Offseason Outlook: Atlanta Hawks

Guaranteed Contracts

Non-Guaranteed Contracts


  • None

Restricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

  • Pero Antic ($1,625,000) — $1,562,500 qualifying offer

Unrestricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (15th overall)
  • 2nd Round (50th overall)
  • 2nd Round (59th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $39,276,545
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $947,276
  • Options: $0
  • Cap Holds: $25,528,417
  • Total: $65,752,238

It’s difficult to know just what to make of the Hawks. They were the league’s second-best team in the regular season, but they looked vulnerable against putatively inferior opposition in the first two rounds of the playoffs and were completely outclassed in the conference finals versus the Cavaliers. Some of that postseason trouble had to do with health, as Atlanta’s top three wing players were all either out or hobbled by the time the Cavs completed their sweep. Still, Thabo Sefolosha, who suffered a broken leg in an incident outside a nightclub in early April, was the only member of the Hawks rotation to miss a significant portion of time prior to the conference finals, aside from Shelvin Mack, who went about a month without playing from mid-January to the All-Star break. The Hawks were second only to the Warriors in net rating prior to All-Star weekend, according to, and just ninth afterward, behind the Jazz and Pacers, who didn’t make the playoffs. Sefolosha, because of his broken leg and, before that, a calf strain, only played in seven games in the second half of the season. But surely the swingman the Thunder gave up on a year ago isn’t the difference between a team that won at a 65-game pace in the season’s first half and a 50-game pace for the balance of the regular season.

Mar 25, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul  Millsap (4) against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

A 50-win team is still pretty strong, but it’s not on the level of a true championship contender, and certainly not close to the kind of excellence the Hawks showed for much of 2014/15. Coach and acting GM Mike Budenholzer has expressed confidence in the team’s star-less approach, but the Hawks have trained their sights on such luminaries as Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and even LeBron James in the past few years. Atlanta would surely love to have a legitimate No. 1 option just as much as any other team in the league. It just seems as though Budenholzer believes there is a legitimate alternative if, as was the case with Howard, Anthony and James, the Hawks come up short in their star search.

Keeping this year’s team together is a “huge priority,” Budenholzer said last week, and that starts with Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta’s starting forwards and most prominent soon-to-be free agents. The Hawks scored Millsap at a sharp discount two years ago, nabbing him for two years and a total of $19MM. The length of the deal was by the design of Millsap and agent DeAngelo Simmons, as USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt said recently. Millsap’s camp thought another, more lucrative deal would be easier to come by this summer, when he’ll be 30 years old, than in 2017, after the four-year contract the Hawks proposed would have ended, according to Zillgitt. In any case, Millsap appears to have been planning to seek a major payday this summer, though Millsap and Simmons have both made comments recently that suggest the Hawks will have every opportunity to re-sign him.

It’s unclear exactly what that will take, though it wouldn’t be surprising if Millsap commands the max or a salary close to it. The maximum starting salary for a player with Millsap’s nine years of experience would be an estimated $18.96MM, or about $2.3MM more than the $16.625MM the Hawks are limited to giving him through his Early Bird rights. Re-signing him for more would require the Hawks to use cap space they may well otherwise need to keep Carroll. Estimates of Carroll’s value from executives and other sources have shot skyward in recent weeks. One executive who spoke with Michael Scotto of SheridanHoops for a story that ran last month said he thought Carroll would end up making $8-9MM a year. Executives from whom Howard Beck of Bleacher Report heard peg the three-and-D prototype for anywhere from $9-12MM, as Beck wrote last week. Later, Kevin Arnovitz of wrote that league sources had estimates ranging up to a four-year, $50MM deal, which would be worth $12.5MM annually, and those sources wouldn’t rule out a deal even more lucrative than that.

It’s tough to find an accurate read on the value of a player whose stock seems to rise exponentially. Carroll signed his two-year, $5MM contract with Atlanta two years ago without fanfare, having never averaged more than 6.0 points or played more than 16.8 minutes per game in four NBA seasons. The Hawks made him their opening night starter that fall, and he never looked back, incorporating a three-pointer into his game with sudden effectiveness that saw his accuracy from behind the arc go from 28.6% on 70 attempts in 2012/13 to 36.2% on 278 attempts in 2013/14. This year, he poured in 39.5% on 304 tries and crept to 40.3% on 72 playoff attempts.

