It seemed improbable but anyone that was paying attention during Travis Schlenk’s introductory press conference should have been prepared for the possibility. The Atlanta Hawks officially shifted into rebuilding mode Monday night with the trade of Dwight Howard to the Charlotte Hornets.
The return on this trade isn’t promising. Miles Plumlee isn’t necessarily the member of the Plumlee family you would want and his contract (three years and $37.5 million remaining) brings its on set of challenges. Marco Bellinelli, on the surface, looks like he could be a Hawks type of player but doesn’t necessarily bring excess value. Even worse, Atlanta moved back 10 spots in the second round of Thursday’s draft. Yet, it was all necessary.
It was necessary because this is the result when mistakes are made in free agency and the whole Howard homecoming can’t be categorized as anything but a mistake. Atlanta committed to three years of Howard for more than $70 million yet, by the end of the season, he was reduced to the equivalent of a role player.
Howard’s counting stats look fine on the surface. He averaged 13.5 points and 12.7 rebounds while shooting 63 percent from the field. However, his presence wasn’t the seamless fit that many were touting. He improved the team’s rebounding which was a need but it came at a cost as both the offense and defense slipped.
It was so apparent that Howard was often left on the bench during crunch time as the team simply performed better with him off the floor. That wouldn’t be a problem if he were being paid like a role player but it is a major issue and one that is hard to get past when he is the highest paid player on the team.
Howard’s role was reduced even more in the playoffs and he let his displeasure with the situation be known during exit interviews with the media.
The writing was on the wall.
So why should any of this make you feel better about the Hawks future? Well, for one, they won’t have the cloud of Howard hanging over them during a rebuild and two this means they won’t be doubling down on a roster that overachieved to get to 43 wins.
Schlenk kept talking about the importance of flexibility at his introductory presser and dumping Howard is a step in that direction. It also signifies he has a plan and is free (at least for the moment) to execute it as he sees fit.
The moves that Tony Ressler has made off the court deserve praise. A new practice facility along with a new D-League franchise are paramount to a team that prides itself on player development. The on-court product has lagged behind, however, and signing Howard still feels like nothing more than a desperate attempt to put a big name in place to be marketed around.
Flexibility is key but it is also important that a franchise be willing and able to self evaluate. This past season, the Hawks appeared to be incapable of doing so. They repeatedly passed on opportunities to retool the roster and that has done nothing but make Schlenk’s job harder.
Schlenk hasn’t been on the job for long but he wasted no time in self evaluating and he quickly took the first step to get the Hawks back on the right path. Now, we wait for the next move.