You never really know how far away or how close you are to being a contender. The 2011 Dallas Mavericks were not contenders until they were wearing rings. The 2013 Los Angeles Lakers had figurative rings sized before ever playing a game together. There are no guarantees that Atlanta is knocking on the door of contending, but their ability to be competitive with the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers without Al Horford provides hope that Atlanta may not be as far away as believed. The hope for 2014-15 is furthered by being able to return the entire starting lineup from a team that spent the first 3 months getting to know one another and a new coaching philosophy.
Taking the 2013-14 season in consideration and looking at the assets currently available in Atlanta, there is no season in recent memory where fans could have more hope for winning the Eastern Conference. If Atlanta can push Indiana to 7 games with a backup center providing virtually no statistical production than certainly they can do much better with Al Horford, an intact core, and the ability to add more in free agency. With the challenge rookies have in playing meaningful minutes on good teams (especially rookies outside of the lottery), drafting a player that can be stashed overseas would allow Atlanta more funds to get a player ready to contribute immediately. A player of the caliber of Dario Saric falling to Atlanta may be the ideal scenario for a team on the cusp of contending.
With the news being made this week that Saric is committed to playing 2 years overseas for Turkish heavyweight Anadolu Efes. The Croatian forward has signed a three-year deal with a player option in the third year. While the perception is that this contract has reduced his value among some teams due to him not being available immediately, the signing is consistent with what Saric and his camp have claimed throughout his career. He wants to play in the NBA but does not want to come over until he is developmentally ready to compete.
For a quality NBA team, the new deal may actually bring more value. A team can now select Saric without the draft slot money against the cap. Meanwhile, Saric will be a lead player for a solid Euroleague franchise. Whereas many stashed players play for secondary level teams during development, Saric has advanced beyond the typical development stages both in minutes and stature. He was the best player on KK Cibona who won the Adriatic League. There is no real precedent in recent European basketball history for a 20-year-old carrying a team to a title of that caliber.
Drafting Saric with a clear plan for the future would allow teams such as Atlanta to take the money designated for their draft slot and apply it to a player on a 2-year deal. In Atlanta's case, it would free up about 1.6 million over the next 2 years AND allow them to bring an internationally-tested player over in 2016-17 who would immediately be ready to compete for a starting job--while on the first year of a rookie contract.
If you like Kyle Anderson who most college fans have been able to see play live, Saric has a similar skill set. Both are good rebounders and elite passers. Anderson is a better shooter, but Saric is a better athlete. Defensively, Saric has more potential to defend on the wing, but Anderson has the length to hold up in the post. I profiled Saric earlier in the season while discussing the other prospects from the Adriatic League. Here is a quick summary of that evaluation:
If Saric should fall to Atlanta at 15, the Hawks have the opportunity to select an abnormally mature and productive talent with star-potential worthy of a top-10 selection. With the current level of depth on the team and young assets already in place, the selection would not be just about building for the future. Choosing Saric allows Atlanta to have more money available for acquiring talent more ready to contribute than what is available in the 2014 NBA Draft and still allows a strong prospect to develop on the tab of a quality international basketball team.
Do you draft for the future or draft for the present? With Saric being stashed in Europe, Atlanta has the chance to do both.