When Danny Ferry traded Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets last summer, this is the moment we desired—this is the moment on which we were all fixated: the summer that will begin the process of shaping a new image and roster for a team that has been deemed irrelevant and fickle for so long. More than anything, though, this summer presents an opportunity to shed the proverbial skin that has covered the franchise since it’s relocation—a skin that symbolizes mediocrity, a skin that represents disorder.
Over the past 10 months we’ve concocted our own visions—delusions of grandeur you might call them, but their potency still sits heavily with us: Dwight Howard and Chris Paul; maybe just Dwight Howard; maybe just Chris Paul. We think something is coming our way, something great, a notion that doesn’t account for the fact that Dikembe Mutumbo was the last big name free agent to sign with Atlanta. Mutumbo was signed in 1996. It’s been seventeen years since the Hawks have inked a marquee free agent—a concern that might only accentuate Atlanta’s stereotype as a weak basketball community and dysfunctional franchise in the eyes of a player.
So Danny Ferry has his work cut out for him. He’s battling against memes like “Never Trust the Hawks” and dismissive fans who see the franchise only as an afterthought. He’s swimming upstream, trying to create a model of consistency and success, trying to build something that isn’t brittle and won’t crumble when tested.
It’s not an easy task.Only a few franchises can maintain such a level of stability at a time, and almost all of them have one thing in common: a foundation, or as it’s more ubiquitously known, a superstar.
One of those isn’t going to just fall out of the sky.
Ferry’s trades last summer have positioned Atlanta to acquire that foundation. The options, relatively speaking, are abundant. The Hawks will most certainly throw their names into the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, with hopes of landing Chris Paul as well. Once those dreams are swiftly and unfortunately dismissed, Ferry will have the complicated task of maintaining and sustaining Atlanta’s current financial flexibility into next summer, when once again they’ll be at a crossroads of sorts.
Another option through which Ferry can construct the team to his liking is the draft, which can certainly be a crapshoot. The Hawks aren’t going to select the next LeBron James with the 17th or 18th pick, but they have a chance to acquire solid, young role players who could play a vital part in the development of Ferry’s vision for the franchise down the road. In addition, two middle-first round draft picks are movable pieces. Ferry might seek to trade the picks for higher selections in later drafts, he might package them and move up in this draft, or he might simply stay put. All of those options could prove to be beneficial if executed properly.
What’s so interesting about the Hawks in this year’s draft, however, is the lack of a positional need. The entire roster was practically emptied out the second David West blocked Josh Smith’s errant three-pointer late in Game 6. The Hawks have openings at every single position. If Teague comes at too high a price in restricted free agency, the Hawks could package their picks and trade up for a point guard like CJ McCollum. If the Hawks want to draft an able-bodied center and move Horford to power forward, guys like Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, and Gorgui Dieng might be waiting. They should draft the best player available because the roster is so flexible at this point that hamstringing themselves to a specific need won’t best serve their undefined future.
And of course before even thinking about drafting a player, you’d like for a head coach to be in place. Without a defined system, scheme, or plan under which to constitute a roster, there’s no point in moving forward. This will likely be the first order of business Ferry will address. We’ve already seen management interview Stan Van Gundy, Nate McMillan, and Mike Budenholzer. More candidates will surely arise soon, and it’s not even too late to discard Larry Drew, but for now it looks like the prized goose (SVG) will be staying off the sidelines next season, a fact that should only make Ferry’s search that much more expansive.
It’s a busy time for the Hawks right now, but more significantly an incredibly important time. I don’t think the Hawks can really fix and set their roster this summer (unless the pipe dream of Dwight and/or CP3 comes true), but they could certainly get started. It’s an easy process to screw up—players will demand more money than they’re worth, prospective coaches will avoid analytics, other teams will try to pry valuable assets away. It’s competitive and cutthroat, but Danny Ferry has kept his head so far: he didn’t bite at poor offers at the trade deadline and he’s placed the Hawks in a position to establish themselves as something more than their reputation—that in itself is a miracle.
But his imminent decisions are looming—his head coach selection, his approach to free agency, his plans for the draft—they’re all somewhere in the not-so-distant future, and they all will certainly move this team’s rebuilding process in a particular but currently undefined direction.