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Mailbag: Hawks tanking? Grading Coach Bud

In this week's Peachtree Hoops mailbag, we discuss Atlanta's recent struggles and the franchise's long term future.

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo

Awesome mailbag this week. If I didn't get to your question feel free to submit it again next week.

What's it gonna take to turn things around on the road? And/or do you think we are officially tanking on purpose? - Nolan Johnson

There are a couple of factors at work in regards to the Hawks' recent struggles. By far the biggest factor is health of the roster. Injuries to the frontcourt have handicapped the team over the last month but that situation is improving somewhat. Pero Antic returned to action on Wednesday and played well, while Paul Millsap is likely right around the corner.

To get things headed back in the right direction, though, the team is going to have to really pick it up defensively. In eight games since the All-Star break Atlanta's opponents are shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and 43.3 percent from three-point range. Over that span the team is allowing 111.0 points per game. Getting Antic and Millsap back will help the defense in that it will give Mike Budenholzer a couple of more options to use in the frontcourt. Still it's going to take a concerted effort from the entire team to get things back on track.

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I don't think tanking was ever an option that Danny Ferry or Coach Budenholzer ever really considered. I don't think they are losing games on purpose now. It's just a reflection of the injuries combined with a difficult schedule that has the team sliding.

Who will be the biggest FA target this offseason for Atlanta? Big names or more deals like Carroll and Millsap? - @ATLGT

It's hard to say who Atlanta might look at in free agency. After all, the Carroll and Millsap signings were under the radar, so to speak. Per ShamSports, the Hawks will have roughly $10 million to work with if they keep the roster as it is now. Mike Scott could cut into that as could Shelvin Mack.

The Hawks could also go the trade route to help add a piece to the roster. None of the team's current contracts are immovable. We heard rumblings surrounding Jeff Teague at the trade deadline and rumors could swirl around a lot of players over the summer.

Millsap and Carroll were two of the best value signings of last summer. I'd be willing to bet that Danny Ferry would be looking for more along those lines.

How would you grade Coach Budenholzer's performance so far this year, given all the injuries our team has suffered? - Tom Marine

I'm a big fan of the job Mike Budenholzer and his staff has done in their first season with the Hawks. I love the offense, I love the principles he is trying to instill and I love the fact that this team plays together. I also love that I can usually count the number of bad shots this team takes on one hand now during a game but that also has a lot to say about the roster.

No coach is perfect. Also no coach is good enough that they don't deserve some criticism. Overall I think Mike Budenholzer has done an excellent job. I'd assign him a B+ grade for the season. It would be an A if not for the current slide.

Who do you see emerging as the future starting center for the Hawks next year? Horford, Muscala, Nogueira, or someone not with the Hawks right now. - Bryant Singleton

This is a question that seems to pop up a lot and if you have been around the site much then you probably know my thinking on this. Al Horford is this team's center and will be this team's center for the foreseeable future. There are centers out there that would allow Horford to play as more of a power forward on the offensive end but in most cases it would Al that guarded the center on the defensive end. I understand the argument for Horford at the four but realistically I see very few centers in the league that are better than him now.

Mike Muscala and Lucas Nogueira are prospects that could eventually grow into the position. Nogueira has a lot of upside as an athletic big and as a shot blocker. I don't think there is anyway that either would be ready to take over as the team's starting center next season.

A free agent is always a possibility but as I touched on earlier, the Hawks will have around $10 million in cap space if they renounce their rights to Elton Brand. Al Horford will be back along with Muscala and most likely Pero Antic. Then there is Nogueira as another possibility. I don't know that Atlanta would be looking to spend big for a starting caliber center.

How long should Ferry's plan of building a contender by keeping a core of Horford and Teague and making sure to have lots of cap space each summer to try to sign top free agents be given before it is time to try something else such as trading those two players for draft picks and expiring contracts, being terrible for a few years, and trying to land a franchise player at the top of the draft? - redwards95

Questions like this seem to be the hot topic around the league this year and I really hope that purposeful tanking is something that new commissioner Adam Silver takes a stern look at. Tanking or "being terrible for a few years" doesn't guarantee you anything. Look at the Clippers, look at the Bobcats. There are plenty of teams that have been bad for a long time.

Sure, Kris, but how do you obtain a franchise player? Valid point, but what happens if the year you capture the No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani or Kwame Brown is waiting on you? Also what is a franchise player? LeBron James is an all-time great and in the realm of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The reality is there aren't that many LeBron James-type players out there. Seldom can you draft a guy and say, "Ok now we are a championship contender." On that note, the 2014 draft class looks to be stocked full of talent but are there really any surefire franchise-altering players? I don't know.

Another thing to note is I don't think Danny Ferry sees himself as building around Horford and Teague. Jeff almost certainly isn't in that conversation. I still don't get the sense that any player on this roster could be deemed untouchable. It'd most likely take a lot to obtain a player like Al Horford but I don't think Danny Ferry is in the business of just hanging up the phone when any player is mentioned in trade talks.

The Hawks are often linked to the Spurs' model of things but I also think looking at what the Rockets have done is a good example. Daryl Morey continued to build assets and remained flexible until he ended up with the opportunity to obtain James Harden. Once he had Harden he was able to lock up Dwight Howard as well. At one point it looked like patience was wearing thin in Houston and Morey could have been in trouble. However, the Rockets are now a contender and got there without bottoming out.

Had the Hawks and Danny Ferry known in July that Al Horford would be lost for the season due to injury they may have chosen a different path. Had Horford stayed healthy and this team might very well have been the No. 3 seed and eclipsed last season's win total in the process.

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