Atlanta Hawks remain competitive while rebuilding

USA TODAY Sports

Danny Ferry has assembled a cap-friendly roster while keeping the Hawks competitive, and that's what makes this year's team so fascinating.

Hello, all.

I'm Lance Davis, and I'm the new beat writer for Peachtree Hoops. My goal is to provide you with thorough and engaging coverage of Hawks basketball and continue the outstanding coverage you're accustomed to reading on this site.

I recently graduated from Auburn University with a degree in journalism, but before you prepare all your jokes about how bad the football team athletic department is, just a heads-up, I am not an Auburn fan.

I grew up, and remain, a huge Florida Gators fan. So prepare your Georgia or Louisville jokes, I suppose.

Anyway, when the Florida basketball team was making its first title run in 2005-06, I became a huge fan of Al Horford. I've followed the Hawks closely ever since they drafted Horford third overall in 2007.

So, no, I wasn't really on board when the Hawks were in the cellar. But I did get to see them improve each season with a core of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Horford.

And then I saw the Hawks reach their peak with that core and follow up by re-signing Johnson to one of the most absurd contracts in the history of basketball.

It was a competitive team, sure, but one with no cap flexibility and pretty much no hope of getting past the second round of the playoffs. The Hawks were stuck in the worst place possible in the NBA -- not good enough to compete for a title and not bad enough to get high draft picks. It's nearly impossible to build a contender that way.

And then Danny Ferry was hired as general manager in 2012 and somehow dumped Johnson's albatross contract on the Brooklyn Nets. Getting rid of Johnson and dealing Marvin Williams to the Utah Jazz launched Ferry's rebuilding project in Atlanta.

I find this year's team so fascinating because Ferry has assembled a cap-friendly roster with moveable contracts while remaining competitive. He's also made solid draft picks, let Atlanta-native Smith walk away (a bittersweet move, but ultimately a smart one) and brought in Mike Budenholzer to coach.

Budenholzer, while untested as a head coach, has all the makings of a great hire. He's been an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs for 17 years and has been with the organization under coach Gregg Popovich for 19 years overall. It's hard to argue against hiring someone whom Popovich speaks so highly.

Ferry and Budenholzer also worked together with the Spurs, and they appear to be on the same wavelength in terms of building a title contender, bringing some of that Spurs-ian culture to Atlanta and putting an emphasis player development and analytics.

Kyle Korver's four-year, $24 million contract is a good example of how analytics impact the team's decisions. Like Kris Willis discussed, the 3-pointer has serious value, and smart teams are picking up on that. And even though Korver is 32 years old, 3-point shooting is a skill that typically ages well. Plus, he gets open by making efficient moves within the offense, not by creating his own shot.

The value doesn't end with Korver; you can find it all over the roster.

Horford's deal, which pays him $12 million per year, is one of the best contracts in the NBA. Getting Paul Millsap on a two-year, $19 million contract was the steal of the summer. Jeff Teague's four-year, $32 million deal is up there, too.

(Getting an above-average point guard entering his prime at that price is huge. Teague has the potential to be one of the league's most improved players. With his best years still ahead of him, the 25-year-old will be running a ball-movement offense and have intriguing rookie Dennis Schröder pushing him to get better.)

Another great part about the contracts: They're pretty much all moveable. They're all cap-friendly and can be dealt for picks in next year's loaded draft or packaged in a trade for a premier player in next year's class of free agents. The possibilities are endless.

Even after shedding all this cap space, the Hawks are likely still heading to the playoffs. You can make a strong case that this year's team is as talented as last year's (44-38, 6th seed in East). And you might be able to argue that this year's team is slightly better.

The execution from the Hawks front office has been great so far, and I'm excited to see it continue to play out this season. But keep in mind that this year's team is far from a finished product. A first- or second-round playoffs exit isn't the ceiling for future Hawks teams under Ferry, and that's refreshing.

Again, thanks for having me aboard. I'm excited to be a part of this Hawks community and look forward to interacting with you all. This post barely scratched the surface. Expect to see lots more statistics, videos, graphs and pictures in future posts.

If you have any questions, I'll be in the comments. You can also follow me on Twitter here.

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