Atlanta could have relaxed, absorbed salary to acquire assets, and settled for another season in the lottery. Maybe Trae Young‘s agitation made that a trickier path to tread, but whatever the reasoning, the Hawks have propelled themselves from NBA irrelevance to serious playoff contention with a string of significant offseason moves.
Barrelling towards free agency with cap space, Hawks rumours were everywhere. On this occasion, there was fire under the smoke. Bogdan Bogdanovic has signed an offer sheet, Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn arrived on two-year pacts and Danilo Gallinari committed long-term. Gallinari’s three-year, $61.5 million deal raised some eyebrows – it shows Atlanta’s intention to win in 2021.
Trade speculation was rife, too. The Hawks held the sixth pick in the draft. Instead of flipping it for future picks or trying to acquire a star, they stayed put and drafted Onyeka Okongwu. Even the arrival of Okongwu provokes uncertainty.
The Hawks are where teams should be towards the end of a rebuild – they’ve got more players than they can reasonably use. This puts them in a great position to make trades, but it can cause issues with player happiness and development. De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, two lottery picks from the 2019 draft, have slipped from integral pieces to bench guys if Bogdanovic arrives.
How good can the Hawks be?
Developing Reddish and Hunter should be a priority, but with teams criticised for rebuilds, it’s nice to see a team go for it. Atlanta hasn’t played a postseason game since 2017 – their record since then sits at an ugly 73-158. The desire to win more games is natural.
Bogdanovic feels like a key piece in this. If the Kings do not match the offer sheet, Atlanta has a starting five of Young, Bogdanovic, Gallinari, Collins and Capela. There’s so much flexibility with Rondo, Dunn, Kevin Huerter, Reddish, Hunter and Okongwu off the bench. Lloyd Pierce can go big, he can play small, he can load up on defence, he can play five shooters. The defence is still a concern around Young – Bogdanovic and Gallinari are not fixing those issues, but that’s a roster that can be very competitive.
With Bogdanovic, that should be a playoff team. There are seven apparent postseason locks in the East. If the Celtics, Heat, Nets and Bucks are the top four – can the Hawks be better than the Sixers, Pacers or Raptors? Or are they playing with the Magic, Bulls and Wizards for the eighth seed?
It would be an exaggeration to say the Hawks need to be better than an eight seed, but there’s something to that sentiment. Gallinari is likely to decline towards the end of that contract. Capela is signed up through 2022/23, and his injuries are already a concern. These offseason moves are exciting, and they make the Hawks a very watchable team, but is it worth compromising the development of Reddish and Hunter if they are no better than Orlando or Chicago?
It’s been a great offseason for the Hawks, one that will have galvanised a fan base that has coped with a lot of losing. With excitement comes pressure, and there is suddenly expectation on a team that has been in the NBA’s wilderness.