The Hawks could have anywhere from $30-40 million in cap space this summer. While this class doesn’t exactly have the strength of the 2014 class (ahem, the LeBron class), there are some good pickups the Hawks could make to become a contender.
Here’s the top ten potential free agents in order of priority I would have if I was general manager Danny Ferry.
1. Chris Paul
In my opinion, the best free agent of the class by far. Paul finished third this season in win shares (per Basketball-Reference) and Player Efficiency Rating (PER), behind only LeBron and Kevin Durant in both. CP3′s season is already over after the Clippers lost to Memphis in the first round, which slightly piqued my interest in how available he may be to leave Los Angeles. However, I still believe that the Clippers are going to give him too much power in pure roster decisions and too much money for the Hawks to be able to match. Atlanta will be able to offer around four years, $80 million, which is almost $30 million less than what the Clippers can give. In the end, it will likely come down to which team Paul feels has a better chance at winning a title.
2. Dwight Howard
I don’t think there is a chance that Dwight comes to Atlanta, but Ferry might as well try, right? Despite playing all season with a myriad of injuries, Dwight still managed to average 17.1 points and a league-leading 12.4 rebounds per game. For the entire season, he wasn’t the defender that we all remember him being, but he did start to look like his former self towards the end of the year. The number one issue most Hawks fans would have with this would be Dwight’s enigmatic personality, but for me, it is more of an issue of cap space; the Hawks would likely have to re-sign Josh Smith to have Howard sign here, which would likely use all of the team’s cap. As strong as a Smith-Horford-Howard frontcourt would be, they would still need some money to fill out the roster with capable players in order to challenge Miami.
3. Andre Iguodala, ETO
Iggy has an opt-out with the Nuggets, which is something that most believe he will exercise; there’s just too much money out in the market for him to pass up. Iguodala may be the best perimeter defender in the league, but this season with Denver, he was just awful on offense. He has the same issue as Josh Smith: he can’t shoot. However, he does seem to have a higher proclivity to cut to the basket than Smith, plus he’s been a better free-throw shooter for his entire career, despite the down year with the Nuggets. His play-making abilities (he’s averaged over five assists in six of the last seven season) also make him an extremely valuable asset. In terms of money, his age will probably make him a cheaper option than Josh Smith, and I wouldn’t be upset with the Hawks for offering him a three or four-year deal worth anywhere between $13-15 million per season.
4. Nikola Pekovic, RFA
If you don’t know who Nikola Pekovic is, let me tell you this: I want the Hawks to offer him the maximum available for his class of free agents: four years, around $60 million. How good is Pek? He averaged 16.2 points and 8.8 rebounds in less than 32 minutes per game, all with him having his own, minor injury issues throughout the season. Zach Harper illustrated earlier in the season the value that Pekovic currently has with the Wolves, and is very adamant that the Wolves should commit the money necessarily to keep the big man. To put it simply, Pekovic is a great post player, sets killer screens, and is a beast on the offensive boards; he’d be a perfect fit next to Al Horford.
5. David West
Downsides to David West: he’s on the wrong side of 30, has a history of knee problems, and can sometimes appear to be a bit of an enigma. Positives? He’s a great post player, can hit an open jumper, isn’t a bad defender, and would be a relatively cheap option. Because he’s 32, West could probably be had for a two-year, $26 million contract, which would be a steal if he replicates his production from this past season. It would also allow for me to use more “You know what the mid-range West is?” lines on Twitter, which is at least a win for me. (s/o to Kanye)
6. Josh Smith
I’ll go ahead and say that I’m skeptical on bringing back Josh Smith. He’s a good player, but is he worth the money he wants? Are the continuous stream of jumpers something that the Hawks want to keep seeing? There is one major question that a lot of people aren’t asking though: how much of this is actually Josh Smith’s fault? The mid-range Js are annoying, but shouldn’t we also be blaming Jeff Teague for continue to pass the ball to Smoove out there? And as Robby Kalland noted to me last week, Larry Drew seems to have few (if any) plays that call for Josh to cut to the basket off of a Teague-Horford pick-and-roll. To me, this can’t be Smoove breaking the playbook, because I’m pretty sure he’d be very content with running a play that ends in him dunking.
Back to the money part, Smith apparently indicated that he wants a max contract. Well, guess what? So do I. Related: I’m not getting a max deal and neither is Josh. If Danny Ferry hires a coach that he feels can maximize Smoove’s talent, go ahead and offer him somewhere between $15-17 million per season. If he gets a coach that he thinks will clash with Smith, though? Let him go.
7. Kyle Korver
Korver this high? Absolutely. The Hawks were eight points better per 100 possessions in the regular season AND in the playoffs when he was on the floor, even with the problems that he had defensively with Paul George in the first two games. He’s probably the second best shooter in the league (*bows head to Steph Curry*) and spreads the floor too much for the Hawks to let him fall by the wayside. I know that the Hawks absolutely would love to have Korver back, and I expect them to give Kyle a fair amount of money (around $4-5 million per over two or three years) for his services. I think you could also put J.J. Redick in this spot, but I think Redick will command too much money (relatively) for him to fit in as well as Korver.
8. Jeff Teague, RFA
I will say this: Jeff Teague’s playoff performance gives me pause over how much the Hawks should consider giving him. He went into super passive mode, and finished the playoffs with a sub-.500% true-shooting (bad) and negative win shares. (super bad) At the end of the regular season, I would have been fine with the Hawks offering Jeff upwards up $48 million over four seasons. Now? I have no proof that an increased pay check will force Teague to play consistently at an aggressive level. While I think he could still have a very bright future in this league, the series against the Pacers definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.
9. Timofey Mozgov, RFA
Probably wondering why Mozgov is on here, yes? Well, he’s currently out of Denver’s center rotation of Kosta Koufus and JaVale McGee. However, Mozgov solid player that will come cheap. Yes, he’s probably most known for getting dunked on by Blake Griffin, but that doesn’t take away from Mozgov’s great rebounding rates and above average defense. He’s not great offensive player, but he can step out and hit a shot if he has to. There’s always a market for 7-footers, so expect Mozgov to get at least $4 million per season from whatever team offers him a contract. (probably a poison pill to keep Denver from matching, which I doubt they will do anyways) Essentially, he’s a younger Zaza Pachulia. Speaking of which…
10. Zaza Pachulia
This is almost purely sentimental, but this would be a great move for all parties involved. Even off of Achilles surgery, Zaza is still likely to be an effective back up center, he loves living in Atlanta, and the fans love him. Easy way for Danny Ferry to gain even more goodwill with the fans would be to offer Zaza a nice contract for a couple of seasons. If Pachulia doesn’t come back into his form, he’s only making a couple of million dollars. If he does do well? He kept the fan favorite from helping out a rival team. And trust me, every team would love to have Zaza Pachulia.