The Atlanta Hawks have two big men under contract right now. Yes, you are reading that correctly. Miles Plumlee and rookie John Collins are the only players that are currently employed by the Hawks in the frontcourt after the Ryan Kelly trade and that sets the table for what will be an interesting free agent period.
It is fair to believe that the Hawks could look to rebuild but, even if they do, someone has to play big minutes up front. Of course, there is one massive domino that will influence everything on the roster (including on the perimeter) and that is where we begin today’s breakdown of the available big men on the free agent market.
The Big Decision
- Paul Millsap - Millsap is already generating a ton of attention from other teams and that makes sense. He is one of the top 20 players in the world at this moment and, even with the downside that is almost assuredly coming with this contract, there is value in a premium player. Travis Schlenk has already sent signals that Atlanta may not pay top-dollar for Millsap, indicating that the Hawks may be outbid despite full Bird Rights. What is the breaking point? We don’t know at this point but, if Millsap wants to maximize his earnings after being underpaid for the entirety of his tenure in Atlanta, it will probably happen elsewhere. If he stays, the Hawks likely shift into a different mode that includes a focus on being playoff-bound in 2017-2018. If he leaves, the rebuild might be on in full force.
The Other Big Decision
Mike Muscala - Obviously, Mike Muscala isn’t the type of impact player that Millsap is, but his free agency is interesting. The Hawks actually gave up the opportunity 12 months ago to make Muscala a restricted free agent and, by doing so, will have to pay handsomely to keep him around. Muscala is a Hawks “lifer” at this point, having been drafted by the team, but it is thoroughly conceivable that he could earn upward of $8 million per season on the open market. Still, he would be the best center on the Hawks roster at this moment and is undeniably a good fit with what Mike Budenholzer has wanted in the past.
The Star Swing
Blake Griffin - This isn’t going to happen but it’s a popular notion for Hawks fans. If Millsap leaves, the Hawks would have to shed additional salary to create the room needed for Griffin. Beyond that, he has very little incentive to come to Atlanta given the way the roster sets up at the present and will have his choice of four-year max offers. Also, there is the sticking point of whether Griffin is even worth such an offer given the injury uncertainty that he brings. Alas, it would be fun and Tony Ressler would profit immensely from ticket sales and buzz.... at least for a while.
High-Priced Veteran Starters
Serge Ibaka - Much like the Griffin notion, Ibaka doesn’t make a ton of sense in that he would be a Millsap “replacement” but the Hawks would need to shuffle the decks. Also, Ibaka isn’t as good as Millsap and is more of a pure center at this point. Throw in the fact that all signs point to a return to Toronto and here we are.
Taj Gibson - There is at least a chance that the market does not treat Gibson well at the age of 32. If that happens and value could be found, Gibson would be an interesting stop-gap center. It is exceedingly unlikely, though, and he makes a lot more sense next to Paul Millsap on a competitive team than in place of him on a rebuilding team.
The Restricted Crop
Nerlens Noel - I absolutely love this possibility. Noel doesn’t turn 24 years old until April and this contract will likely lock him up for the majority of his prime. As this section dictates, he is restricted and that makes things more difficult. At the very least, though, it would be fun for the Hawks to make the Mavericks sweat with a very lucrative offer. He is a long-term starter at the center position that fits on a rebuild timeline and projects as an impact defender. Sign me up.
JaMychal Green - Green timed his breakout quite well, as he posted a 60 percent true shooting last year in Memphis before hitting the market. He’s already 27 and is a pure power forward but Green is a nice player right now. The fit isn’t ideal considering his best days are in the present (or potentially behind him) and that matters.
Kelly Olynyk - Olynyk is a divisive player but he has offensive value as a career 37 percent three-point shooter. He’s only 26 and should be available if the Celtics execute their top-tier plans. Probably not an ideal fit in Atlanta given that he’s a pure role player and cost flexibility matters heavily.
Alex Len - Len has been a disappointment as the No. 5 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft but he just turned 24 and had the best season of his career in 2016-2017. His market will be quite interesting but, given the age, it wouldn’t be the worst idea for the Hawks to take a shot at him if the price is right. There is at least a chance he could be a solid-ish starter moving forward.
Nikola Mirotic - Defense is an issue but the Hawks could use some shooting and offense in the frontcourt. The problem, as always, has been that Mirotic is a shooter that doesn’t make shots. He converted 39 percent of his threes in 2015-2016 but, in his other two seasons, Mirotic’s shooting has been an issue and that doesn’t work when it represents his primary on-court value.
Mason Plumlee - A very Plumlee reunion? Mason is younger and better than Miles, though he is 27 years old already. On one hand, he is intriguing as a passer and defensive player but the younger Plumlee has finishing issues around the rim and might get expensive.
