The dust has settled a bit, the projection systems are beginning to weigh in and we (kind of) know what the Atlanta Hawks will look like for 2017-2018. New general manager Travis Schlenk came in and executed an on-the-fly rebuild, sending Dwight Howard to Charlotte, letting Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. (with help from the Knicks) go in free agency and signing short-term, reasonable contracts.
What’s left for Atlanta remains up for debate, as the Hawks are largely void of high-end talent but the roster does boast considerable depth and a top-flight coach in Mike Budenholzer. The “rebuild” word hasn’t always sat well with Schlenk and, frankly, he has avoided it at all costs. Still, the front office head recently spoke with Shaun Powell of NBA.com in Las Vegas and, without using the “R”-word, he addressed the roster direction.
“We want to continue the success we’ve had, but realize we might have to take a step back. We just don’t want to dip down 2-3 years in a row. We realize that young players in this league take their lumps but we don’t want to send the message that we’re (fine) with losing.”
Given the way that the Hawks addressed Paul Millsap’s contract situation (and many other things), it would be silly to suggest that Atlanta wasn’t willingly taking “a step back” in the way that Schlenk indicates. Still, he has been very wary to point to any sort of long-term effort to bottom out in accumulation of draft picks and, within the same interview, Schlenk touted Atlanta’s stockpile of picks over the next two seasons.
If anything, an argument could be made that the Hawks are actually “too good” for the 2017-2018 season, with a wide swath of competent players after the addition of Dewayne Dedmon and Ersan Ilyasova to the returning group that includes Dennis Schröder, Taurean Prince, Kent Bazemore, Mike Muscala and others. Atlanta’s roster probably isn’t playoff-worthy on the surface but, in the Eastern Conference, accumulating 30-plus victories isn’t out of the question in any way and that would be enough to sneak out of the top (er, bottom?) five when it comes to NBA Draft positioning.
Regardless, there has been plenty of speculation as to how Mike Budenholzer, who has been very quiet publicly in June and July, feels about his team’s new direction with a new front office mindset. Schlenk indicated the following to Powell about his relationship with the head coach:
“Bud’s been great. Building a relationship with Bud was very important to me. Once we started talking about the roster and where we are, Bud was completely in board with the plan and is excited about the challenge to get us back up and contend for a championship in a few years.”
Given Budenholzer’s previous reign as the principle decision-maker and the apparent avoidance of a rebuilding effort (i.e. holding on to Paul Millsap, trading an asset for Ersan Ilyasova, etc.), it is reasonable to believe that there could be friction between the two parties. Still, Schlenk’s indication that Budenholzer is “completely on board” is reassuring and the former NBA Coach of the Year has a track record of coaxing quite a bit of value from less than ideal circumstances.
With Paul Millsap (and even Dwight Howard) off the roster for 2017-2018, the Hawks will boast less talent than they did a year ago and, by extension, will likely win fewer games. Atlanta’s style of play, though, could be more entertaining in a free-flowing fashion and, with more space on the floor, the development of the team’s young assets could be expedited and idealized. That doesn’t necessarily mean a ton of on-court success but Schlenk’s insistence on avoiding bad, long-term salary (with the exception of Miles Plumlee) permeates through every decision and the cap sheet is clean moving forward.
That won’t manifest as much until after the upcoming season (and beyond) but the front office does not “want to dip down 2-3 years in a row” and 2017-2018 might be the hiccup before a quick bounce-back. Stay tuned.