Now that Danny Ferry and the Hawks have their new head coach in Mike Budenholzer, they must turn their attention to filling out what is currently a three-man roster. Below I’ve listed what I think are the top-five moves the team should consider this offseason:
1. Make a Run at Dwight: He may have had a disappointing 2013, and will likely never return to the level of dominance he displayed in 2010-11, but make no mistake about it, Dwight Howard is still one of only a few max-contract players in the NBA. When motivated and in the right situation, Howard is the world’s best big man; he’s the NBA’s top defender, demands double teams on nearly every offensive possession, and makes all around him better. Moreover, Atlanta has struggled to attract big name free agents and may actually have a chance with D-12 for multiple reasons. Not to mention his acquisition would allow Coach Bud to move Al Horford to the four – his more natural position – and would make Josh Smith dispensable. We’d also be remiss to ignore Budenholzer’s success with aging bigs (see David Robinson and Tim Duncan).
2. If at first you don’t succeed, try again: There isn’t exactly a bevy of top bigs on the market this offseason, but Atlanta really needs a true five and has tons of money to spend. With that said, if Danny Ferry and company can’t convince Dwight to come back home, there are three other centers the team should consider. The first is Andrew Bynum, who before multiple knee surgeries was considered clear and away the second best center in basketball and a franchise talent. His recent injury history will make him considerably more affordable than what was anticipated this time a year ago, but he also comes with tremendous risk (many think his knees are degenerative and will never withstand a full NBA season). I’d probably pass on Bynum, but not everyone sees eye-to-eye here. Additionally, though he’s undersized, Utah’s Al Jefferson provides another quality option for the Hawks at the five spot. He averaged 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds this season, is still just 28, and would give the Hawks a serious banger down low. Finally, if all else fails, the Hawks could also make a run at 7-footer Chris Kaman, who is aging (31) but still more than serviceable and rather large. Note: Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic is a restricted free agent, and the Wolves would likely match just about any qualifying offer, but Pek is a big-time talent and a guy the Hawks could, and should at least consider making a run at.
3. Improve the Perimeter: With only three players under contract heading into next season (Horford, Lou Williams, John Jenkins), Atlanta has the money to sign at least two high-priced free agents, including one of the aforementioned bigs. With that said, some of Atlanta’s money should go toward improving on the perimeter. Chris Paul is on the market, and the Hawks would of course love to have him, but let’s just assume that doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, there are no other max money type players out there, but some attractive options nonetheless. The list of guys that would upgrade Atlanta’s backcourt is as follows: Andre Iguodala, Brandon Jennings (restricted FA, but an option if Jeff Teague walks), Monta Ellis, OJ Mayo, and Tyreke Evans (restricted FA). Again, none of these guys are franchise-changing talents, but they all would serve as an upgrade over what the Hawks currently have and are reasonable targets to boot.
4. Deal with your own: As mentioned above, the Hawks have 12 of their own free agents to deal with and new management must decide how to do so. Of course, a lot of what Atlanta does here will have to do with how successful there are with the free agents listed above, and there are no real obvious guys worth keeping. The first, and most important player under consideration will most likely be Jeff Teague, a guy Atlanta really can’t afford to lose if it doesn’t land Jennings or another top PG on the market (Jarrett Jack is an option here, so is Mario Chalmers). I also think it would be worth bringing back Kyle Korver (if not, FA JJ Redick would be a nice replacement) and Zaza Pachulia, as the first provides some necessary shooting while the latter handles dirty work off the bench when healthy. Moving on…Devin Harris is on the wrong side of 30, only appeared in 58 games this year and is no longer a legitimate starting PG around which a team should build, so I don't mind letting him walk, along with any of Atlanta’s other average pieces. Finally, the Hawks must figure out what to do with Josh Smith. He wants more money than he will most likely manage to get, so Atlanta might be able to re-sign him at a relatively affordable rate, which is something I’d consider if the team strikes out most everywhere else. Otherwise, J-Smoove’s days in Hotlanta are as good as over.
5. Figure out the Draft: The Hawks have two picks this year, No. 17 and No. 18, and should have their pick of few good players once they’re on the clock. Again, who the Hawks take here could be dictated by what they do on the free agent market as well as by who they re-sign, but I’d bet on the team taking one big and then a promising perimeter talent. One scenario the team may explore would include packaging the two picks to move up. If that’s the case, I’d target UCLA dynamic freshman Shabazz Muhammad, Lehigh star C.J. McCollum (will likely go too high) or Pittsburgh 7-footer Steven Adams. In my opinion, all three have serious star potential (especially the first two) and fill Atlanta needs. Should they stay put, talents like Louisville C Gorgui Dieng, Miami PG Shane Larkin, San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin and Cal SG Allen Crabbe are all reasonable options. In the end, the Hawks need difference makers at the 3 and 5, and will use the draft to fill whichever hole they can’t plug via free agency.