Offseason Outlook: Atlanta Hawks

May 15 at 4:00pm CST By Chuck Myron

Guaranteed Contracts

Options 

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (15th overall)
  • 2nd Round (43rd overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $47,057,817
  • Options: $0
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $1,658,241
  • Cap Holds: $13,843,649
  • Total: $62,559,707

Rarely does much optimism surround a team that went 38-44 in the regular season and enters the draft without a lottery pick. Yet such is the case with the Hawks, whose injury-depleted roster just barely held off the Knicks for the last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference but nearly toppled the No. 1 seed Pacers in the first round. Much of Atlanta’s success in that series was likely a product of Indiana’s disturbing late-season malaise, but Jeff Teague once more proved a more valuable player in the playoffs, where it really counts, than in the regular season. Team’s all-out attack from behind the three-point arc engendered faith in first-year coach Mike Budenholzer and the team’s trio of inside-out big men. All three — Paul Millsap, Pero Antic and Mike Scott — were on bargain deals.

Millsap has one more year left at the team-friendly rate of $9.5MM, and the Hawks intend to keep Antic past the point when his paltry $1.25MM salary becomes fully guaranteed this summer. Scott’s contract is up, but he’s a restricted free agent, and Hawks GM Danny Ferry can match any offer. But it would be far-fetched if Ferry were content to take a passive approach this summer and hope improved health and the return of Al Horford would be enough for the team to win a round or two in the playoffs.

The Hawks can free up close to enough cap room to register a maximum offer for restricted free agents coming off rookie scale contracts, and it appears as though the team is considering a run at Pistons big man Greg Monroe. Ferry’s agent from his playing days, David Falk, is Monroe’s representative, and there are conflicting reports on just what new Pistons boss Stan Van Gundy intends to do with the former seventh overall pick. Still, the Hawks have Millsap and Horford firmly entrenched at either starting position that Monroe would occupy, and after competing for time with Andre Drummond and Josh Smith this past season, I’d be surprised if Monroe jumped into another crowded frontcourt.

A trade, of course, could change that dynamic, and Ferry would surely have no shortage of intriguing offers for either Horford or Millsap, both underpaid, if he were to put them on the block. A max deal for Monroe, who turns 24 this summer, would give Atlanta a young building block to pair with Teague, who’s facing his 26th birthday, with both on long-term deals. The trick would be finding a trade partner who can provide a piece that fits in exchange for one of the team’s incumbent big men. In that scenario, the Hawks would ideally bring in a wing player who can complement Kyle Korver‘s expert outside shooting with defense and dribble penetration at a level of production and a price point similar to Horford’s or Millsap’s. That’s a lot to ask of Ferry or any basketball executive.

Still, the team knows it needs one more star. The idea of playing with Teague, Horford and Millsap reportedly intrigues free agents, and while the Hawks probably won’t land LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony this summer, Ferry’s pursuit of Dwight Howard last year showed that he’s not afraid to make a pitch to anyone. It wouldn’t be shocking if the team made a run at Gordon Hayward, Luol Deng or Lance Stephenson, all of whom have appeared in the Hoops Rumors Free Agent Power Rankings as among the 10 best free agent options for the summer ahead. I’m just speculating about those names, but they’d probably be within Atlanta’s price range.

The Hawks are also well-positioned to attack the more star-studded 2015 free agent class, as the team only has Horford, Teague and Korver with guaranteed contracts beyond next season. The prospect of staring at those three plus upward of $35MM in cap flexibility 12 months from now will surely make Ferry think hard before committing long-term money to anyone other than a superstar. Even so, signing a free agent with the cap room likely available to the Hawks this summer wouldn’t preclude the team from clearing enough or nearly enough cash next year to go after the likes of Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, or even LeBron.

All of that make it critical that the team not overspend on Scott or Shelvin Mack, another soon-to-be restricted free agent. Scott, whom the team unearthed at pick No. 43 in 2012, represents the most productive of the players from the team’s brief draft history under Ferry. He promises to develop into a valuable rotation-level role player who can contribute to even the best of teams, but the Hawks would be wise to let him sign elsewhere if another team shows strong interest. Mack made a valuable contribution this past season as a backup for Teague and as a spot starter, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hawks decline to tender qualifying offers for him and for Scott, clearing $2.5MM worth of cap flexibility. That extra room could make all the difference for a more desirable free agent. Atlanta may also elect to float the qualifying offers with the intention of withdrawing them should one of their primary free agent targets show interest, but that would be a greater risk, since Scott and Mack would be free to quickly accept the offers during the July Moratorium.

Ferry acquired a pair of projects in the draft last year, trading for 16th overall pick Lucas Nogueira, who didn’t sign and spent the season overseas instead, and taking Dennis Schröder at No. 17. Last year’s draft was unusually talent-poor, and this year’s prospects are much more promising, even if they aren’t quite as ballyhooed as they were a year ago. The Hawks are set up to find a more valuable player this year even though they’re drafting at more or less the same position, and Ferry will surely enter draft night with a player or two he’d love to see fall to No. 15. Still, trading the pick seems a distinct possibility, perhaps in exchange for a future first-rounder. The Hawks have a chance to make a move toward title contention in the next year or two, and extra cap flexibility, plus the trade bait that a future first-round pick represents, seem more attractive than a mid-first-round rookie.

Ferry entered last summer with much the same aspirations, and though he accomplished plenty, swiping Millsap at a discount, retaining Teague and Korver, and plucking Antic out of Greece, the Hawks fielded a team that was no better in 2013/14 than it was the year before. Injuries pushed the team even farther down the standings. The Hawks could have ended up with a lottery pick if they’d been just a game or two worse, but it was a stroke of luck for them to make the playoffs and draw a Pacers team that’s wheezed toward the finish line. The Hawks didn’t win, but their showing against Indiana piqued the interest of a long-dormant Atlanta market. The Hawks aren’t a hot ticket quite yet, but their playoff momentum probably bought enough patience for the franchise to allow Ferry to hold on to his cap flexibility for 2015 if his aggressive pitches fall on deaf ears this summer. The offseason ahead could be a pivot point for the Hawks, but it doesn’t have to be.

Cap footnotes

* — Antic’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before July 15th.
** — The Hawks hold the draft rights to Nogueira, who’s yet to sign an NBA contract. He was the 16th overall pick last year, and his cap hold is equal to 100% of the rookie scale for the 16th overall pick in this year’s draft.
*** — Mack and Scott’s cap holds would be $915,243, respectively, if the Hawks do not tender a qualifying offer.

ShamSports and Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ were used in the creation of this post.

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