline rapidly approaching, the Hawks seem primed to make a trade to balance the roster. The off-season’s tumultuous roster reconstruction left the team without a natural small forward. Although the small-forward-by-committee approach has provided better results than I anticipated, I still feel that addressing this position now could raise the team’s surprisingly-high ceiling even further.
Any player the team might acquire must be analyzed in terms of both cost/benefit analysis and the impact of that player’s contract on the team’s options during the upcoming summer free agency period. The Hawks presently have only about $21.5 million in salary committed for next season, meaning the team could potentially add two max salary players. The team will likely only add long-term salary now if it brings in an All-Star caliber player.
Thus, it seems we’re all waiting to see what Dwight Howard is going to do next. I speculated in April about the possibility of the Hawks clearing enough cap room to pursue both Howard and Chris Paul. At this point, Paul seems fully engaged with the Clippers and likely to re-sign there.
Howard, on the other hand, seems to be playing his cards closer to the vest these days. Sam Amick with USA Today expressed surprise that Howard has yet to show more outward signs of discontent with the progress of the Lakers. I personally don’t see what Howard would have to gain by expressing frustration now. Howard has stated that an NBA championship is his overriding goal. Without knowing if Howard will be able to return to his pre-surgery explosiveness, it’s too early to anticipate what Howard’s feelings toward the Lakers organization will be once the season concludes.
So with that as the backdrop, let’s look at potential scenarios for the Hawks prior to the Feb. 21st trade deadline. First, let’s ask some questions.
What are the Hawks’ needs?
The Hawks need either a starting-caliber small forward or center and a backup point guard (in the event that the team trades Devin Harris). Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobili wrote the following about Al Horford in his excellent capsule series (which has become a go-to reference for me):
Against power forwards, he’s one of the better defenders in the league — if the Hawks would pick up an actual center to put next to Horford, they’d be much improved.
Given that Zaza Pachulia performed well as a starting center last year during Horford’s absence, it would seem an obvious move to continue starting him, allow Horford to play his preferred position (power forward) and play Josh Smith primarily at small forward. HawksHoop editor Bo Churney previously noted Smith’s defensive dominance when guarding small forwards. Why not play to these strengths and make the “big” lineup the regular starting lineup?
I’m left to conclude that the Hawks organization does not view Pachulia as a long-term solution at starting center. If that’s the case, then the organization would do well to obtain a center that is capable of filling that role.
What trade assets do the Hawks posses?
The Hawks are well-stocked with trade assets, owning two first round picks in the upcoming draft (assuming the Houston Rockets make the playoffs, which seems likely) and a massive number of expiring contracts. These expiring contracts are mostly attached to players that are producing at a reasonable level and could contribute to a playoff push by a receiving trade partner.
I’ve speculated that the Hawks have started Harris at shooting guard ahead of Anthony Morrow and Kyle Korver in an effort to increase his trade value. Unfortunately, Harris has lost so much time to injury this season that it may have killed the trade value of what would have been the Hawks’ most valuable expiring asset, a starting-caliber point guard.
That leaves Korver, Morrow and Pachulia as the most likely potential trade chips. Among these players I feel that Morrow is the most likely to be moved. Despite speculation that Morrow’s friendship with Howard might make the Hawks a more attractive destination, it seems clear that Korver has beat out Morrow for the role of 3-point specialist. Given Korver’s age (31) and the fact that he has fit in well as a Hawk, I see good potential for the team to sign Korver to a reasonable contract to remain with the team beyond this season. Further, his superior height (listed at 6-7), quick release, high release point and history of producing on winning teams make Korver a keeper in my view.
Nonetheless, Morrow remains one of the top 10 3-point shooters in NBA history. Teams such as the Timberwolves and Nuggets, which both rank at the bottom in 3-point accuracy, could be looking to add an outside shooter as the deadline approaches.
What players are potential trade targets for the Hawks?
When evaluating trade targets, just as I do when evaluating potential draft picks in the late 1st round where the Hawks typically pick, I look for an undervalued asset. A great example of this was Eric Bledsoe during the 2010 NBA draft. Because Bledsoe played the same position at Kentucky as 1st overall pick John Wall, it seemed clear that he was overshadowed and overlooked. Bledsoe’s athletic talents were the equal of Wall’s, but he was a less-refined player. This indicated to me that Bledsoe had tremendous upside.
