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Overall organizational direction must influence trade deadline movement for Atlanta Hawks

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The Hawks have some big decisions upcoming, but a larger organizational choice will influence the individual moves.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

What do the Atlanta Hawks want to be?

Obviously, every team in the NBA would love to win championships on a regular basis, but that is simply not the reality of the league. A prime example of that reality is, well, the Hawks, given that the organization has never reached the NBA Finals during its tenure in Atlanta. For the majority of the past decade, though, the Hawks have put forth a strong on-court product, making the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons with a likely appearance coming in 2016.

For some franchises, that would be enough and, at this point, we don't know if this current edition of the Atlanta Hawks falls into that category.

No organization would be silly enough to publicly admit that simply being "pretty good" and bringing home some playoff revenue is good enough, but from an overall perspective, some teams clearly make moves to that end. It can be argued that the Hawks made such a decision by handing out a massive contract to Joe Johnson just a handful of years ago, and a quick glance around the league would indicate that a few other teams (the Memphis Grizzlies, for instance) are in the same boat as perennial playoff squads with no real chance at bringing home the ultimate hardware.

With the free agency of Al Horford and a significant decision to make at point guard in the next 16 months, the Hawks are now in a place where they can make their stance known through personnel moves. Extending a five-year maximum offer to Horford (something no other NBA team can do) and simply "bringing the band back together" by holding onto Teague could signal that the new ownership group can't stomach a full-blown rebuild. There are certainly moves that could be made to increase the overall output of this core, but with Horford entering his 30's and only one young asset (Dennis Schröder) under contract, it would be a shock of that group won the first NBA title for Atlanta.

On the flip side, the organization could shoot for the stars (quite literally) by choosing the nuclear option. No fan enjoys losing, but the reality is that the best players on the Atlanta Hawks are all at the back end or past their prime years from an age perspective, and even Paul Millsap is only under contract for one additional season of actual control. If Horford elected to leave (or the Hawks did not pursue another contract), the team would have flexibility, but with no major free agent possibilities that are actually reasonable (i.e. Kevin Durant isn't coming to Atlanta), there is a certain ceiling to the roster that could be cobbled together without Horford.

That brings us to the aforementioned nuclear option, and that means a full-blown rebuild. For the uninitiated, there are certainly levels of rebuilding, but the most likely way to win a championship in the next six to eight years would be to jettison nearly everyone on the roster. Horford could be dealt away at this year's trade deadline for assets (preferably young, cheap talent and/or draft picks), Millsap would bring back a significant haul given his obscenely high level of play and reasonable contract, and players like Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver or even Tiago Splitter would be in a position to help teams that fashion themselves as contenders.

To be honest and clear, it would be pretty shocking if the Hawks actually blew it up to this degree during a season in which a run to the Eastern Conference Finals is exceedingly possible. However, another second or third round exit from the playoffs could be a sign to this ownership group (one that did not experience the previous iteration led by Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, mind you) that full-scale change is needed. There are already rumblings throughout the league that Horford is as good as gone, depending on who you believe, and no shortage of offers exist that would send Jeff Teague packing in short order in favor of the younger, cheaper option in Schröder.

Regardless, the next few months, or even weeks, could be crucial to the overall organizational direction for the Atlanta Hawks. In the end, the central question remains whether this is a franchise that is perfectly content with making a bit of money, reaching the playoffs nearly every season and providing an entertaining product to a city that hasn't fully embraced the team for an extended period of time since Dominique Wilkins roamed the court. If they are not that franchise and winning an NBA championship is the primary focus, it would be incredibly wise to take a step back and evaluate the future of a team that could need a full-blown rebuild to make that happen.