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Hawks can retain Al Horford, but they have work to do

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There are ways that the Atlanta Hawks can keep Al Horford, but there is a lot of work that must be done.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Well that was a wild first day of free agency. From reports, we know that Atlanta has agreed to a 3 year deal worth $70.5 million for Dwight Howard and a 4 year deal worth $70 million for Kent Bazemore. If we assume that they have their max raises, which would be 4.5% and 7.5% respectively, then we can put some parameters on their starting salaries:

  • Dwight begins at $22,488,039 and increases each year by $1,011,961 for $23,500,001 and $24,511,963. So let's use $22.5 million.
  • Kent begins at $15,730,338 and increases each year by $1,179,775 for $16,910,114 then $18,089,890 and finally a player option at $19,269,666. I'll use $15.7 million here.

We know for sure that Kent Bazemore will be signed via cap space. We can be fairly certain (90%?) that Dwight will also be signed via cap space, although I'll give a scenario where this might not occur.

In whole, Atlanta needs to clear $38.2 million in cap space and retain Al Horford's $18 million cap hold to then exceed the Salary Cap in order to sign Al Horford. How might this be accomplished? Well, I've previously detailed the Hawks cap standing after the Jeff Teague trade and direct you to that article for the contract details but I'll dive in with a few scenarios where the Hawks can keep Al Horford while clearing the requisite cap space.

As a bit of a refresher, if the Hawks renounce Hinrich, Humphries, and Bazemore (don't worry, they can still give him 7.5% raises even if they renounce) but keep Al's Bird Rights then the Hawks have $70,107,023 in committed cap holds across 13 roster spots. Working with a $94 million cap assumption, then that's about $24 million to start with. Dwight and Kent make up $38.2 million so there needs to be a way to clear roughly $14.2 million in cap space.

Scenario 1: Trade Splitter, Scott, Hardaway

I say trade Mike Scott, but he is on a non-guaranteed $3.33 million contract so waiving him is another option. But Splitter makes $8.55 million this season and Tim Hardaway Junior is at $2.28 million. Add those up and you're at $14.16 million. This would reduce Atlanta to 10 roster spots accounted for, but after signing Dwight and Kent that puts the team up to 12 roster spots. A team only incurs a roster charge if they are below 12 roster spots, so there's no charge here.

This is a scenario where it's cutting it close. Clearly I stated the team needs to clear about $14.2 million and $14.16 million is less than that. But what if I told you that the $94 million Salary Cap assumption was off by a factor of $0.4 million? Which is actually what Albert Nahmad of HeatHoops.com has been projecting. Well then, this scenario fits. Happy happy joy joy moving these three players allows the team to retain Al Horford.

Although if you're really worried about that fudge factor, waiving Lamar Patterson would be an option to free  $331,165 in cap space. His non-guaranteed contract is for $874,636, but waiving him would incur a roster charge $543,471. The savings are minimal, which I find to imply it's unlikely he's waived but it's still possible.

Clearly, a problem within this scenario is that Atlanta is now capped out with 12 players on their roster. They would then be restrained to fill out the roster with the $2.898 million Room Mid-Level Exception and minimum salaried players.

Is this ideal? I'm not sure, you can decide for yourself.

Scenario 2: Trade Splitter, Scott, and Thabo/Kyle

Suppose you're worried about that $94.4 million Salary Cap assumption not being true or is too close for comfort. Well then, if we swap out Tim Hardaway Junior for Thabo Sefolosha then the Hawks would increase their cap space by about $1.57 million. If we use Kyle instead of Thabo, then that's an additional $2.96 million in space from scenario 1. Either of these would comfortably put Atlanta in a position to re-sign Al.

This kind of scenario runs into similar problems as the first. If the Hawks clear Splitter, Scott, and Thabo then the team could sign Kent, Dwight, and then some player at around $1.5 million in cap space. Then, the team would re-sign Al and have the Room Mid-Level Exception and minimum salaried players to round out the rosters. If we use Kyle instead, then it's about a $2.9 million player with cap space.

Again, is this ideal?

Scenario 3: Trade Paul Millsap

Paul Millsap is scheduled to make about $20 million next season. If Atlanta were to trade away Paul for no salary in return, then their cap space increases from about $24 million to $44 million. Signing Dwight and Kent reduces this amount to $5.8 million, which is around the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception. So the Hawks could add players totaling $5.8 million in starting salary and then re-sign Al Horford.

If you don't think $5.8 million is enough to gain a quality free agent, then the Hawks could attempt to trade away some combination of the players I mentioned in scenarios 1 and 2 to accomplish this goal.

Does this make Atlanta a better team?

Scenario 4: Sign-And-Trade for Dwight

OK here is where things get kind of tricky and convoluted and possibly unlikely. Suppose that Atlanta wishes to not sign Dwight with cap space but instead is able to convince Houston to do a sign-and-trade of Dwight Howard with his starting salary at $22.5 million. From a trade perspective, Atlanta would need to trade away $17.5 million worth of contracts in order to acquire Dwight Howard while being over the cap. Let me take a bit of a step back.

Atlanta would initially sign Kent to his $15.7 million contract. They'd then be left with about $8.3 million in cap space to toss around to some players. The key here is that the Hawks would want to spend up to the cap. Then they could re-sign Al, although once they are up to the cap the order of signing Al versus trading for Dwight does not really matter.

The Hawks then need to convince the Houston Rockets, and likely some third team, to take on contracts from the Hawks that total at least $17.5 million. Here, one logical grouping of players with be Splitter ($8.55 million), Sefolosha ($3.85 million), Scott ($3.33 million), and Hardaway ($2.28 million) which accounts for $18.01 million. This scenario is different from the 2nd one I described because Atlanta would have more cap space to sign a free agent with, $8.3 million versus $1.5 million, although it also costs an additional player. This might not be ideal.

Another way this might work out for the team is to pare down that $8.3 million in cap space and use it to sign-and-trade away Hinrich or Humphries. If Atlanta would prefer not to trade away Sefolosha and Hardaway, then they could give Hinrich/Humphries a contract starting at about $5.62 million to meet the matching salaries requirement. This eats away at said $8.3 million cap space to $2.68 million but it does allow the team to retain Sefolosha and Hardaway. After which, the team could still use their Room Mid-Level Exception and sign veteran minimum players to fill out the roster.

This is a convoluted plan because 1) Houston needs to agree to it or 2) Houston and some other teams also agree to it. Is Houston willing to take on any of said contracts? Or would Atlanta need to find a 3rd team? Or possibly, does Atlanta need to add in cash or draft picks in order to get Houston plus any additional teams to take on these contracts?

As daunting as this may seem, it's also a subtle issue I side-stepped in discussing the first three scenarios. No matter what the Hawks would want to do, they need to find another team which is willing to engage in a trade. And this is where NBA relationships may come into play. Further, it is why it is so difficult to predict things in the NBA from the sidelines. Because we simply don't know what other teams value players at.