Prior to the 2016-2017 NBA season, the good people of ESPN judged the Atlanta Hawks harshly when it came to the future. That judgment was put forth in a No. 23 overall power ranking (down from No. 15) for the future and, on Thursday, the 2017-2018 edition came to light with yet another precipitous drop.
Kevin Pelton and Bobby Marks of ESPN Insider put together this year’s crop and the Hawks came in at No. 28 overall, ahead of only the Sacramento Kings and Chicago Bulls.
Stuck in the middle is an unwelcome place in the NBA today.
In Atlanta, the past two seasons showed a team focused on the now and not the long-term picture. Case in point: Atlanta declined to move All-Stars Al Horford and Paul Millsap at the past two trade deadlines only to lose them in free agency five months later.
Now with the hiring of former Warriors assistant GM Travis Schlenk, there is a clear direction, even if the Hawks dropped six spots in the rankings from last year.
It should be noted that Atlanta ranked quite favorably in two of the five categories (money/salary cap and future draft capital) but the Hawks ranked ahead of only the Bulls when it came to current players on the roster. None of this is overly surprising given the way that both projection systems and pundits have treated Mike Budenholzer’s team in advance of the season but, nonetheless, it is a bit jarring to see the team buried this deeply given some of the optimism about the long-term future.
Alas, there was the bright side and it came in the form of a “clear path to rebuilding” for the franchise.
The good news for the Hawks is that there is a clear path to rebuilding. The Hawks rank in the top five in both money and the draft. Atlanta could have five first-round picks in the next two years. The Hawks are projected to finish in the lottery and also have the Timberwolves' (protected 1-14) and Rockets' (top-3 protected) picks next June.
Atlanta could have $35-40 million in cap space to spend or roll it over to the summer of 2019, when they have the Cavaliers' first (top-10 protected) and their own first in the draft.
Frankly, this ranking seems a bit aggressive in its bearishness but, then again, it probably isn’t out of ordinary for the national landscape right now. Make no mistake, rebuilding is both risky and difficult but the Travis Schlenk era appears to be off to a strong start and Hawks fans definitely won’t like this kind of evaluation given that the analysis in question stretches well beyond the expected struggles of 2017-2018.