Atlanta is in a precarious position six weeks before the trade deadline. Kyle Korver now dons a Cleveland Cavalier uniform. Rumors swirl of Paul Millsap being traded. Meanwhile, the Hawks sit at fourth in the Eastern Conference on a six-game winning streak.
Most teams and fan bases would expect to be “buyers” instead of “sellers” in Atlanta’s situation, but that would be unwise. This Hawks squad stands only two games above of eighth and ninth place in the loss column. With Cleveland, Toronto, and Boston as clearly superior teams, Atlanta finds itself stuck in familiar territory: being good, not great again.
Now that the first domino has fallen, head coach Mike Budenholzer and general manager Wes Wilcox have a multitude of options before the February 23rd trade deadline.
Any team would like to trade for Paul Millsap. However, teams are not going to give up equivalent value for a five-month rental. Regardless, Millsap’s “expiring” deal could fetch a nice haul in return.
ESPN’s Marc Stein reported the Hawks want a least one quality first round pick for Millsap. No one knows what the Hawks consider “quality”, but most likely, it means in, or close to, the lottery. Few lottery teams will gamble their draft capital on an All-Star rental, so the Hawks can expect a package of low first round picks and young players.
There are a few teams rumored with Millsap so far. Both Toronto and Denver had trade talks involving Millsap over the off-season. Toronto has a hole at power forward, and the Raptors possess two first rounders (their own and the Clipper’s pick) for the 2017 draft. Denver has a glut of young talent and cannot find enough minutes for Kenneth Faried, Jusuf Nurkic, or Wilson Chandler. Sacramento and New Orleans have supposed interest in Millsap, but the Hawks do not view those teams as attractive trade partners.
In theory, Millsap and a team (Boston?) could agree that he would opt-in for the final year of his contract as part of a trade. The Hawks would receive the most compensation in this scenario, but it does not make financial sense on Millsap’s end.
Find Value for Expirings
In addition to Millsap, Thabo Sefolosha, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Mike Muscala have contracts ending after the season. This approach assumes that Atlanta has little interest in resigning its impeding free agents. Thus, receiving any kind of compensation becomes the priority.
According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Hawks do not want to resign Hardaway Jr. and are looking to net a couple of second round draft picks in exchange for his services. Sefolosha and Muscala could be worth just as much. Already with five first round picks in the next three drafts, adding more draft capital to Atlanta’s arsenal would increase flexibility to build the roster or trade for players.
The Hawks could do nothing and simply see how their squad stacks up against the rest of the East. Most would agree that this route is shortsighted, yielding a low playoff seed and early exit. Furthermore, Atlanta would still have to address whether to resign its free agents.
The Nuclear Option
An unlikely scenario would be taking the Sam Hinkie approach of tanking. Such a situation would keep only young talent (Dennis Schröder, Taurean Prince, DeAndre Bembry) while gutting the team of its veterans for assets and cheap contracts. Trading away most of the roster in Howard, Bazemore, Sefolosha, Hardaway, and Muscala for a full-scale rebuild would not be the best option.
Never mind the difficulties of finding teams to absorb Howard’s and Bazemore’s pricey contracts, ticket sales would plummet as the team trots out Dennis and his motley crew of veteran-minimum players. The Hawks organization, particularly its marketing department, are too wary of losing its fan base to tear down the Hawks entirely.
Instead of assuming the Hawks want to acquire assets and rebuild, maybe we should take Bud’s words at face value. Anything is possible and assumptions should not be made. So, what if Bud and Wilcox attempt to acquire a franchise player? Considering Millsap, Hardaway, and Sefolosha may not be in Atlanta next season, giving up assets for a player seems incredibly unlikely, but let’s have some fun anyway.
Although you cannot trade draft picks from back-to-back years, the Hawks could offer their ‘17 first rounder and two ‘19 first rounders. Would three firsts and a package of players be enough to acquire a star like Jimmy Butler? Probably not, but the Bulls are listening to offers according to Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucer. He is a true franchise player who can change the Hawks’ playoff hopes or be built around for the future.
If Atlanta wants to mortgage some of its future, Jimmy Butler is the kind of player worth acquiring. A versatile scoring wing in his prime, Butler fits the Hawks’ blue collar culture and has an affordable contract, 4 years and $68 million left, lasting until 2020.
Whichever avenue Atlanta decides to take, trading Korver proves the Hawks can and will make significant changes to their roster. The next six weeks will be very interesting. Strap in, Hawks fans.