The 2017 offseason has been dissected from virtually every angle at this point, yet there remains a sharp divide as to the performance of Travis Schlenk and the Atlanta Hawks. Given the defection of Paul Millsap (among others), the team has less in the way of proven talent but, with an eye on the future, there is optimism to find if you search for it.
However, Kevin Pelton of ESPN Insider handed out grades for every Eastern Conference team this week and he didn’t have terribly positive things to say about Atlanta. In fact, the Hawks were given a D+ and part of the grade was a negative evaluation of the Dwight Howard trade.
New Hawks GM Travis Schlenk made the right call in terms of letting All-Star forward Paul Millsap walk. Still, Atlanta was unable to commit to a rebuilding process and took on too much bad salary in return for center Dwight Howard. (Replacement Miles Plumlee has an additional year on his contract, albeit at less money per season.)
This isn’t the first time that the Howard trade has been used to “penalize” the Hawks in a similar fashion and, from a salary cap standpoint, the move made little sense. Still, there is the issue of having Howard in a rebuilding locker room, which isn’t quantifiable despite clearly being a factor considered by the front office.
In addition, Pelton’s evaluation did not take kindly to Atlanta’s approach of providing short-term deals to Ersan Ilyasova and Dewayne Dedmon.
Besides using cap space to take on Jamal Crawford's contract, netting a first-round pick in the process, the Hawks used most of their resources on short-term deals. Ersan Ilyasova got a one-year deal to return, and Dewayne Dedmon got a one-year deal with a player option. Unless Atlanta can trade them before the deadline, those players are unlikely to provide much value since the Hawks probably will still be one of the NBA's worst teams this season.
The addition of Dedmon and the choice to retain Ilyasova fall under the scope of maintaining flexibility that Schlenk has preached throughout the offseason. With that said, neither brings real upside for the future to the table when considering the existence of Dedmon’s player option and Mike Muscala has a similar option that could be treacherous if he takes another step forward on the floor. The trade possibilities for short-term veterans could be interesting if the players thrive under Mike Budenholzer but, until that transpires, the jury remains out on the acquisitions through the prism of a rebuilding squad.
On one hand, it is pretty easy to grade the Hawks harshly, simply because they are worse on the floor and have a brutal contract on board with Plumlee. On the flip side, Atlanta’s direction is now clearer than it was two months ago and that matters as well.
Let the debate continue.