The Atlanta Hawks’ 2014-15 season is a well documented season and one that is immortalised by Hawks fans. A franchise record 60 regular season wins, four players named to the All-Star team, an unbeaten January, a Coach of the Year award, and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. While being swept in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Cleveland Cavaliers wasn’t the note the Hawks would’ve liked to have finished their season on, it was still a hugely successful season that created the largest buzz surrounding the Atlanta Hawks (arguably) since the playing days of Hall of Famer, and Hawks legend, Dominique Wilkins.
Turn the clock forward 9 months later and there are rumours floating around that the Hawks are considering trades for Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague, and even franchise cornerstone Al Horford at the trade deadline. If you were to travel back this time last year, you would never think these rumours would arise so soon after such a successful season.
So, to start off, why have these rumours surfaced?
Inconsistency Part 1 – Wing Depth and Wing Production
The departure of DeMarre Carroll (who signed with the Toronto Raptors as a free agent in the offseason) has been a big loss for the Hawks – a larger loss than Hawks fans would like to admit. The Hawks’ wing depth took a huge hit when Carroll left and led to end of the bench players like Justin Holiday and Lamar Patterson receiving significant minutes, while giving the Hawks very little in production, in the early stages of the season while Thabo Sefolosha continued his rehab from a broken leg. However since his return, Sefolosha is only shooting 30% from behind the arc – a lower percentage than that of starting center Al Horford, who shoots the three at 34%.
While offseason acquisition Tim Hardaway Jr. is finally playing on a regular basis, he hasn’t given the Hawks as much production as they would’ve liked – averaging 4.2 points per game on 36% shooting from the field and 24.5% from three-point range. The Hawks gave up the 15th overall pick in the 2015 draft to acquire Hardaway Jr., passing up the opportunity to draft someone like the sharpshooting Sam Dekker, the energetic big man Bobby Portis, or defensive stud Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Kent Bazemore has performed well as the starting small forward, but he is exactly that – a small forward. He’s listed at 6’5 and has issues when faced with larger forwards like Danilo Gallinari and Carmelo Anthony. Bazemore also isn’t the most muscular player around, and has issues defending the more muscular small forwards in the league. DeMarre Carroll was much better suited to check the opposing teams best perimeter defender, as he has better size (listed at 6’8), better footwork to stay with the likes of LeBron James and Paul George, and has a better built body to absorb body contact.
The loss of Carroll was always going to hurt and, while things seemed fine initially, his departure has left a hole in the Atlanta wing department and it has hurt their depth. The perfect role for Bazemore on a contending team is the role he played last year – off the bench. With Bazemore now starting, rather than coming off the bench, Coach Bud has had to really dig deep into his bench for wing minutes and the bench has let Atlanta down often this season.
It’s hard to find a defensively and offensively gifted player in one player and that’s what Carroll brought to the table. Again while Bazemore has performed exceedingly well, Carroll possesses a more complete package.
Inconsistency Part 2 – The Point Guard Position
Last year was a fantastic year for the Atlanta Hawks’ point guards. Jeff Teague was named an All-Star, and Dennis Schröder showed great progression in his second season in the league and made the backup point guard position his own. Heading into this season you would have expected for Teague to continue his high standard of play as a starting point guard and for Schröder to continue to his development. However, it has been a year of inconsistency for the two point guards.
Teague, while averaging similar numbers to last season, has arguably been the most inconsistent Hawk this season. He’ll have the occasional game defining performance (as he did against Oklahoma City and Dallas at home this season) but more often than not, he’ll have the 3-of-12 shooting and five turnovers night. Teague, at times, has also looked very disinterested in what’s going on in games and it looks as though he doesn’t care about playing real defense (leading to easy points for the opposition) or executing on the offensive end (leading to bad offense and turnovers). For anyone who has watched the Atlanta Hawks on a regular basis this season, the Jeff Teague trade rumours should come as no surprise at all and it’s no surprise why, out of all the Hawks trade rumours, he has the most circling over his head.
Schröder was expected to take the next step in his development and become one of the better sixth men and one the best backup point guards in the league, but he has literally gone backwards. In an average of 20.7 minutes per game this season (only 1 minute higher than what he averaged last season), his shooting percentages compared to last season are down across the board – 41% shooting from the field, 33% from behind the arc, and 77% from the free-throw line.
Schröder has had some decent games this season, but overall, he has shot poorly and has looked for his own shot far too often under the selfless Atlanta offense that Budenholzer runs. After Schröder made comments prior to the start of the season that stated he wanted to be a starting point guard in the NBA, he has disappointed greatly this season.
Dennis Schröder’s Potential Potentially Makes Teague Expendable
Teague’s inconsistency isn’t the only reason his name has appeared in trade rumors. His backup, Schröder, has the potential to be a very solid point guard in this league. He’s just 23 years old and the potential is there. However, both Teague and Schröder hit free agency at the same time in 2017 – Dennis as a restricted free agent and Teague as an unrestricted free agent.
