The Jeff Teague era appears to be over for the Atlanta Hawks.
Teague is reportedly on his way to the Indiana Pacers as part of a three-team deal that will send fellow point guard George Hill to the Utah Jazz and the number 12 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft to the Hawks. On the surface, this may be a perplexing deal for the Hawks in that they are shifting a proven asset for the uncertainty of a late-lottery first round pick, but this move goes far deeper than that.
Atlanta entered this off-season with a (very) obvious choice to make at the point guard position, and the team made it with swiftness. Dennis Schröder isn’t quite the player that Teague is at this very moment, but the German point guard is more than five years younger than his predecessor. Beyond that, both point guards will see their current contract expire at the end of the 2016-2017 season, and while Teague is unrestricted at that time, the Hawks will hold the restricted (i.e. matching) rights to Schröder.
That made this particular summer crucial in the decision-making of Atlanta’s front office, as extracting value via trade for one of the two guards was the clearest option. In short, this move signals the choice of Schröder over Teague, and even if that means a slight downgrade in 2016-2017 at point guard, this is a transaction based largely on the future.
So... about the number 12 pick.
While the loss of Jeff Teague will certainly be lamented by some fans of the Atlanta Hawks, the return is now more important than anything else. It would be quite easy to lament moving on from a (very) proven point guard in search of the upside that a first-round pick can bring, but the aforementioned contract situation matters a great deal in this instance.
To put it plainly, Jeff Teague did not bring that much trade value to the table.
Yes, Teague is a solidly above-average point guard in the NBA, but he is set to hit free agency at the age of 29 next summer, and that is troublesome. Much of his game is built on quickness and that will certainly begin to erode, with the additional issue of Teague commanding a lengthy deal at a gaudy salary cap figure.
The 2016 NBA Draft is not terribly exciting at the top outside of the top two selections (Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram), but there is talent to be had. Characterizing this class as deep would be accurate, and even if it isn’t chalked full of stars, there is solid value to be extracted with the number 12 pick.
Without the benefit of knowing which 11 players will be off the board at the time Atlanta picks on Thursday evening, there are some wildly intriguing names in this range. Domantas Sabonis (who we chronicled here) would now be a very reasonable target instead of a pipe dream, while the Hawks could also eye Deyonta Davis, Skal Labissiere, Henry Ellenson or even Marquese Chriss in the frontcourt. The backcourt options (Wade Baldwin, Dejounte Murray) are less appealing, but Atlanta does hold the number 21 overall selection, and free agency would provide another avenue by which to pursue a backup point guard.
The Salary Cap
Though this might be a secondary motivation for making this trade, the Atlanta Hawks also open up some additional salary cap space. Quick calculations suggest that Atlanta saves about $6 million by trading Teague’s salary in exchange for the rookie slot of approximately $2 million at number 12, and this money could be put to good use.
While it does not mean that Kent Bazemore specifically will be retained (and the same goes for Al Horford), the Hawks should be able to quickly clear "max" level space if they so desire. That is a nice luxury.
The (Quick) Verdict
Jeff Teague was an extremely valuable contributor for the Atlanta Hawks over a seven-year period, and he greatly outperformed his original draft slot. Still, the Hawks are making the wise financial (and cap-driven) move to "sell" on Teague before paying him what would almost certainly be an ugly contract that begins at age 29, and with Dennis Schröder waiting in the wings, the move makes all the sense in the world.
It remains to be seen if Atlanta’s front office will be able to press the right buttons in the 2016 NBA Draft (especially in the aftermath of the Tim Hardaway Jr. trade a year ago), but the team now has two chances to make waves in the first round and the Hawks could also explore an ambitious package to move in search of a particular asset.
Trades like this one cannot be fully graded until much later, but in terms of asset valuation, this looks like something approaching a slam dunk for the Atlanta Hawks.