Offseason In Review: Atlanta Hawks

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Extensions

  • None

Trades

  • Acquired 2014 pick No. 48 from the Bucks in exchange for a 2015 second-round pick.
  • Acquired John Salmons and Toronto’s 2015 second-round pick from the Raptors in exchange for Lou Williams and the rights to Lucas Nogueira. Salmons was subsequently waived.
  • Acquired Thabo Sefolosha, the rights to Giorgos Printezis, and cash from the Thunder in exchange for the rights to Sofoklis Schortsanitis. Sefolosha was signed-and-traded for three years, $12MM.

Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

  • Adreian Payne (Round 1, 15th overall). Signed via rookie scale exception to rookie scale contract.
  • Edy Tavares (Round 2, 43rd overall). Playing in Spain.
  • Lamar Patterson (Round 2, 48th overall). Playing in Turkey.

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

The Hawks returned 12 players from the end of last season, more than all but two NBA teams, but turmoil defined Atlanta’s offseason. Controlling owner Bruce Levenson’s September announcement, well-timed to coincide with the first Sunday of the National Football League season, that regret over a 2012 email with racial overtones had prompted him to sell the team touched off a full-blown scandal. It soon enveloped GM Danny Ferry, who took an indefinite leave of absence amid pressure after it was revealed that he read a racially charged scouting report during a conference call with the team’s owners in June, and at least one report has suggested that Ferry is unlikely to return to his position.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Miami HeatFortunately for the team and coach Mike Budenholzer, who’s acting as GM in Ferry’s stead, the business of the offseason was largely over by the time the imbroglio began. The Hawks arguably made their most noteworthy moves even before free agency began in July. They consummated a trade in the final hours of June that sent the rights to Lucas Nogueira, who was the 16th overall pick in 2013, along Lou Williams to Toronto for John Salmons. Ferry and his staff promptly waived Salmons, turning his $7MM partially guaranteed salary into just a $1MM vestige on Atlanta’s books. It was a naked attempt to clear even more cap room by a team that had the ability to open roughly $15MM in cap flexibility before the move. The trade brought the team’s flexibility into the $18MM neighborhood, which wasn’t quite enough to legitimately chase LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony but was suitable for a run at a pair of second-tier free agents.

One such target was Luol Deng, whom Ferry was in favor of signing in spite of the racist scouting report impugning Deng that Ferry verbalized in the fateful conference call. The Hawks offered Deng a package similar to the one he wound up with from the Heat, and his acquisition would have addressed what’s been an area of weakness for the team over the past few seasons. Instead, the Hawks made a much less flashier move for a wing player, agreeing to terms with Thabo Sefolosha for average salaries of $4MM over the next three seasons. Ferry did the Thunder and fellow former Spurs front office hand Sam Presti a favor when he structured the move as a sign-and-trade that involved the swap of two draft-and-stash prospects who’ll probably never play in the NBA. The Hawks took Sefolosha into their cap space while the Thunder created a trade exception. Budenholzer simply must hope that Sefolosha regains his shooting touch and that he doesn’t regress too drastically on defense over the life of the contract, which runs through his age-32 season.

That Sefolosha is likely the team’s most significant offseason addition, outside of 15th overall pick Adreian Payne, is a significant disappointment for a franchise that clearly signaled its intention for a more significant upgrade with the cap-clearing Williams trade. The Hawks have tried to wedge their way into the mix for Anthony, Dwight Howard and other splashy names over the past two summers, but they’re not gaining any traction. They failed to land a meeting with ‘Melo after doing so with Howard in 2013, and they were also unable to pull off a deal with a Plan B free agent analogous to 2013’s Paul Millsap signing. The Hawks possess the skeleton of a championship-caliber team, with Al Horford and Kyle Korver standing out as players who’d play key roles on a contributor, but without a true star, Atlanta faces long odds to avoid its annual first- or second-round playoff exit.

No one will mistake Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack for stars, but the Hawks welcomed back both of their restricted free agents with similar three-year deals that help solidify the team’s second unit. Injuries helped force Scott into action last season, and the power forward showed he was capable of handling NBA minutes even in the postseason, so he proved worth the investment of the 43rd overall pick in 2012. His new contract pays him like a rotation-caliber player, and it shouldn’t be difficult to trade if the Hawks want to swap some of their depth in a deal for a star, which might be the franchise’s easiest path to acquiring a marquee player given the failure to attract one via free agency.

The same is true of Mack’s deal, though it signals a lack of confidence in Dennis Schröder, the 17th overall pick from 2013. Schröder saw just seven minutes total in the playoffs and his performance when he did see time during the regular season made it plain that he’s still a ways off from making a meaningful contribution. Atlanta’s investment in Mack as the team’s backup point guard isn’t a hefty one, but it nonetheless signals that the team isn’t going to hesitate to move on from Schröder if he doesn’t show he’s capable of performing at the NBA level before too long.

A similar dynamic is at play between offseason signee Kent Bazemore and John Jenkins, whom Atlanta drafted 23rd overall in 2012. The Hawks picked up Bazemore after he averaged 13.1 points in 28.0 minutes per game across a 23-game stretch with the Lakers at the end of last season. It’s a relatively small $2MM-a-year gamble that his performance wasn’t simply a product of a small sample size, playing in Mike D’Antoni‘s up-tempo attack, or both. It’s also a move that seemingly made it easier for the Hawks to decline their fourth-year option on the rookie scale contract of Jenkins. Unlike Schröder, it’s not as if Jenkins hadn’t shown he could produce, since he canned 38.4% of his three-point attempts as a rookie. Jenkins missed most of last season with a back injury, and with Bazemore in tow, the Hawks have a chance to evaluate the health of Jenkins this season without having a guaranteed $2.228MM for him on their 2015/16 books.

Of course, whether Ferry had it in mind to decline the Jenkins option when he signed Bazemore is unknown, since the Jenkins decision came after Budenholzer assumed control of the team’s basketball operations. That, along with the decision to bring back Elton Brand for another season, were the only major moves that the coach has made since assuming his dual role, but he’ll probably have to make more. Hawks executive Dominique Wilkins, fellow former players Dikembe Mutombo and Chris Webber, attorney Doug Davis and former Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien have expressed interest in buying the team, but it’s still unclear how much of the team is up for sale, and until the existing ownership group determines that, the sale process can’t begin in earnest. It seems there’s a decent chance, if not a strong one, that Budenholzer will still be in charge of Atlanta’s decision-making come the trade deadline. Ferry left him plenty of flexibility, but with as the team’s difficultly in attracting free agents became only more profound this past summer, the deadline stands a a crucial pivot point for the club’s future.

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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