The Hawks also have Early Bird rights on Carroll, but because his salary this season is much lower than Millsap’s is, those rights don’t go nearly as far. Teams can sign use Early Bird rights to sign free agents to up to 175% of their previous salaries or the league’s average salary, whichever is greater. The 175% figure would be $4.274MM, so Carroll’s Early Bird number will almost certainly be the average salary, which, based on average salary figures over the past few seasons, should be close to $6MM when the league sets it during the July Moratorium. It won’t be enough to keep Carroll, unless he’s willing to take a sizable discount, so there’s a strong chance the Hawks will have to use cap room to retain both Carroll and Millsap.

Atlanta can strip down to a cap figure of $42,452,024 without making a trade. The cap is projected to come in at $67.1MM, so the Hawks would have roughly $25MM worth of flexibility, not enough for even the most conservative estimate offered for Carroll if Millsap’s deal indeed approaches the max.

Still, Carroll is making the Hawks his priority, and the Hawks like their chances to keep both. Millsap would presumably be the team’s first choice if it had to pick, but if Millsap insists on the max while Carroll is willing to come back at around $9MM a year, the Hawks would have to think seriously about what they could do with the money they’d have left over if they re-signed Carroll at a relatively low price and let Millsap walk. Grantland’s Zach Lowe pointed to Atlanta’s longstanding interest in Greg Monroe, who’s eligible for a lower max estimated at about $16MM. Tyson Chandler, Omer Asik, Robin Lopez and, if he opts out, Roy Hibbert would make for affordable choices if the team goes for a big man, and Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris and Jeff Green would make for intriguing possibilities as combo forwards.

The Hawks would have decidedly less attractive options if Millsap came back at market value and Carroll signed elsewhere. The Hawks will almost certainly operate below the cap, so they’ll have the $2.814MM room exception instead of the $5.464MM full mid-level. A max deal with Millsap would leave cap flexibility roughly equivalent to that $5.464MM amount, though it seems the Hawks would earmark part of that for a new deal with backup big man Pero Antic. Atlanta has Early Bird rights with him, too, but it also has the opportunity to make him a restricted free agent and match all offers. There’s a decent chance the Hawks will pass on making him a qualifying offer and end up renouncing his rights to clear the decks for Millsap and Carroll, though Atlanta could circle back to him with the room exception in that scenario. It’s possible that Antic could be had for the minimum, but anyone who’s 6’11” and can stay on the floor for a 60-win team while connecting on a passable rate of three-pointers usually merits at least the value of Antic’s approximately $1.56MM qualifying offer.

Given that the team’s most prominent free agents are in the frontcourt, expect the Hawks to prioritize small forwards and big men in the draft unless a guard the team really likes slips to them at No. 15. Small forwards Sam Dekker, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kelly Oubre, power forwards Bobby Portis, Trey Lyles and Kevon Looney, and center Frank Kaminsky are all candidates for that pick. Our Eddie Scarito has the Hawks going with Lyles in the Hoops Rumors Mock Draft.

It’s tough to make a fully confident prediction about anything the Hawks will do given that the team is reportedly on track to formally change hands sometime between now and July, with the Board of Governors seemingly likely to OK the franchise sale to Tony Ressler and his bidding group. The new owners will probably soon thereafter decide the fate of GM Danny Ferry, who’s on a leave of absence that’s already stretched more than eight months, and whether Budenholzer’s leadership of the front office will continue. New owners tend to bring in new personnel, so there’s a decent chance that neither Ferry nor Budenholzer will be in charge of basketball operations before too long, though finding a replacement in time for the July free agency rush would be ambitious, if not impossible.

Perhaps most clear through all of the uncertainty in Atlanta is that the Hawks have found a formula that works, at least to a degree. Augmenting that mix will ultimately be the team’s goal, but simply bringing back a reasonable facsimile of the 2014/15 team would, given the cap constraints this summer, constitute a successful offseason.

Cap Footnotes

1 — See our glossary entry on cap holds for an explanation of why Ayon technically remains on the books.

The Basketball Insiders Salary Pages were used in the creation of this post.

Leave a Reply