Five Key Offseason Questions: Atlanta Hawks

After peaking with a 60-win performance in 2013/14, the Hawks were trending in the wrong direction when new general manager Travis Schlenk assumed the reins last summer. Schlenk decided to accelerate the club’s gradual decline, allowing Paul Millsap and several other veterans to depart in free agency or trades.

The Hawks’ plan to bottom out worked — the team finished with a 24-58 record and got a little luck in the draft lottery, snagging a top-three pick. After effectively tearing things down during his first year in Atlanta, Schlenk will now be under pressure to start building the Hawks back up.

Here are five key questions facing the franchise this summer:

1. Is Dennis Schroder on the trade block?

The 2017/18 Hawks were short on star power, with Schroder representing the closest thing the team had to a star player. The 24-year-old comfortably led the team in scoring (19.4 PPG) and assists (6.2 APG), establishing new career highs in both categories.

However, there are signs that Schroder may not be a part of the next playoff team in Atlanta. He’s currently dealing with legal trouble, having been arrested on a battery charge last fall, and there are have been rumblings that he’s not exactly a positive locker room influence. Most recently, Schroder made comments suggesting that he wouldn’t mind being traded by the Hawks.

Reports as of last week indicated that neither Schroder nor his agent had formally asked the Hawks to explore possible trades, but given the mounting red flags and the fact that the new front office didn’t draft Schroder or sign him to his current extension, it’s possible that Schlenk and company aren’t married to the point guard long term. It will be worth watching to see whether Schroder’s name pops up in trade rumors this offseason.

2. What’s the timeline for the rebuild?

Schroder should just be entering his prime and is under contract at a reasonable rate of $15.5MM annually through 2021, making him a seemingly ideal cornerstone piece for a rebuild. So if Atlanta does explore trading Schroder, it’s fair to ask what sort of timeline the franchise envisions for its rebuild.

Outside of Schroder, there aren’t many promising young building blocks on the Hawks’ roster. John Collins and Taurean Prince certainly qualify, but they’re unlikely to develop into franchise-type players or perennial All-Stars.

So how might Atlanta find one or two of those players with franchise-changing potential? This year’s No. 3 pick is one tool available, though if the team is preparing for a slow rebuilding process, it might not be the last time the Hawks head into the draft with a top-five pick.

The free agent market is another potential path for the franchise, but even with $30MM+ in cap room this summer, I don’t expect Atlanta to be in the mix for top-tier free agents. The Hawks don’t seem to be eager to speed up their rebuild, so they’re probably at least a year or two away from making a serious run at veteran difference-makers in free agency.

3. How will the Hawks use their excess draft picks?

Of course, free agency isn’t the only way the Hawks could pursue a standout player. In fact, it might not even be the most effective way, since top veteran free agents are more likely choose a team closer to title contention.

Atlanta’s excess draft picks provide a more effective way for the Hawks to shop for a star. The team heads into next month’s draft with four picks in the top 34, including three first-rounders, and also holds an extra first-round selection in 2019. If the front office really wants to take things slow, it could just keep all those picks, perhaps rolling the dice on a draft-and-stash player or two so that the roster isn’t overrun with rookies.

Still, at some point it might make sense for the Hawks to consolidate their assets and dangle multiple picks in a trade offer for an established star. That may not happen this summer, but Atlanta’s collection of assets shouldn’t be overlooked in the future, especially if the club pushes those picks down the road by flipping one or two of its 2018 selections for future first-rounders.

4. Who are the Hawks targeting at No. 3?

The Hawks moved up from No. 4 to No. 3 in the lottery, but that doesn’t necessarily create more clarity about which prospect will end up on their roster. If Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic are the first two players off the board, as is widely expected, the Hawks would have their pick of big men like Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Mohamed Bamba. Forward Michael Porter Jr. could also be a viable option at No. 3 if his medicals look good.

While Bagley is viewed by many experts as the best prospect of that group, I wonder if the defense-first mindset of new head coach Lloyd Pierce will influence the Hawks’ choice at all. Jackson and Bamba, in particular, look to have tremendous defensive upside, and would be intriguing additions next to Collins in Atlanta’s frontcourt.

5. Is Lloyd Pierce the right man for Atlanta’s head coaching job?

Speaking of Pierce, he was an interesting choice to replace Mike Budenholzer on Atlanta’s bench. If we assume that the Hawks are strapping in for a multiyear rebuilding process, a Sixers assistant seems like an ideal fit to oversee that process.

In fact, the Hawks’ hiring of Pierce bears some resemblance to the 76ers’ hiring of Brett Brown at the start of “The Process.” A longtime NBA assistant, Pierce will get the opportunity to grow into the head coaching role as his young players develop, and won’t be under pressure to win right away. His performance will instead be judged by his ability to instill a positive culture in Atlanta and to help his young players grow.

If his work in Philadelphia is any indication, Pierce seems well-equipped to achieve those goals — if he struggles to do so, Atlanta may be on the lookout for someone with more head coaching experience in two or three years when the team is ready to contend.