Unfortunately after last year’s playoff performance for the Clippers, the cat is officially out of the bag regarding Bledsoe. Other examples of overlooked players the Hawks might pursue include Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams and Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov.
Williams is a ‘tweener whom McGuire compares to Jeff Green. He’s been buried in Minnesota’s rotation behind Kevin Love his entire career but has shown flashes when given an opportunity. Undersized for a power forward but without the skill set to be a full-time wing, Williams might seem like a bad risk. However, given Smith and Horford’s defensive versatility, the Hawks could easily play Williams at either forward position depending on match-ups. And given Smith and Horford’s elite passing ability for their positions, they’d be likely to get Williams more involved in the Hawks’ offense than he has been for the Timberwolves.
Darren Wolfson, who covers the T-Wolves for 1500espn.com, reports that Minnesota may go after Orlando Magic shooting guard J.J. Redick. He suggested a trade of Williams and a 1st round pick to Orlando for Redick. Unless that’s a typo, it seems that Williams’ perceived value has fallen off significantly. (UPDATE: Wolfson tweeted: “Told Magic don’t love D-Will enough to do a 1-for-1. If Redick gets moved, 5-10 teams in mix. Adding a pick sweetens offer.”)
I would suggest that the Hawks trade Morrow and the team’s own first round pick this year for Williams. The 2013 draft is considered weak by most analysts, and a player picked late in the first round might not contribute for years. This trade would land the Hawks a player averaging 8 points and 4 rebounds in only 17 minutes per game. Although Williams’ salary would put just over $5 million on the books for next year (they could decline to extend a qualifying offer the following year if he turned out to be a complete bust), the chances are minuscule that the team could find a player late in the first round of a weak draft that could immediately duplicate Williams’ production.
Meanwhile, Mozgov, the player who famously held up the Carmelo Anthony trade due to the Knicks’ reluctance to part with him, has been similarly buried on the bench in Denver. Given the Nuggets’ dire cap situation and desire to wrap up Andre Iguodala with a long-term contract, the Hawks could potentially wait until the off-season to offer Mozgov a contract Denver would be hard-pressed to match (hat tip to JaeEvolution for pointing this out on the AJC.com Hawks blog). However, given the Hawks’ apparent disenchantment with Pachulia, I feel it would be better to get a look at Mozgov now so the team can decide if he is a long-term solution at center. I would suggest that the Hawks offer Morrow to the Nuggets straight up for Mozgov and Julyan Stone.
By evaluating Mozgov for half a season, the team would be in position to extend a qualifying offer of just over $4 million at seasons’ end, enabling the Hawks to match any offer he might receive. If the Hawks concluded that Mozgov was unworthy of a new contract, the team could decline to extend the qualifying offer and let him walk with no money on the books. His contract would effectively expire just as Morrow’s will if he remains on the roster until season’s end.
I believe it’s even odds that the Hawks will execute a trade or that GM Danny Ferry will fail to find a deal he likes and wait it out until summer free agency. At that time, Ferry will be in a position to emulate the poison pill contracts that Houston Rockets GM Darryl Morey used to pry Omer Asik away from the Bulls and Jeremy Lin from the Knicks. If Mozgov is not to Ferry’s liking, I could see him going after Tiago Splitter, who will be a restricted free agent for the Spurs.
And Dwight Howard isn’t the only player with Atlanta connections who might find his way back to tha A in free agency. Norcross High School’s Al-Farouq Aminu’s option was declined by the New Orleans Hornets and will be a free agent at season’s end. He could be a solution at small forward. Former Georgia Tech point guards Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum will likewise be unrestricted and could be options at backup point guard. And Atlanta native J.J. Hickson, who has been playing out of his mind for the Portland Trail Blazers, could be another option at center. Hickson was originally drafted by Ferry when he served as GM for the Cavaliers.
Buddy Grizzard, a new contributor for HawksHoop.com, is a former producer for CBS and Clear Channel Radio. He once upon a time shared the air with Art Mehring and frequent guest host Mark Lemke on 640 WGST. Grizzard spent last season covering the Hawks for Hoopinion.com, where his favorite moment was calling out NBA.com blogger Sekou Smith for being 100% behind the Marvin Williams selection prior to the 2005 NBA Draft. Please follow @BuddyGrizzard on Twitter.