Cristiano Felicio - The Bulls would be insane to let Felicio get away for anything approaching a reasonable contract. He’s 24, a good athlete and has potential as a floor-spacer to some degree. Would be a fun Hawks target if and when there is any indication Chicago isn’t ready to match.
Alan Williams - I’m in on Alan Williams. He’s not a long-term starter because of issues protecting the rim and with a lack of athleticism. I get that. What he is, though, is immensely productive, a great rebounder and somebody who knows what he’s doing. Also, Alan Williams is 24 years old and on the timeline. Yes, please.
Rotational Vets That Won’t Be Cheap
Patrick Patterson - Patterson is a very valuable role player that is still young enough (28) to make a difference for a few years. He should be in high demand as someone who can defend and provide reasonable offense as a floor-spacer. That drives his cost up but, for the right price, it makes sense.
Zach Randolph - It is hard to imagine Randolph leaving Memphis but the Grizzlies continue to invest in players at the same position. Randolph also turns 36 (!) years old in July and is at the tail end of his career. Make no mistake, he is still a very good offensive player that rebounds well and scores efficiently. At some point, though, the drop-off is coming.
Dewayne Dedmon - At 27, this is Dedmon’s opportunity to cash in. He was pretty good in San Antonio and opted out of a $3 million player option for the upcoming season. The 7-footer should get (a lot) more than that as an athletic rim protector that provides value as a roll man offensively.
Ersan Ilyasova - We broke down Ilyasova’s performance in Atlanta earlier in the offseason and he was a very useful piece. He’s also 30 years old, isn’t a tremendous defender and isn’t a long-term starter. It will be very interesting to see how much he commands and it should be noted Atlanta’s cap hold for Ilyasova is an eight-figure number.
Nene - It isn’t great when soon-to-be 35-year-old centers suffer major injuries but that happened with Nene in the playoffs. If healthy, he’ll be a very useful backup center for someone and, frankly, he played at a starter-level last season in limited minutes for the Rockets. It might be worth a flyer if the market cools.
Zaza Pachulia - Chris Vivlamore of the AJC floated the potential of a Pachulia reunion and it makes sense in some ways. Travis Schlenk was in Oakland when the Warriors signed Pachulia. He might come cheap to a situation where he is familiar. Also, Pachulia is still a tremendous rebounder and a player that teammates swear by in the locker room. There are flaws, though, and he isn’t as likely to come to a situation that looks to be a rebuild if Millsap signs elsewhere.
Andrew Bogut - Bogut can always provide defense and passing when he’s on the floor. Injuries, age and other weaknesses make him less appealing. Again, more of an option if Millsap stays.
Amir Johnson - I’m on the “Amir Johnson is useful” bandwagon and, for whatever reason, the rest of the league doesn’t seem to agree in terms of contract investment. If he’s paid like a backup, it makes sense for just about anyone.
Mo Speights - Speights can really shoot for a big man, as evidenced by a 37 percent clip on real volume last season. Unfortunately, that is his biggest value by a wide margin and he’ll be 30 this summer.
Jonas Jerebko - Jerebko is a certified Hawks killer, which is always fun. He’s not a center but Jerebko is a good athlete that can switch defensively with reasonable success and shoot from the perimeter. Might be a nice fit on a low-cost deal, even with his age (30) not being ideal.
JaVale McGee - I can’t believe McGee is on this list but he was certainly interesting with the Warriors. The jury is out as to whether that will translate outside of the Bay Area.
Tyler Zeller - Zeller is non-guaranteed for $8 million but, with the Celtics trying to use cap space, he’s probably available. Defensively, there is nothing to be excited about but Zeller is actually a reasonable athlete that can help on the offensive end. He’s certainly a backup and wouldn’t be ideal to pair with Plumlee, though.
Tarik Black - Black is non-guaranteed for $6.6 million and the Lakers might just keep him. If not, he’s young enough at 25 to be useful for a while and Black knows what he can and cannot do. There is value in that as a backup center.
Willie Reed - If he’s cheap, Reed would be a nice fit. He’s not an uber-athlete but Reed rebounds well and can be a reasonable defender.
Joffrey Lauvergne - A skilled offensive player that has massive defensive flaws. At 25, he probably is what he is but could be an interesting backup given that Mike Budenholzer has excelled in coaxing more out of players on the defensive end.
James Michael McAdoo - He’s still young at 24 and never got a full opportunity in Golden State. On the flip side, there is probably a reason for that. McAdoo is athletic and switchable defensively but he isn’t a rebounder and his offensive skill set is up for debate.