The Atlanta Hawks are rebuilding. Even if the front office (and namely Travis Schlenk) seems averse to using that particular word, the team tore down the roster from a playoff-bound team a year ago (and for a decade) in favor of a long-term outlook that builds around young assets, flexibility and a number of draft picks.
While that was a strategy that a number of pundits (including myself) agree with, there is unquestionable risk to a rebuild of this magnitude and it isn’t a move without downside. To that end, Matt Dollinger of Sports Illustrated recently included the Hawks on a list of the saddest rebuilds in the league and declared that Atlanta faces “arguably the most challenging rebuild” of them all.
The Hawks face arguably the most challenging rebuild in the league. The closest thing they have to a franchise player is Dennis Schröder, a player I'm not entirely convinced they even like. They have a few draft picks coming their way, and their 2018 pick should be a top lottery selection, but it'll be years before the Hawks are a relevant playoff squad once again.
They're paying big money to the likes of Kent Bazemore and Miles Plumlee and they don't have a lot of prospects worth developing on the roster. Atlanta will have cap room, but will they be able to attract any free agents? The steadiest franchise east of San Antonio is finally bottoming out. We'll let you know when they surface.
The jury remains firmly out on Schröder as a franchise centerpiece, though his palatable contract allows for a situation in which he is an asset without catapulting into a different stratosphere of overall contribution. As for the contracts of Bazemore and Plumlee, they are perilous but, in what seems like it could be a lengthy process, neither is fully prohibitive and Bazemore is, at the very least, a contributing rotation player even if overpaid.
Because the Hawks aren’t starting with an ideal centerpiece for the future, there is more risk to this particular rebuild than some others. With that said, Atlanta’s own 2018 first round pick is a premium asset at this stage and, in Taurean Prince, the team has a rare commodity of a player that can reasonably replicate average (or even above-average) production on both ends at a premium position.
At some point, the Hawks are going to have to hit on a draft choice that becomes a star player or get (very) lucky with the timing of a free agent wanting to arrive in Atlanta or a high-end trade piece hitting the market. Still, there are a few situations around the league that appear more dire than that of the Hawks and the next 10 months could be very telling in terms of the immediate future of the franchise.