Draft night: Drafted Adreian Payne (15th, signed) and Walter Tavares (43rd, unsigned). Acquired the rights to Lamar Patterson (48th, unsigned) for a future second round pick.
30th June: Traded Lou Williams and the rights to Lucas Nogueira to Toronto in exchange for John Salmons.
10th July: Waived John Salmons.
15th July: Acquired Thabo Sefolosha via sign and trade (three years, $12 million) along with cash and the draft rights to Giorgis Printezis in exchange for the draft rights to Sofoklis Schortsanitis.
Agreed upon but not yet completed transactions:
Re-signing Shevlin Mack.
Re-signing Mike Scott
Signing Kent Bazemore.
Adreian Payne, Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore
Lou Williams, Gustayo Ayon, Elton Brand, Cartier Martin
On the face of it, Atlanta improved their team. Those incoming players are, or will be, slightly better than those outgoing. Brand is a shell of what he was, Ayon needed upgrading, Williams was not the right fit, and Martin is highly replacable. On the simplest of evaluations, then, things are OK.
The bulk of the Hawks’s offseason business was conducted in one fell swoop with the trade dated 30th June. Williams, a once prolific scorer who has never developed as a point guard and who rather compounded a size problem found throughout Atlanta’s roster, still had his moments as a high-usage volume scorer, but he was eminently replacable on a team prioritising efficient players. Using the rights to Nogueira (a sprightly big with potential but also concerns about his knees) as a crux for dumping Williams’s $5.45 million salary for only the $1 million cap hit of a waived Salmons was deemed an acceptable cost for the cap space gamble.
In return, they receive Sefolosha, a sizeable wing who can guard all comers at two positions, but not without his faults Sefolosha’s very limited offensive game was even more limited last season with the disappearance of his jumpshot, a tool once thought to have become reliable but which regressed back to where it used to be, thus leaving the previous 18 months as a clear outlier. He is, of course, a very limited player and one becoming even more so, not just stopping any attempts to handle the ball in traffic or create his own shot (which is probably best) but regrettably also going away from his ability to rebound in traffic, something he once shone at as a wing player. However, if the jumpshot comes back – or, if the amount of liquid in your glass is trending upwards, when it comes back – Atlanta has added for themselves a proven three and D role player at the wing positions, who can handle the matchups that DeMarre Carroll cannot. Between those two, Al Horford and Mack, Atlanta can guard anyone.
Sefolosha compliments a core of incumbent quality role players. Mike Scott, soon to be re-signed, emerged last year as a very effective bench scorer from both inside and out, with a quality jumpshot slowly being extended to three point range and a . He rebounds poorly is stuck between positions and struggles in all kinds of defensive matchups, but those things merely make him limited and not ineffective – be it via the jump shots, or by timely finishing at the rim (where he is remarkably efficient for a player who needs a running start to be able to dunk), Scott gets points. DeMarre Carroll gets some points now, too, having added a three point jumpshot to his grounded but nuanced defensive game and informed offensive movement. And Kyle Korver, of course, is completely ridiculous, one of the greatest role players that ever took to the game. The Hawks lack star talent, but they do not lack talent. There is young talent, too – Payne is a projectable defender, Mack and Scott are only 50 between them, Jenkins and Mike Muscala the good side of 24, and while Dennis Schroeder has a long way to go, he has shown the reasons why it is OK to believe he will get there.
Atlanta have a good team. The injury to Horford last season should not obscure how wonderfully solid the team was beforehand and will be again. The team moves the ball, shoots and defends, and even if they lack rim protection and any one single elite playmaker, they are a well coached unit with a team full of two-way quality role players (or at least role players very good on one end). If things stay as they are, they will be one of the better teams in the East given a clean bill of health, not on the level of those at the top but a solid playoff seed you would not wish to play against. There is the shooting from Korver, Jenkins and Scott, the defense of Antic, Carroll and Sefolosha, the everything of Horford, the relentless decency of Millsap and Teague. They move the ball, they play as a team, they pay pretty, they play hard, and they play smart. They are good.
However, that is not what this offseason was about. They came into the offseason with a good team already, so it is no victory to leave with one. In a summer in which they had plenty of cap flexibility, some decent picks, and some expendable spare parts who nevertheless had some value, they needed to come out of it with a tangibly better one. And they have not thus far done so. Aside from swapping out Lou Will for Thabo – which may be an improvement in their balance, but certainly not their talent level – the Hawks will likely return the same rotation as last season, which does not really suffice when you have eight figures of cap room and two mid-first round picks (one to use, one unsigned from the previous year) at your disposal.
In trading Williams and Nogueira, all Atlanta returned was cap space they have not subsequently used, and that they did not need to complete the other moves (Scott and Mack could have been re-signed with the Early Bird rights they had anyway, while they already had enough cap room for Thabo and Bazemore). The trade put them in a position to sign a max or near-max free agent, or some combination of other players that added up to that much, but that max free agent is not here and was never especially close to coming here. Atlanta did not blow what they had, but they did nothing to add to it, and they needlessly cost themselves in the process assets that could have made it happen down the road. They went all in on nothing, and came up with nothing.
They probably could have seen it coming. The Hawks made the trade to open up cap room before they had anyone to open up cap room for. They could have done trades to open up this extra cap room – it might not have specifically been for Salmons, but it never needed to specifically be for Salmons. It only specifically needed to be for Salmons if it was to be done before the moratorium. And it did not need to be done before the moratorium. Indeed, it did not need to be done at all. Atlanta lost two decent assets and two decent players and have not a single one of either to show back for it.
What they can do to salvage it is throw a boatload of this surplus money at Greg Monroe. Monroe is the second best player still available, and while he is neither as good as the best available player Eric Bledsoe, nor as good of a fit, he has the distinct advantage of being gettable. [An offer to Bledsoe would just be matched, and all parties know it.] Monroe is still not exactly the true centre the Hawks lack, and his acquisition creates a rotational problem for Mike Budenholzer (one of he, Horford and Millsap is going to have to come off of the bench, because Millsap as a mismatch three is not the percentage play here). Nevertheless, Monroe is at least a truer post player than their current centre crop, an upgrade on Antic and Scott, an infusion of talent, the close-enough filling of a need. He is a very talented player on a team short of very talented players.
There are some whispers that this may happen. It really ought. But until such time, we can only work with what we see. And what we see is a good team with a great hand to play, who misplayed it. No one wanted to sign with Atlanta, again, for whatever reason, yet it was not merely luck or perception that got them in this situation. Losing Lucas Nogueira’s future, whatever it may be, is not the end of the world or a franchise crippler. But it was highly unnecessary.
Sum it up in a quote: “Did not think that one through.”