This week was light on games for the Hawks, since a road matchup at Brooklyn and Friday’s home game against Boston were the only events. However, rumors and news continued to surround the team. Atlanta’s seven-game win streak came to an end against Al Horford and the Celtics, and more news about Paul Millsap’s trade status surfaced.
If the overall effect of last week’s events was uncertainty regarding the Hawks’ future, this week things are beginning to look a little more clear. Atlanta is starting to look more and more solidified as a mid-tier Eastern Conference playoff team, a status that both trade rumors and recent game outcomes confirm.
While Al Horford’s first game in Atlanta as a Celtic was significant enough to land the Hawks a game on ESPN, the biggest story from last week was a report that the team had pulled Paul Millsap off of the trade market. This news seemed like a dramatic turnaround from the Kyle Korver trade, almost giving the appearance of indecisiveness from the front office (and/or ownership). Korver’s trade initially looked like a move with the future in mind, while keeping Millsap is unquestionably aimed at present success.
There’s still plenty of time left before the trade deadline, but (for now at least) it looks like the Hawks are devoting everything to winning this season. Doing so makes the Korver trade look somewhat directionless, especially since the team lacks any elite shooters now, but the Hawks should still have enough to make the playoffs in the East. Atlanta sits in fourth place in the conference as of this writing, but could fall down a few spots once the schedule gets more difficult again.
Perhaps Friday night’s game against the Boston Celtics is the best indicator of the Hawks’ playoff chances. Amidst Al Horford’s return to Atlanta, the Hawks lost what eventually became a close game to the Celtics, coming back from large deficits multiple times. This game was encouraging when seen as a whole — coming back from so far down isn’t easy to do against any team — but the Hawks would still be clear underdogs against the Raptors or Celtics (who played without Avery Bradley last night) in a seven-game series.
For the time being, the Hawks see themselves as a playoff team, and they should easily reach that mark as long as the roster stays intact. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dennis Schröder (last night notwithstanding) have put together good seasons so far and Atlanta has the second-best defense in the league over the past seven games (per NBA Stats). Even if this team’s ceiling is mid-level playoff team, there are reasons to believe they won’t reach that mark.
The schedule gets much more difficult — and packed — this week. After a home game against Milwaukee today, the Hawks will play away games against the Knicks on Monday and the Pistons on Wednesday, and then return home for the Bulls on Friday and the 76ers on Saturday. None of these teams are elite competition, but the Bucks are right behind the Hawks in the standings and the rest of these are games the Hawks should hope to win.
The overall course of this season is still far from being decided, and it’s possible that trade rumors could pop up at any moment. For now though, both recent games and recent rumors place the Hawks solidly in the middle of the East playoff hunt. The next few weeks should help show a better picture of where exactly they might fall.