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The Three Paths Facing the Atlanta Hawks

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Because the Hawks have many contracts set to expire in 2017, the team has many options for future roster construction.

When the Hawks signed Kent Bazemore and Dwight Howard to multi-year deals this offseason, the team made its playoff aspirations and “win-now” mentality clear. This mindset also influenced the signings of Jarrett Jack and Kris Humphries, two veterans whose value lies much more in the present than the future. However, a quick glance at the contracts on Atlanta’s books right now reveals that — outside of Bazemore and Howard — almost every rotation player on this team will be a free agent (of some sort) next summer.

Humphries and Jack were signed to one-year deals, but several other players (such as Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Tiago Splitter, Mike Scott, and Thabo Sefolosha) are all on multi-year contracts that end in 2017. To further add to this flexibility, the Hawks also have the option to end several contracts early, which applies to Tim Hardaway Jr., and even Dennis Schröder who will be a restricted free agent next summer. Because of these numerous expiring contracts, the Atlanta Hawks have an enormous amount of flexibility, leading to three potential paths the team could pursue next summer.

Option 1: Total Rebuild Path

The idea of rebuilding may seem repulsive for a team that won 60 games two years ago (and is unlikely given the Howard and Bazemore contracts), but the Hawks are extremely well-positioned to follow this path should they choose to do so. This scenario, if it ever becomes a reality, would most likely start at the trade deadline by Atlanta trading Paul Millsap for draft picks or young talent. It’s worth noting that the team would most likely need to be playing poorly for a Millsap trade to happen, since it is difficult to see the Hawks’ leadership choosing to break up a well-positioned playoff team.

After potentially trading Millsap, the Hawks could choose to let veterans like Korver and Sefolosha go next summer, and choose to rebuild through young talent and the draft. The biggest potential sticking point in this scenario would be the multi-year deals Atlanta signed this summer, and the Hawks could struggle to move Bazemore and Howard if the team is playing poorly. However, if these are the only two contracts that the Hawks would be stuck with in the case of a rebuild, it’s easy to envision Mike Budenholzer finding some sort of solution.

Option 2: Stay-in-Contention Path

At this point in the year, it seems more likely that Atlanta would choose to try to stay competitive rather than fully rebuild the team. This model involves either resigning or extending Schröder (a possibility even if the team chooses to rebuild) and attempting to keep Millsap as well. After these moves, the Hawks could either move to retain players like Korver and Sefolosha, or choose to replace them with other veteran role players.

The biggest problem with this path is that Millsap will be a hot commodity next offseason. After Blake Griffin, Millsap could easily be the most pursued forward on the market, and it seems likely that there will be multiple teams who will offer him a lengthy contract. Whether or not Atlanta is willing to offer Paul Millsap a long-term deal in 2017 is unclear, but negotiations in this area could easily determine whether or not the Hawks will have the same roster in 2017-18.

Option 3: Some Combination of the Above

This scenario is the hardest to predict, since it involves any combination of moves aimed at both staying competitive in the short-term and simultaneously planning for the team’s future. This is, in part, the strategy that the Hawks followed this summer by trading Jeff Teague for a draft pick, and it seems likely that Budenholzer will pursue similar moves in the future if possible.

If the Hawks choose this “combination path” in roughly a year, they will have several open roster spots for young talent, an amount of flexibility that should allow the team to pursue the players it wants. Whether this comes from signing young international players (like Malcolm Delaney this summer), or trading more veterans for draft picks, Budenholzer will have an almost limitless amount of roster flexibility to utilize in 2017.

Here, again, Millsap’s expiring contract presents an issue, one that this site has addressed before. In short, Millsap is the most important player on this team right now, but signing him to a long-term deal could severely limit Atlanta’s prospects in the future. If the Hawks want to remain competitive in the short-term future, they will need to find an answer to this incredibly difficult question.

Conclusion

Overall, it seems most likely that the Hawks will try to remain competitive both now and in the future rather than committing all the team’s resources toward either goal. It’s difficult to say what exactly that will look like from a roster perspective at the moment, but how well Atlanta plays this season should shed considerable light onto the team’s future in 2017. While the Hawks will be interesting to watch this season in any case, this level of future flexibility makes this season’s success or failure even more important.