If the Hawks re-sign Horford to the max deal (5 years, $144 million) this year, it makes keeping both Schröder and Teague for the 2017-18 season (the season after which they become free agents) difficult – financially. There’ll be a desperate team out there, like the Nets, who would not hesitate throw a huge offer sheet at a young promising point guard like Schröder. The Hawks will have to decide to either cash in on the potential of Dennis and ride with Teague, or trade Teague and commit to Dennis.
Al Horford’s impending free agency
Horford will become an unrestricted free agent this summer for the first time of his career, meaning he can leave Atlanta without the Hawks receiving anything in return for his services. And because the salary cap is rising this summer, Horford is headed straight into a massive payday – one that the Hawks might not want to give him. We’ll touch on that later. Just know that his impending free agency is a reason why he has come up in trade rumors.
These are, essentially, the reasons as to why the Hawks are surrounded in trade rumors – the inconsistency of the team, the potential willingness of the Hawks to give Schröder the keys, and the fact that Horford is a free agent this summer.
Why the Hawks should consider trading their core
The Hawks’ window has closed
If you’re one of the 30 NBA teams, what is your ultimate goal? It’s to win an NBA championship. If you’re a veteran team, like the Hawks are, and if you’re not in a position to be contending for the NBA title, then what are you doing? Where are you going? What is your future?
I’m sorry, Hawks fans, but it’s time to face the truth. This Hawks team is not winning an NBA title as it is right now, and they can’t go toe-to-toe against the Cleveland Cavaliers in a playoff series. They had one year to emerge from the Eastern Conference while the Cleveland Cavaliers gelled and figured things out. They had one year to take advantage of the fact that Kevin Love was injured and Kyrie Irving was banged up – and that was last year. While the Hawks suffered injuries of their own to Korver and Carroll in that series, that was their best chance and that was the year to make a title run. That window is gone now.
Heading into the summer, the Cavaliers were able to keep their core together but the Hawks were unable to keep theirs together — Millsap and Carroll both became free agents on July 1st. Because Millsap and Carroll joined the Hawks in 2013, and were only with the Hawks for two years, the Hawks did not own their full Bird rights, and could not pay over the cap to keep them both. This meant that the Hawks, essentially, had to choose who to keep — Millsap or Carroll? It would have been very unfair to tell one they could have the max deal and the other to take a discount — both deserved their payday. The Hawks decided to retain Millsap and used the remaining cap space to add Splitter, meaning that Carroll was free to move on.
While Carroll’s breakout season helped bring the Hawks great heights, it ultimately proved costly, as he priced himself out of Atlanta’s reach. The Hawks have missed him dearly ever since. The end result is that the Cavaliers are still a championship team and the Hawks a good step below that.
If you’re not a championship team, there are two things you can do – either rebuild or make moves to improve your team.
Are there moves the Hawks can make to improve their team to take that next step? They DO have assets available to them if they wanted to go all in for the ring this year.
They have Dennis Schröder, who you could certainly parlay into a decent piece/pieces for your rotation – similar to what the Thunder did with Reggie Jackson. You have also Tim Hardaway Jr., and project like Mike Muscala and Edy Tavares that teams might want to take a chance on. The Hawks also have their own first round draft picks and Minnesota’s 2018 first round pick (lottery protected) to spend if they wanted to. But because this means the Hawks would be exchanging a rookie contract for a higher salary, this would require them to actually spend money and go above the $70 million salary cap.
Trading away draft picks midseason is not an Atlanta thing to do, so the Hawks spending their assets at the trade deadline season isn’t likely.
The Salary Implications of Re-signing Al Horford
So if the Hawks aren’t willing to spend money and assets, they could opt for ‘Course B’ and rebuild/re-arm. This is probably why the Hawks are rumored more to be trading away their players rather than rumored to be trading for another teams players. One name that has come up to Hawks fans surprise is Al Horford.
“So, why is Al Horford’s name coming up in trade rumors? He’s a fan favourite, why would the Hawks do this?”
Why would the Hawks do this? It’s actually pretty easy as to why they would do this if you use logic, which fans across the NBA are allergic to it seems.
It’s no secret that Horford is a free agent this summer and it’s no secret that he’s one of the better free agents out there. He’s in line for a huge payday this summer and he knows this. He didn’t sign a contract extension and he has switched agents twice this season – and that’s fine, it’s in his best interest to do all of these things. This is a very important deal for him.
For the Hawks though, this creates a problem. If they believe they can’t win the title now with this team, they need to switch things up, not keep them the same. If the Hawks were to re-sign Horford to the max deal of 5 years $144 million, it would cripple them in the long term. They would have very little salary (if any depending on Bazemore’s free agency) to improve the team in the summer, meaning it would be very difficult to actually improve the team. Why do I say that? Well, the salary cap rises by approximately $19 million this summer, bringing the cap to $89 million in total. If the Hawks re-sign Horford to the 5 year $144 million max, he’s earning roughly $25-$28 million next season – $13-15 million more than he’s earning now. The Hawks are paying just over $70 million in salaries this season. If everyone is retained, adding another, say, $13 million brings their salary to about $83 million. Give or take. Now you have the matter of re-signing Kent Bazemore, who is going to receive eight figure offers from teams.
