The second round of the playoffs is underway and with only eight teams remaining, it means another eight have been eliminated from title contention. The offseason is the time for these teams to retool to prepare for deeper runs next season. The Atlanta Hawks have been one of the most consistent teams in the NBA the past six seasons, but not in a good way. The Hawks are always the fourth or fifth seed in the playoffs and have lost in the first round three out of the last six years.
Atlanta, as both a team and a fan base, is in need of something new. The same old mediocrity gets boring after awhile. If there was ever a time for change, that time is now. The front office will have the roster flexibility and salary cap space to bring in new talent and new pieces to show off in the Highlight Factory next season.
Josh Smith and company dropped down to the sixth seed this year and after beating the Indiana Pacers twice at home, they lost the series final two games and bowed out 4-2. Now with the future of All-Star forward Josh Smith and head coach Larry Drew in flux, the Hawks face mounting uncertainty this offseason.
For the remainder of the post, I will assume the role of Hawks GM Danny Ferry. I will give my suggestions and analysis on who the Nuggets should keep, who they should lose, players to target in free agency and the draft, and who should take over as head coach.
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KEEP: Jeff Teague, Shelvin Mack and Kyle Korver
Jeff Teague has gotten better in each of his first four years in the NBA, culminating in his 14.6-point, 7.2-assist and 1.5-steal averages this season. Teague was thought to be unprepared when he entered the NBA Draft in 2009, but through hard work and effort has found a way to keep improving. At just 24 years old, the best years of his career are ahead of him. While there will be a star point guard on the market, Chris Paul, I do not believe he will leave the Los Angeles Clippers (plus the Hawks missed their chance to draft him in 2005 when they took Marvin Williams two picks ahead of him). Teague might never become a star in the league, but he is showing signs of being more than just a serviceable player.
Shelvin Mack has been on three teams in his two seasons as an NBA player and was most productive for the Atlanta Hawks. In the 20 games he played during the regular season, he averaged 5.2 points and 2.2 dimes in 13.4 minutes per game. Those stats don’t necessarily pop off of the page, but it shows that Mack, when given the chance, can serve as a very good backup point guard. If the Hawks use a rotation of Teague and Mack as their point guards, they will have that position set for the foreseeable future. Neither player will become a star in the league, yet they both can hold their own against the top competition.
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Kyle Korver will play in the NBA as long as he wants too and it’s because he is one of the best shooters in the league today. Last season he shot 45.7 percent from three and averaged 10.9 points a night. The Hawks need to re-sign Korver, at the right price, because with him in the fold they will always have a perimeter threat on their roster. A team can never have too many shooters. At 32 years old, Korver is heading towards the end of his career, but with no major injuries in his past, it isn’t unlikely to think Korver could play between another three to five years in the NBA.
LOSE: Devin Harris, Anthony Tolliver, Zaza Pachulia, Dahntay Jones and Josh Smith
The first four names on this list were not effective for the Atlanta Hawks this past season; they were role players that were unable to perform to the expected level. Devin Harris was supposed to challenge Teague for minutes, but injuries derailed his year. Anthony Tolliver hasn’t been the same player he once was with the Golden State Warriors, where he was also playing over 30 minutes per game. Zaza Pachulia is getting long in the tooth and coming off a year where he played the least amount of games in a season in his career. Dahntay Jones only made the news this season by allegedly trying to injure Kobe Bryant on purpose on a late jump shot. These players were basically dead weight for Atlanta and do not need to be brought back next season.
Josh Smith became the face of the franchise this season following the trade that sent Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets. In his lone year as the man, Smith put up respectable numbers (per-game averages of 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals), however it wasn’t enough to take the Hawks further than the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks need to restart and start fresh and keeping Smith around should not be part of their rebuilding process. Smith is an All-Star-caliber player, but he hasn’t been consistently content in Atlanta either. Smith has asked for a trade from the Hawks and was almost traded to the Milwaukee Bucks at the trade deadline this season.
FREE AGENT TARGETS: O.J. Mayo, Dorell Wright, Brandan Wright, Dwight Howard
O.J. Mayo started this past season on fire, essentially carrying the Dallas Mavericks while Dirk Nowitzki recovered from knee surgery. However, as the season went on, Mayo’s numbers dipped and it reached a point where Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle called him out towards the end of the season. Mayo still had one of his best seasons since entering the league five years ago. He posted career-highs in three point percentage (40.7 percent), and assists (4.4 per game). The 15.3 points he averaged this season is right around his career average of 15.2. Mayo might never become the superstar he was once billed as when he was in high school, but he has shown that he can be a game-changer and that’s something the Hawks definitely need going forward.
Dorell Wright and Brandan Wright are on this list for the same reason, and it’s not because they share the same last name. They are proven role players. Dorell and Brandan are quality second unit players that can help solidify a team’s bench. The Hawks’ bench this year was virtually nonexistent. Atlanta could definitely use an improvement in that area.
Dwight Howard did not have a good season by any stretch of the imagination this year. He fought injuries, underperformed in the bright lights of L.A., and constantly butted heads with Kobe throughout much of the season. Howard needs a change of scenery in a bad way. The Hawks, along with the Mavericks and the Houston Rockets, are the three teams that will potentially have the cap space to get Howard away from the Lakers. Howard is from Atlanta and I’m sure that will make the Hawks more attractive to him than they would be to other players. If the Hawks bring Howard back home, it will definitely revamp the franchise and the fan base as well. Atlanta would offer Dwight a place similar to Orlando and the Hawks have the ability to rebuild around him.
DRAFT TARGETS: Rudy Gobert, Dennis Schroeder and Shabazz Muhammad
Rudy Gobert is a 7-1 big man from France who possesses a 7-9 wingspan. Gobert is rail thin, weighing only 235 pounds. He has a wiry frame that will need more weight if he wants to bang with the NBA’s elite big men. Gobert would serve as insurance in case the Hawks are unable to attain Dwight Howard in free agency, and when he is ready to make an impact on the court, he will be able to shift Al Horford down to his more natural power forward position (something the Hawks have wanted to do the past couple of years). Gobert has played in the premier league in France for the past two years and while he is far from a double-double machine, the potential in his game is there.
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Dennis Schroeder is another international prospect that hails from Germany, a late bloomer onto the NBA’s radar. He has shown that he has the talent to become a first-round pick. Schroeder’s performance at this year’s Nike Hoop Summit definitely opened eyes. His 18 points and nine assists were crucial in the World team’s 112-98 victory over the USA. Often compared to Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, Schroeder was able to show that he has range on his jump shot and that he is one of the fastest players end-to-end in the draft this year. If the Hawks are ready to move on from Teague or give him more competition for the starting spot, Schroeder is their guy.
Shabazz Muhammad began the year as a surefire top-three pick and was in the conversation for the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Then the NCAA season happened. Muhammad didn’t have the greatest of years; while he was able to score (17.9 points per game), his flaws were magnified as the year went on. By the time UCLA’s season was over, Muhammad was painted as a selfish scorer that was not very effective scoring off the dribble. Reports also verified that he was 20 years old instead of 19. Due to all of this, Muhammad’s stock has noticeably dropped and now he finds himself as a potential late lottery pick. The Hawks currently own the No. 17 and No. 18 pick (from Houston) in the draft, and Muhammad definitely won’t be around by then. But if they choose to package those picks to move up, Muhammad is a prospect they should target.
HONORABLE MENTION: Archie Goodwin, Erick Green
What will the Hawks do this summer?
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