The Atlanta Hawks acquired a future asset on Tuesday afternoon, as they elected to trade 2014 first round pick Adreian Payne to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a lottery-protected first round pick that could be shipped to Atlanta as early as the 2017 NBA Draft. However, this was not your typical "build for the future" move, and the team's choice angles them toward a potential acquisition that could fortify this season's push toward a deep playoff run.
Much of the focus on a potential roster move for the Hawks has centered around free agent shooting guard Ray Allen. The 39-year-old sharpshooter is a likely Hall of Fame selection when he chooses to retire, but after several fruitful seasons alongside LeBron James in Miami, Allen is taking his time with regard to a future situation. In the event of any pursuit of Allen, the Hawks would be forced to create a roster spot, and that is where the decision to trade Payne comes into focus.
Payne, who turns 24 years old on February 19, appeared in only three games for the Hawks this season, and he never seemed to be a serious threat to join the rotation for the 2014-2015 season. As a matter of record, the 6-foot-10 forward experienced mild success in the D-League during four stints, but the franchise potentially could have simply decided that his skill set did not match the free-flowing, perimeter-oriented offense, especially with Payne converting on only 3 of his 23 attempts from beyond the three-point arc.
With Atlanta operating at the 15-player maximum on their roster, chatter has circulated around the potential to outright release a player (namely John Jenkins) as an avenue toward pursuing Allen or another veteran asset. Jenkins has never materialized as a rotation player for the Hawks, but he does carry a guaranteed salary, and as a franchise, the Atlanta Hawks have never been wild about spending money simply to remove a player from the cap sheet.
The decision to send Adreian Payne elsewhere alleviates that stress, and instead of paying a player to go away, Atlanta's front office parlayed his services into a potential asset down the line while simultaneously opening the door for a "win now" move in 2015. While it would be natural to focus on the potential shortcomings of Payne in his limited time with the club, it must be evenly shared that the desire for roster flexibility stands at the forefront of this move, and even in the wildest expectations of any member of the organization, a 43-10 start to the season probably was not in the plans.
"All-in" moves are often discussed with teams who are on the brink of the championship discussion, and this year's Atlanta Hawks certainly qualify. However, this isn't a roster built with pieces to make a significant move that would alter the style of play that Mike Budenholzer has implemented, and instead, the Hawks are more apt to look for an ancillary piece that could sure up a playoff rotation that is already strong with depth at most positions.
In addition to Ray Allen, various reports have suggested that Gary Neal, a former San Antonio Spurs player who operated under Budenholzer, could be an option. Beyond that, there will be various buyout candidates and/or players who the Hawks could absorb with cap space and a roster spot, and moving Adreian Payne accomplished the tall task of providing the ability to create such a move without significantly altering the core of a team playing its best basketball in franchise history.
Adreian Payne may be a fine NBA player, but it is virtually impossible to envision a path by which he would help the Atlanta Hawks on the floor in 2014-2015. Paul Millsap is playing at an All-Star level, Mike Scott is firmly entrenched as the backup power forward, and with a center in Al Horford who provides elite flexibility, Payne was "blocked" in more ways than one.
It isn't necessarily an indictment on Payne as a player, but more of an organizational circumstance. The team could have soured on his ability to fit into the Budenholzer system as a result of shooting woes, or, quite simply, the front office could have examined the roster closely to see a potential contract extension for Millsap and two additional years of safety in Mike Scott with the emerging potential of a player that they love in Mike Muscala alongside.
Regardless of the "real" reasoning, the Atlanta Hawks became a dangerous player on the open market with this decision, and whether Ray Allen, Gary Neal or another veteran option emerges, this move acknowledges that the window is open for a title run.