The Hawks were in the midst of an undefeated month in January 2015. A year later, they’re reportedly talking with other teams about potential trades involving Jeff Teague, who was as much a part of Atlanta’s 60-win success last season as anybody. The team is having preliminary discussions on many fronts, a source told Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link), and coach/executive Mike Budenholzer, speaking to Vivlamore, downplayed the idea of a trade, expressing a belief in the existing roster. However, the team was also soliciting offers for Dennis Schröder before narrowing its focus to Teague, as Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports reported, and Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com heard the Knicks are one of the teams with which the Hawks have had casual conversations about Teague. Atlanta’s front office hasn’t shopped Teague, but they’ve raised his name in conversations with other teams as they assess his market value, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports said in Wednesday’s “The Vertical” podcast (audio link, scroll to 48-minute mark).
So, the Hawks aren’t quite ready to move on from Teague, but it seems they’re seriously considering it. Teague is only 27, with a season and a half left on a bargain contract that pays him $8MM this season and next. He’d be an unlikely trade candidate if not for the presence of Schröder, five years younger and tantalizingly skilled, as Teague’s backup. The team has “major trust issues” with Schröder, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN.com, which seems an odd juxtaposition to the idea that they’d be willing to trade Teague. Perhaps, with Kyle Korver already showing signs of age and Al Horford apparently not a lock to return as this summer’s free agency approaches, the team is thinking about taking a risk. The Hawks want to contend this season, Lowe wrote in the same report, so it would seem the exploration of a Teague trade is, in at least some regard, an attempt to find a roster upgrade for the near term.
The central problem there is that Teague is quite possibly the best player legitimately on the market. No superstar trade candidate has emerged since the Kings backed away from the notion of trading DeMarcus Cousins, and while names like Kevin Love and Dwight Howard have been bandied about, most such talk has been speculative. Teague isn’t quite on the level of any of them, but he was an All-Star last season and is a proven commodity who’s stabilized the point guard position in his five years as a starter for the Hawks. Atlanta has made the playoffs every year of his career.
Other names reportedly in trade talks, like Kevin Martin, Eric Gordon and Rudy Gay, would give the Hawks some of the punch on the wing that they lost when DeMarre Carroll left in free agency, but none of them would seem worth sacrificing Teague for, and it’s tough to see a fit for Teague on the Timberwolves, Pelicans or Kings. The idea of a Knicks trade is also a tough one, as even though he’d solve New York’s dilemma at the point, a workable proposal that would excite the Hawks is tough to conjure. That’s why it’s no surprise that Fred Kerber of the New York Post wrote that a deal sending Teague to the Knicks is unlikely after hearing from sources who described the talks between the teams as “very preliminary.”
The Bucks and Jazz have only been the subject of speculation regarding Teague to this point, but they seem better fits. Michael Carter-Williams is averaging a career-low 11.7 points per game for Milwaukee, which has no shortage of intriguing young wing players as well as veterans O.J. Mayo and Jerryd Bayless. Bucks GM John Hammond recently expressed a belief in the team’s young players, though the contract that Teague is on was originally an offer sheet from Milwaukee, so perhaps the Bucks remain intrigued. The Jazz have Dante Exum coming back at point guard next season but little else at the position for now. Utah, like Milwaukee, has multiple wing players who combine youth with immediate production. The question is whether GM Dennis Lindsey, who was once a Spurs colleague of Budenholzer’s, would be willing to give one of them up.
The key for Atlanta appears to be finding a spark offensively. The Hawks gave up 100.7 points per 100 possessions in their 60-win regular season last year, according to NBA.com, and they’re slightly better in that regard this year, relinquishing an even 100. The difference shows up in the team’s points per 100 possessions scored. Last year, it was 106.2, and this year, it’s 103.1.
Part of that has to do with Teague. His 14.3 points per game are his fewest in four seasons, and while that’s partly the product of slightly fewer shots per game, his 41.9% field goal percentage is as low as it has been since he shot 39.6% in limited playing time as a rookie. His assists per game are down, from 7.0 last season to 5.5 this year, but his turnovers remain steady at 2.8 per contest. The plus is that he’s nailing a career best 38.7% from behind the 3-point line.
Still, it’s tough to ignore the discrepancy between how the Hawks have played with him versus the way they’ve looked with Schröder, whose NBA.com net rating of 10.1 blows away Teague’s minus 2.0. It’s a noisy stat that encompasses the time they’ve shared the floor and depends heavily on whom they’re playing with and against, but it’s a wide enough gulf to help explain why the Hawks seem to be moving toward choosing Schröder over Teague.
The Hawks weren’t at full strength when the Cavs swept them in the Eastern Conference Finals last spring, but neither was Cleveland. Atlanta is eight games in the loss column behind the Cavs this year, and it’s becoming clear that for the Hawks to legitimately challenge for the Eastern Conference title, they’ll have to improve. Seeing what they could get for Teague is a logical step toward that end, but no guarantee exists that the market will bear a deal that would amount to much more than a lateral move.
Do you think the Hawks will end up trading Teague before the deadline or keep him instead? Leave a comment to weigh in.