On Independence Day, the biggest news from the NBA was that Gordon Hayward had decided to sign a lucrative contract with the Boston Celtics. This move immediately shattered years of building by the Utah Jazz, and provided Celtics fans with a nice bit of compensation after they had watched other teams pull off blockbuster trades. Like nearly every big move in the NBA though, it came at a cost. Boston renounced Kelly Olynyk (making him a free agent), and began to look for trade targets for Jae Crowder.
This is important for Atlanta because the Hawks have been tied to both Crowder and Olynyk already. This, in itself, is intriguing news, since both players are relatively young and talented. In short, they would be perfect pieces for a roster trying to re-tool itself for the 2017-18 season. Utah’s loss, and Boston’s gain, could mean good things for Atlanta. This news, coupled with the Hawks’ involvement in a three-team deal that brought back players and draft picks, is a key part of what could end up being a nice offseason for this team. In many ways, the rebuild has already started.
It’s interesting to look at a timeline of Atlanta’s roster management over the year and a half. The Hawks chose not to trade anyone at the 2016 deadline, and lost Al Horford in free agency. Atlanta then seemed to struggle with the idea of “blowing it up” for almost half a season after that, dealing with the same question in Paul Millsap’s expiring contract. Nearly everyone (myself included) thought that the Kyle Korver trade signaled that other players would be on the move soon as well. But as we all know by now, the team didn’t ultimately follow through.
Considered as a whole, it’s hard not to see the Hawks’ player choices over the last 18 months as somewhat disorganized. The choice not to trade Millsap at the deadline was a bad one in hindsight, and the Dwight Howard trade signals that the franchise feels the same way about replacing Horford with the former Orlando Magic star. But now, after hiring Travis Schlenk, the Hawks look to be on a clear path to a rebuild.
At this point in free agency, Atlanta is actually in a much better position than it may look like. The wild spending from 2016 and the slight drop in the salary cap projections has left teams with a comparatively small amount of money to spend. This is unfortunate for many players — individuals who may have expected a payday now find themselves in a market that is much more team-friendly than it was a year ago. And this is good news for the Hawks, who have cap space, and who have been patiently waiting for the big moves to fall.
Atlanta can chase players like Olynyk and Crowder, and these would be smart moves. Or, the team could continue to pursue deals that bring somewhat-expensive players into their cap space with draft picks attached as compensation. Either strategy is valid, and it will be interesting to see what Travis Schlenk decides to do. Hayward’s decision tied up several teams who were waiting on him. Now that he is off the books, there’s more space around the league for teams to deal. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Hawks have to do anything now, but the time is certainly more ripe than it was 24 hours ago.
One thing is clear, though: Atlanta’s rebuild has already started. The Hawks are actually a young team right now. That’s not unique in the NBA, but Atlanta is looking at a roster with every core player under 30 for the first time in a while. I won’t pretend to know what moves are coming next. By the time this post is live, Schlenk may have acquired Crowder or Olynyk, or begun talks on another trade to bring in a pick. There’s a clear direction to the moves he has made so far, though. The Hawks’ future is starting to look a little brighter.