Peachtree Hoops was asked to participate in SB Nation’s league-wide story on NBA free agency, which asks what each of the league’s teams can do in the offseason to excite the fan base. Our own Sam Meredith answers that question for the Atlanta Hawks with an extra emphasis on being realistic.
Naturally, the talk of the league this offseason is the potential landing spots for big name free agents like LeBron James and Paul George. While the Hawks have little to no chance of signing free agents with that type of pedigree, there are still several options on the market that make sense for the rebuilding Atlanta ball club that could make fans quite happy.
The Hawks could possibly hold upwards of $23 million dollars in cap space should they choose. Atlanta could accomplish this by renouncing the cap holds of Malcolm Delaney and Damion Lee and cutting non-guaranteed contracts in Isaiah Taylor, Jaylen Morris and Antonius Cleveland from the roster.
Simply put, the Hawks are not ready for a big free agent signing right now in year two of their rebuild. So with that bit of tempering expectations out of the way, let’s take a look at the realistic possibilities for the Hawks in the free agent market.
First, lets establish the players that are tied to the roster next season, barring trades or releases. This list is headlined by three guys making 8-figure contracts next season in Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schroder, and Miles Plumlee. Then you begin to get into the lower tier of contracts that include Dewayne Dedmon and Mike Muscala, who both opted into their player options recently, along with rookie Trae Young, all of whom are above the $5 million dollar mark.
In the bottom tier are the likes of Taurean Prince, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, DeAndre’ Bembry, Omari Spellman and Tyler Dorsey who all have guaranteed contracts but are making less than $3 million next season each. As mentioned above, there are also three non-guaranteed players currently on the roster as well.
For arguments sake, lets say that those three non-guaranteed contracts are indeed cut from the team and the Hawks have three roster spots open leaving them in need of a third point guard, and two wing players.
Let’s begin at the point guard position. There are a few names out there that make really good sense for the Hawks beginning with Seth Curry. “The other Curry” has been a solid NBA player for the last two seasons in stints with Sacramento and Dallas, but missed the entire 2017-18 campaign with a leg injury. If there is one area in which Curry clearly excels, it would be his three-point shooting, which he proved in volume in 2016-17 with Dallas. Curry attempted nearly five per game over the course of 70 games and hit his three-point shots at a nearly 43 percent clip.
Curry was very good for Dallas that year and is probably deserving of a starting role on some team. The only hard part here is trying to convince Curry to join the Hawks as the third point guard option and on a reasonable salary since he will likely be looking for a contract with multiple years and bigger money.
Another option at point guard that might make more sense for the Hawks as a backup option would be former NCAA champion Shabazz Napier. Last season with the Blazers, Napier played the most minutes per game of his career at nearly 21 per night and appeared in 71 games. He too is a decent shooter from three point range at a 38 percent mark on nearly three attempts per game. Napier also understands how to pass the ball effectively and comes from Portland where the guard play is normally elite.
Napier seems to be the most solid option for the Hawks in a third point guard role as it is a role he is used to and also good at. He is a solid defender with quick feet and can do just about everything you need a third point guard to accomplish. Napier would likely seek a multi-year deal as well but at a better price than Curry might command, making this marriage very feasible for the Hawks and Napier.
Now let’s take a look at some of the wing players Atlanta could look to add. Again, these players would not need to be starting caliber and might even be a nice project player to add behind Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince and Kevin Huerter. One name that immediately jumps to mind is a former in-division rival Mario Hezonja. Hezonja was drafted with the fifth overall pick of the 2015 draft and just never was able to take the next step in Orlando, which led the Magic to decline his fourth year option. He is still young at just 23 years old and is a tools-y prospect who can be a secondary ball handler and shot a decent percentage from three last season at 34 percent on around 3.5 attempts per game.
Hezonja would likely come cheap and if the Hawks could get him on something like a three-year deal it is quite possible they could develop him into a serviceable NBA backup guard. Hawks GM Travis Schlenk has made it known in the past that he enjoys wing players that can handle the ball to take pressure off of the point guard and Hezonja is certainly good at that.
It has been repeatedly noted that Travis Schlenk desires to build a team around the blueprint that Golden State has laid out, so who better to add to the team than a former Warrior? After missing some of 2018 with a back injury Patrick McCaw is another prospect who is a “buy low” type of player. He, like Hezonja, is young at 22 years old and is still developing his shot but had a respectable rookie season from three point range at 33 percent from beyond the arc. McCaw has a good frame at 6’7 and could likely take some direction from Kent Bazemore on how to perfect his defense at that size.
The Warriors likely will attempt to re-sign McCaw since he will most likely not be that expensive and is a fan favorite in the bay. However, the Hawks would be wise to keep an eye on McCaw since he knows the system Schlenk wants to implement here in Atlanta and has Finals experience that could be great to have in a locker room full of young bucks. McCaw could be a real difference maker on the defensive end under the tutelage of Lloyd Pierce and Kent Bazemore.
Overall, there are definitely some solid options out there for the Hawks should they choose to allot themselves the three roster spots currently being held by non-guaranteed players. There is no guarantee that they won’t make a trade either to open up even another roster spot for use which is another scenario to keep in mind.
Regardless, the Hawks have the means to experiment with these buy-low, fun players that fans will surely love without breaking the bank. Even though money is not an issue with the Hawks right now the team surely is looking to keep that cap space open in case a team is willing to offload draft assets in exchange for taking on a bad contract.