After spending multiple years using their cap space to take on other teams’ unwanted contracts and slowly gathering assets, the Hawks hit the fast-forward button on their retooling process during the 2020 offseason. The club went out and signed Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari to lucrative multiyear contracts in free agency and gave Trae Young some help at point guard by adding Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn.
Some of those signings worked out better than others. Injury issues limited Dunn to just four games; Rondo’s play in Atlanta was up and down; and Bogdanovic and Gallinari each missed 20+ games in the regular season for health reasons too.
But Bogdanovic and Gallinari were healthy for most of the second half and played key roles in the Hawks’ strong finish to the season. The team was able to flip Rondo to the Clippers in a deadline deal for Lou Williams, who proved a better fit as a second-unit scorer. And a midseason coaching change from Lloyd Pierce to Nate McMillan was a major factor in the club’s turnaround.
The end result? After a 14-20 start, the Hawks finished the season by winning 27 of their last 38 games, earning the fourth seed in the East and winning two playoff series as underdogs. Despite missing Young for part of the Eastern Finals, Atlanta ultimately got to within two wins of the NBA Finals, an outcome that even team owner Tony Ressler admitted exceeded his most optimistic expectations for the season.
Following a feel-good year in Atlanta, the Hawks’ front office will enter the offseason aiming to retain and add key roster pieces in an effort to ensure the team isn’t affected by regression in 2021/22.
The Hawks’ Offseason Plan:
The Hawks have big contract decisions to make this offseason on three important players: John Collins, Young, and Kevin Huerter. Collins is eligible for restricted free agency, while Young and Huerter are up for rookie scale extensions.
Collins’ situation will be the trickiest of the three, and not just because his contract is about to expire (Young and Huerter each have a year left on theirs). Given the lack of top-level talent on the free agent market this offseason, Collins is the sort of player who could garner a maximum-salary offer sheet from a rival suitor, which is probably a little higher than the Hawks would like to go.
Atlanta offered Collins a four-year extension worth about $90MM+ last year and would likely be comfortable matching something in the $100-105MM range. But a max offer from another team would be worth a projected $121MM. That sort of commitment would reduce the Hawks’ flexibility in the coming years, so it will be interesting to see whether they’re prepared to match that sort of offer if necessary.
There aren’t many teams with substantial cap room this summer, so if the Hawks and Collins negotiate directly, maybe Atlanta could get him back at a slightly more team-friendly rate. And if Collins’ camp is willing to work closely with the Hawks during the free agency process, a sign-and-trade deal could be a solution that benefits all parties. My guess is that the club retains Collins and potentially considers a trade down the road once he’s locked up to a long-term deal, but this could go in a number of different directions.
The Young negotiations should be simpler — the Hawks will have no problem putting the max on the table for their leading scorer and franchise cornerstone. The only sticking point in those talks will be whether Young gets a fifth-year player option, a 15% trade kicker, and Rose Rule language that could bump his starting salary to 30% of the cap. I imagine Atlanta will be fairly accommodating on those points.
Huerter won’t get anywhere close to the max, but he has developed into a reliable sharpshooter and secondary play-maker for the Hawks. Of the players who signed rookie scale extensions in 2020, Luke Kennard is the most obvious comparable for Huerter — Kennard got a four-year, $56MM contract, so Huerter’s reps will likely be looking to match or exceed that number.
Even if Collins returns on a lucrative new contract, the Hawks should have the full mid-level exception at their disposal in free agency. Their priorities will likely be adding depth at point guard, where Williams is a free agent, and at center, where Onyeka Okongwu is expected to be sidelined until at least January following shoulder surgery.
The club could split its mid-level exception into two parts to address those spots or could devote the entire MLE to one player, filling out the rest of the bench with minimum-salary players, the No. 20 pick in the draft, and possibly a bi-annual signing.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the Hawks are well-positioned to package multiple players (and maybe a draft pick or two) for a quality starter if the opportunity arises. My bet is that the team exercises some patience with its current group and counts on getting more from De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish next season after they battled injuries in 2020/21. But if everyone is healthy, this should be a deep roster that could deal from certain positions of strength.
Salary Cap Situation
Note: Our salary cap projections are based on a presumed 3% increase, which would result in a $112.4MM cap for 2021/22.
- Danilo Gallinari ($20,475,000)
- Bogdan Bogdanovic ($18,000,000)
- Clint Capela ($17,103,448)
- Trae Young ($8,326,471)
- De’Andre Hunter ($7,775,400)
- Onyeka Okongwu ($6,104,280)
- Cam Reddish ($4,670,160)
- Kevin Huerter ($4,253,357)
- Bruno Fernando ($1,782,621)
- Total: $88,490,737
Restricted Free Agents
- John Collins ($7,705,447 qualifying offer / $12,411,906 cap hold): Bird rights
- Brandon Goodwin ($2,126,991 qualifying offer / $2,126,991 cap hold): Early Bird rights
- Total (cap holds): $14,538,897
Two-Way Free Agents
- No. 20 overall pick ($2,659,560)
- No. 48 overall pick (no cap hold)
- Total: $2,659,560
- Kevin Huerter (rookie scale)
- Trae Young (rookie scale)
- Clint Capela (veteran)
- Bruno Fernando (veteran)
Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds
- Tony Snell ($18,267,857): Bird rights
- Lou Williams ($15,200,000): Bird rights
- Solomon Hill ($1,669,178): Non-Bird rights
- Total: $35,137,035
Offseason Cap Outlook
Adding cap holds for Collins and the Hawks’ first-round pick brings the team’s total guaranteed commitments to nearly $104MM for 11 roster spots. With a projected cap in the neighborhood of $112MM, that wouldn’t be enough to generate meaningful room, so the Hawks will likely operate over the cap, retaining their full mid-level exception and bi-annual exception.
That could change if the Hawks make a trade that reduces team salary or if Collins walks in free agency, but that’s a less likely outcome for now.
Cap Exceptions Available
- Mid-level exception: $9,536,000 1
- Bi-annual exception: $3,732,000 1
- These are projected values. If the Hawks decide to operate under the cap, they’d forfeit these exceptions and would instead gain access to the room exception ($4.9MM).