Generally speaking, the worst place a team can be in the NBA is right the middle. Not a contender but not a bottom feeder either. It's a position Atlanta Hawks fans have become quite familiar with these past couple of years. The Hawks are 15-12, the third best record in the Eastern Conference, and that's a good thing. It's important to note that there is a major difference between the Rick Sund-era Hawks and the Danny Ferry-era Hawks -- even though early results have been somewhat similar. The major difference Ferry has worked to create is simple but also requires a lot of patience -- providing space for the team to grow.
What does that really mean? Well, Ferry signed Paul Millsap and Lou Williams to incredibly team-friendly contracts, let the open market dictate Jeff Teague's value, and brought in a coach whose system has produced NBA championships. The "star" power may no longer be at Philips with Josh Smith and Joe Johnson gone, but the team hasn't missed a beat without them and they're trending up -- and that's really important.
The Hawks' new significant signees -- Millsap, Gustavo Ayon, DeMarre Carroll -- have all bought in and gelled nicely with Teague, Al Horford and Kyle Korver. Millsap, Ayon, Carroll and Williams all playing well in Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer's system should also improve their trade value over the next few months. The Hawks really don't have to make a trade mid-season. They don't have any crippling contracts, unhappy players and most importantly -- they're winning.
Who could be the targets of trade talk
Who are the possible targets for teams when they are calling the Hawks, why would they be interested and would the Hawks move these guys anyway?
However, the Hawks were reported to be have been somewhat interested in acquiring the services of Houston Rockets center Omer Asik. Dealing for Asik would most likely mean Millsap and more would be shipped out to make it worth Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey's while. Obviously they were not able to come to an agreement and Ferry bowed out.
Ferry can continue to play this game with General Managers around the league because of how Ferry reconstructed this Hawks team. Ferry has acquired a bunch of solid role players to team-friendly contracts and can move a player like Millsap whenever he finds a deal worth moving him for -- which was not the case for Johnson and Smith.
In a previous piece, I wrote about how the Hawks should at least entertain the idea of moving Williams. However, Williams looks to be getting back to his old self and it doesn't appear he'll likely be dealt. The player teams will likely crave, especially contenders, is Paul Millsap.
It really wouldn't be all that shocking if the Hawks decided to package Millsap considering they did sign him to just a two-year contract. Most NBA analysts declared this was the steal of the offseason, and they were right. Millsap has flourished next to Horford. Millsap is only 28 years old and if the Hawks keep him the full two seasons in Atlanta he'll be in line to get one last big payday. However, there is the possibility Ferry signed Millsap to a very short team-friendly deal because he planned on dealing him at the deadline this year for even more assets if he played well. I can't say what Ferry's long-term thought process is with Millsap, but I'd be willing to bet he isn't expecting Millsap to play out his contract with the Hawks, and that's ok. Millsap is thriving and teams are already showing interest. The biggest thing to note out of all this -- Ferry has options.
Another reason the Hawks don't have to make any moves mid-season is the major deal Ferry already pulled off last summer in the Joe Johnson trade to the Nets. The Hawks will swap picks with the Nets both in this year's draft and next. At the time that didn't figure to be significant, but the Nets have been a mess. If things keep up like they have in Brooklyn, the Hawks could wind up with a top-5 pick in next year's draft.
The 2014 NBA Draft is filled with potentially franchise-changing wings, so if the Nets pick ends up being a very good one the Hawks would probably use the pick to find a 3-and-D wing with the pick. With that in mind, the Hawks would explore trading Millsap for a "true" center of the future or a younger power forward with high upside. Yes, we've been down the "Move Horford to Power Forward" road so many times before even though the numbers don't back up the assertion. However, Ferry did look into acquiring Asik even if it didn't get very far. It's definitely something that's on his mind. Horford's offensive skillset works for both the 4 and 5, spatially at least, and Horford can defend both positions as well. So, moving Horford isn't a must, but if the right piece comes along that makes the Hawks a better team if they move him over then I think Ferry is open to it.
The biggest concern with the Horford-Millsap front court is how it will be exploited come playoff time. It's undersized and teams will do everything they can to pound them inside -- especially Indiana. Perhaps that's why Ferry is starting to look for a defensive anchor to lessen the load for Horford defensively. Some other defensive anchors Ferry should at least inquire about include Larry Sanders, Emeka Okafor, Kosta Koufos or maybe even a young big like Jonas Valanciunas. For the Hawks to move Millsap they'd need a big like one of the bigs mentioned or a really good pick or two in the next two drafts.
There are some fans who are probably still scoffing at this current Hawks team as they look at their 15-12 record, but that's not the whole story. In reality, the Hawks have set themselves up to be able to do a number of things, and that's huge. A lot of NBA GMs would love to be in the position the Hawks are currently in -- a playoff team with zero bad contracts and two potential lottery picks.
So over the next couple of months you'll probably see the Hawks continue to pop up in trade rumors, and they may indeed make some significant moves, but that's okay and it's not something fans should really fret over. The Hawks have a good core with a smart front office and a bunch of quality tradeable assets -- so enjoy it because who knows how long it will last.