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With deadline over, Hawks’ focus turns to remainder of season

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The Atlanta Hawks appear to have a cloudy future but for now, they are focused clearly on the present.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Going into Thursday’s trade deadline there were essentially two lines of thinking for fans of the Atlanta Hawks. One group would have liked to have seen them sell off expiring contracts and focus their direction on building a team that could contend in the future. The other side was looking for them to upgrade the current team in hopes that they could catch a break somewhere and have a successful playoff run.

The results from Thursday aren’t likely to excite either side.

The Hawks did pull off one savvy trade prior to the deadline netting forward Ersan Ilyasova from the Philadelphia 76ers for a second round pick and Tiago Splitter’s expiring contract. Atlanta has been struggling to find consistent production from the backup power forward spot all season long and Ilyasova looks like a good fit. Plus he is a career 36 percent shooter from three-point range and everyone knows that Atlanta is a team that needs shooting.

Atlanta added to the intrigue when they opened up another roster spot by sending Mike Scott to the Phoenix Suns in what amounted to a straight salary dump. That move seemed to signal that the Hawks would be an active participant in the buyout market. However, before that could gain any real traction, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the team would fill those final two roster spots with Ryan Kelly and Lamar Patterson for the rest of the regular season.

Kelly began the season with the Hawks before being waived in January. At this point, he appears to be insurance for Ilyasova although he saw very limited action during his first stint with the team. Patterson spent a pair of 10-day contracts with the Hawks and maybe resembles a third point guard if you squint hard enough.

None of those moves are terribly inspiring and it is doubtful that they move the needle at all. It is just the latest instance of the Hawks walking the tightrope between win now and retool for the future. That is a fence that isn’t meant to be straddled but that is a discussion to have later because like it or not, this is the team we now have.

Which brings me to this.

This hasn’t been a fun team to follow this season. They currently sit at eight games over .500 despite a negative point differential. For every hot streak there has been a cold streak. For every big win, there has been a disappointing loss. It has been hard for some to find joy in their record when everything suggests that they aren’t really this good. Perhaps there would be some confidence in that record if their future didn’t appear to be quite so cloudy.

But that is the underlying story that we haven’t covered enough in this space. We have talked at length about Paul Millsap and the emergence of Tim Hardaway Jr. But when a team outperforms its record to this degree, it is the coaching staff that deserves a lot of credit.

Atlanta has 26 games remaining in the regular season. They are currently in fifth place in the Eastern Conference and just a half game behind the Toronto Raptors for fourth. They are 16-13 on the road and 16-11 at home to this point so I can’t really tell you if home court advantage in the first round means a whole lot to the final outcome.

The schedule stiffens significantly in March and the storyline for the remainder of the season is whether or not Budenholzer can continue to get this team to overachieve. He’s shown a lot of confidence in this group of players and they owe him because it isn’t often you see a franchise reverse course suddenly after starting to tear it down.

So no matter what side you are on, this is where we are at. They aren’t ready to rebuild yet and now it is up to them to go out and prove that it is the correct decision. We will be here to cover it every step of the way.