Here’s where things currently stand for the Hawks financially:

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

  • Mike Muscala ($9,500,000): Bird rights (if player option is declined)
  • Dewayne Dedmon ($8,280,000): Non-Bird rights (if player option is declined)
  • No. 3 overall pick ($6,504,619)
  • No. 19 overall pick ($2,231,755)
  • No. 30 overall pick ($1,606,717)
  • Total: $28,123,091

Projected Salary Cap: $101,000,000

Projected Cap Room: $32,761,372

  • For our Hawks cap projection, we’re assuming that both Dedmon and Muscala decline their player options, which isn’t necessarily a lock (Dedmon appears more likely to opt out than Muscala). We’re also assuming the team waives all its non-guaranteed players and renounces its free agents, which is hardly a sure thing either.
  • In that scenario, the Hawks’ seven guaranteed contracts, three first-round picks, and two cap charges for empty roster spots result in a team salary of $68,238,628. That’s nearly enough to accommodate any maximum-salary free agent, though Atlanta is unlikely to be in the market for any players of that caliber.

Footnotes:

  1. Taylor’s salary becomes guaranteed for $300K after June 22, then fully guaranteed after July 27.
  2. Cavanaugh’s salary becomes guaranteed for $450K after May 15, then fully guaranteed after July 7.
  3. Cleveland’s exact contract details, including guarantee info, aren’t yet known.

Note: Rookie scale cap holds are estimates based on salary cap projections and could increase or decrease depending on where the cap lands.

Salary information from Basketball Insiders was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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4 thoughts on “Five Key Offseason Questions: Atlanta Hawks

  1. Z-A

    Schroder will be 25, signed for 3 years. You’ve gotta keep him. I’d be trying to pry him away as another GM if he’s on the block tho.

    Next year, Bazemore & Dedmon are 29 and Plumlee 30. If I’m rebuilding and keeping Schroder, I think you could be the 3rd or 4th team in a Ryan Anderson trade. His salary is 18M next year and 19.2M player option. The argument being 2 years of Bazemore > 2 years of Anderson. Plumlee is worthless, Dedmon is an expiring deal.

    I would be a buyer of bad contracts. Sixers gave you the blueprint – give me your bad player + a pick, I’ll waive him, or you could stretch a player. Like I would take Bayless + a 2nd. 8.5M is nothing, and they could stretch him and save 4.25 this year.
    Take some draft & stash guys, maybe a Jonah Bolden type of situation.

    • Steve

      I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on my favorite Hawks DS. IMHO if you can get that 6th pick from Orl as Bleacher report suggests, you trade him! If he’s not on board with the rebuild, you trade him. You only keep him if he’s truly on board and the market doesn’t give you a desirable assets.

      I think we are in the same room on taking back bad contracts for picks. I just think we have different returns in mind. I would like ant 1rstbround people picks to take back contracts if I’m reading your “Bayless + a 2nd” , is want Bayless + a 1rst.

      It also wouldn’t surprise me if the Hawks checked in on KAT.

      Who would you take with #3 as of today?

      • Z-A

        I just don’t know why Orlando would give up the 6th pick if Trae Young is there. I get it from a Hawks perspective if you’re eyeing Michael Porter Jr. or Trae Young in addition to Bagley/Doncic/Jackson – full rebuild. I’m not sold at all on Doncic, but If it’s Bagley – Collins – Porter Jr as the trio, that’s a front court with lots of potential. But I like Bagley – Collins – Schroder over Bagley – Collins – Young.

        I think it depends on who is there at 6.

        I don’t think any GM would give up a 1st to dump only an expiring contract that’s only 8.5M. I think you’re more likely to get a 1st or a young player w/a few years of controlability if you’re taking back a larger contract either in years or $ wise. Like if they took Melo off OKC’s hands I’d be looking for Ferguson + future 1st(s) like an unprotected 2022 or 2023 when they’ll probably suck when Russ is 33 or 34.

        There’s a list of expiring contracts that are on the block as pure dumps – Chandler, Faried, Gortat, Bayless, Melo, Matthews and a few 2 year deals like MKG, Marv Williams, Biyombo, Anderson, Parsons.

        What are you giving up for KAT? They’ll probably ask for #3, Collins, and Prince. They’re set at PG.

        If Bagley is there – hands down take him. I like Jackson Jr., but he’s more raw. And I have very little faith that Doncic will pan out, and it’s possible he goes Rubio, comes over a year or 2 down the line if he gets drafted by a team he’s not 100% on board with.

        • Steve

          You and I have gone back and forth about taking on salary for picks, what if we’ve been looking at it backwards?

          Hypothetically…. what would you think about trading DS, Plumlee and #30 to a team that can’t attract free agents like Utah for Rubio and #21. DS would be an upgrade over Rubio, Utah has the cap space, and it’d clear Plumlee’s contract. Assume all options are declined the Hawks could sign two max deals!

          Would offering King James a chance to play would Paul George tempt him to Atl having Baze and Prince backing them up and molding Bagley, Donic, or Ayton….Idk….to be honest just thinking out of the box.

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