Not long after the Atlanta Hawks were swept out of the 2016 playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers, head coach and president of basketball operations Mike Budenholzer stressed the importance of roster continuity in an exit interview. While he acknowledged the frustration of being swept by the same opponent two years in a row, Budenholzer argued that keeping a strong team intact would be a better plan for the future than any dramatic roster moves. Two months later, though, the conclusion of the free agency period finds the Hawks with different starters at center and point guard, and without two veterans the team leaned heavily on last season.
The Hawks' offseason moves show that Budenholzer is modifying — thought not abandoning — his approach to roster continuity. This new approach brings a degree of uncertainty to a fairly consistent team, and much of the effectiveness of Budenholzer's offseason decisions remains to be seen.
Teams across the NBA often face the dilemma of how to approach a roster after playoff defeat. This situation is often filled with uncertainty, as dramatically changing a playoff team is an inherently risky move, even if it does come with the chance of increased success. In contrast, keeping a roster intact is normally a relatively safe move, even if it means that teams may struggle to improve upon past results.
This is more or less the situation that the Atlanta Hawks have been in for the last two offseasons, and until this point the team's leadership has consistently fallen on the side of roster continuity. Armed with a veteran roster full of skilled players, the Hawks have been able to achieve consistent playoff success, even if the team has fallen short against Cleveland. This is the rationale behind the team's decision to keep the starting roster as stable as possible through last offseason and at the 2016 trade deadline, as Budenholzer felt that retaining key players brought the highest chance for success.
There are many strengths to this approach. One obvious benefit is team chemistry (something the Hawks have recently excelled at), as veteran players who are comfortable with one another are likely to play well together. In addition, it allows coaches to more fully develop a style of play, as extended time with one team helps athletes to become more and more immersed in a particular brand of basketball.
All of these attributes have applied to the Hawks for the last few seasons, but this offseason the team moved on from veteran point guard Jeff Teague and and signed center Dwight Howard, two moves that significantly altered Atlanta's starting five. Coupled with Al Horford's departure for Boston, this summer has left Atlanta with a much different team than it had in May. Trading Jeff Teague was not a shocking move, as it has become increasingly clear that the Hawks needed to choose between Teague and Dennis Schröder for the future, but the team's pursuit of Howard and reluctance to offer Horford a max contract seemed uncharacteristic for an organization that valued roster stability as much as the Hawks.
These moves suggest that Budenholzer is altering his approach to roster-building. Moving Teague allowed the Hawks to promote Schröder and resign Kent Bazemore, while signing Howard allowed the team to address last season's rebounding problems. While signing Howard didn't rule out a Horford return, the team's pursuit of the former Houston center showed that Budenholzer and his associates were ready to pursue new directions for the Hawks. The team has always valued Teague and Horford, but recent postseason defeats and Schröder's development were enough to spur significant change.
The Hawks' recent roster moves show that while the team still values stability (evidenced by Schröder's promotion and Bazemore's resigning), it is also willing to make fairly significant changes. It is difficult to predict how this team will fare in the 2016-17 season, but it seems safe to say that inserting Schröder and Howard into the starting lineup brings an element of unpredictability. This is somewhat inevitable with any roster change, though, and only time will tell how the Hawks will adapt to these shifts.