Stop me if you've heard this before: "The Hawks are too good to tank, but not good enough to win a title." The Hawks were sitting at 16-13, good for 3rd in the Eastern Conference, and it appeared as though most fans got on board with making the playoffs. However, when it was announced that Al Horford would miss the remainder of the 2013-14 season, including the playoffs, the tanking discussions popped back up. To be fair, losing your franchise's best player for the season should trigger the "Riggin' For Wiggins" part of your brain.
The problem with trying to tank
Through seven games without Horford the Hawks are 3-4. Before last night's huge victory over the Indiana Pacers, the Hawks had lost three straight games. The Hawks, like they have for most of their losses this season, played hard but fell just short late. Even without Horford the Hawks have shown they can get by without him and still make the playoffs. If the Hawks were in the Western Conference, they'd probably sell without much hesitation after losing Horford. However, the Hawks play in the far-less competitive Eastern Conference where it will likely take moving Paul Millsap for the Hawks to really fall down in the standings. Millsap, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Lou Williams and the combination of Pero Antic and Elton Brand at the five is still just too good to successfully tank.
If Danny Ferry decides to tank who gets moved?
The trade market for Millsap figures to be pretty significant with his play so far this season and his team-friendly contract. Packing Brand's expiring and Carroll in a deal would also make a lot of sense in a trade centered around Millsap. All three players' deals and production would be appealing to a number of contenders. If contenders start knocking -- I'd expect these three names to be the most heavily inquired about.
Who to do business with
If the Hawks decide they're open to moving Millsap or another significant piece on the Hawks roster who they try to work a deal with is the most critical aspect to the decision tank. Houston Rockets center Omer Asik wasn't moved by the Rockets reportedly because Rockets General Manager Darryl Morey couldn't find a deal that would include the Rockets coming out the winner after it. With more and more analytical thinkers getting GM jobs around the league and picks becoming more and more coveted, finding the right trade partner might be difficult.
However, there are four teams within the Eastern Conference Ferry should zone in on -- Charlotte Bobcats, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and the Washington Wizards. The Cleveland Cavaliers, prior to trading for Luol Deng, would have also made the list.
Why Charlotte, Detroit, Milwaukee and Washington?
Charlotte: The Bobcats haven't fallen apart just yet and with Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker excelling in Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford's system, the Bobcats want to start getting into the playoffs. They haven't had much luck in the lottery getting a franchise-changing player -- so they signed Jefferson. The Bobcats, even with Jefferson, are still teetering on whether or not they can make the playoffs. To do so, they probably need to make one more deal. The Bobcats have two picks in the 1st round of the draft this summer, one of which being Detroit's, so they do have the assets to trade for somebody like Millsap and filler. Trading for Millsap would basically ensure the Bobcats make the playoffs this season.
Detroit: Joe Dumars has made bad move after bad move for years now -- and his team is floundering. The Pistons went all-in this offseason to make the playoffs. That hasn't worked out and if the team the misses the playoffs one has to wonder why the Pistons front office keeps him around. Pistons power forward Greg Monroe is on the last year of his current deal, Charlie Villanueva carries another large expiring, and Dumars would not hesitate to give up more future picks to try and win now. It'd be a similar situation to the Hawks-Nets Joe Johnson trade -- but on a lighter scale.
Milwaukee: The Bucks' strategy for success falls right in line with the Pistons approach -- throw **** at the wall and see what sticks. Sure, the Bucks have been without their rim protector Larry Sanders for the majority of the season, but the Bucks are terrible. As poorly constructed as their roster is the Bucks have a few players the Hawks could make a deal for if they decide to buy. Two players the Hawks should at least inquire about on the Bucks' roster include Gary Neal and Ersan Illyasova. Neal and Illyasova are having down years, but the Bucks offense is a mess. Neal excelled in San Antonio because of how well he can shoot from beyond the arc. Illyasova would also mesh nicely with the current Hawks system as a nice role player of the bench.
Washington: Like the Cavs, the Wizards have already made moves during the regular season, like acquiring Marcin Gortat, to solidify their playoff status. The Wizards need more depth and have a desperate front office, picks and expiring contracts. The Wizards first-round pick in 2014 is now the Phoenix Suns', but their 2015 first-round pick could be had if the Hawks moved Millsap in the process. Ernie Grunfeld falls in line with Joe Dumars, John Hammond and Michael Jordan as front office guys you want as your trading partner -- because you typically come out better after.
If the Hawks do decide to continue on with their current core, it'd make sense -- the team is still playing close to .500 basketball and would continue their playoff streak. They're still in a very good situation financially and playing well in Budenholzer's system. The team is not broken, so should Ferry meddle with the roster? The old saying says so, but whichever route Ferry decides to take it'd make sense.