Now the Hawks are stuck in the exact same situation they found themselves in last season – Millsap or Carroll, Bazemore or Horford? Now instead of adding to their team, they’re actually losing quality because they can’t afford to re-sign Bazemore because they retained Horford.
Not only that, but you have to consider Horford’s age. He turns 30 on June 3rd, and if the Hawks sign him to that max deal he’ll be 34 years old and earning over $30 million in his final season of that deal. If you’re the Hawks, as much as you love Horford, you cannot be the team to do give him that kind of contract. If you do, the Hawks will consign themselves to years of mediocrity. Sure, they’ll probably make the playoffs, but will they be realistic East contenders with the likes of Cleveland? More than likely not. If the Hawks re-sign Horford to that max deal that takes him to the age of 35 (earning 30+ million) you’re pretty much stuck in NBA “No Mans Land” – making the playoffs but not really going far in them and earning a draft pick in the mid/late first round every year.
While Al Horford has reiterated his love the city of Atlanta, it might be the Hawks that don’t show the same love. Make no mistake, they love him, but do they love him, like, ‘$144 million until he’s 35’ love him? We will find out, if the Hawks don’t trade him.
Why isn’t Kent Bazemore in more trade rumors? If the Hawks have been listening to offers for Teague and Horford, they should definitely be listening to offers on Bazemore too. He’s the Hawks most likely to cash in on his career year in this summer, it’s a similar situation to DeMarre Carroll. Bazemore, like DeMarre, has bounced around the league for a few years now, found a home in Atlanta and a fit with the Hawks, he’s having a career year in the same season he becomes a free agent, and because he has bounced around the league he’ll want the security of a 3 or 4 year deal.
Good wing players are highly coveted in this league, especially if you can defend and shoot 39% from behind the arc as Bazemore is doing this season. He’s going to receive a $10 million + offer from teams this summer and if the Hawks plan on re-signing Horford to the max, and plan on keeping Teague and Splitter for next season, then Bazemore is as good as gone – if the Hawks didn’t want to pay above the salary cap to keep Carroll, why would they pay extra to keep Bazemore?
Why the Hawks shouldn’t consider trading their core
There are more reasons as to why the Hawks should trade their core rather than why shouldn’t they trade their core, but there are some good reasons why they shouldn’t.
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense why the Hawks would come this far into the season only to decide “Actually, nah, let’s break up this core”. It’s like the case of the Memphis Grizzlies who owed it to themselves to see this season out as the five seed until Marc Gasol broke his foot. Now, they don’t really owe it to themselves to see this season out. They could trade some expiring pieces and no one would really mind “Yeah, that makes sense as to why they would do that. Marc Gasol was done for the season anyways, they weren’t going to do anything without him”. And they’ve already started — today they traded Courtney Lee to Charlotte for P.J. Hairston and some second round draft picks.
It’s not like that with the Hawks though, they have no injury excuse. In many ways, they owe it to themselves to see this season out and see what they can do in the playoffs. The fact they’re in fourth place in the Eastern Conference without playing all that well is impressive – imagine if they did start playing well consistently… The only problem with seeing the season out is that Al Horford could walk away for nothing in the summer without the Hawks receiving anything in return. It’s a high risk but potentially low reward for the Hawks if they can’t pull it together in the playoffs.
Horford is also a very popular player, a fan favourite. The Hawks front office would risk an angry backlash from the fans if they traded Horford. While fans have been semi-open to the idea of trading Teague, very few are open to the idea of “The Bawse” being traded.
While Teague has been inconsistent this season, he should not be traded – at least this season. Dennis Schröder is not ready to take the keys yet – he’s still quite a raw point guard that needs refinement, he’s certainly not ready to be the starting point guard. It wouldn’t be wise for the Hawks to trade Teague unless they receive something better in return. He’s on a great contract this season and for next season – at eight million dollars you could do a whole lot worse for your starting point guard. The Hawks are better off having Jeff Teague on their roster than not having him on their roster.
You have to wonder, are the Hawks losers no matter what? It feels like a no win situation.
If they keep Horford and this group together for the rest of this season, how far can they realistically go in the playoffs? They’re not winning the title, they lose. Once the playoffs are over, if Horford leaves for nothing, they lose. If they decide to pay Horford that max contract, they lose. They’re stuck with Tiago Splitter’s broken body for eight million next season (because good luck trying to ship that off to another team), they lose. They’re more than likely losing Bazemore this summer because they can’t afford to pay him if they keep Horford, they lose. Unless they don’t bring back Al Horford, then they can afford to pay Bazemore. But if this is the case, they’ve already lost, because Horford has already left for nothing. Unless it’s a sign-and-trade with OKC for Enes Kanter, and even then they still lose because Kanter is a defensive nightmare.
If they trade Horford and Teague at the trade deadline, depending what they receive, their season pretty much ends. And they still lose.
So, what should the Hawks do at the trade deadline? What would you like to see them do?