Free agency is almost upon us (players can agree to deals as soon as midnight on July 1), and while the Atlanta Hawks have enough cap space to be fairly serious players on the open market this summer, few seem to think that is how general manager Travis Schlenk will go about using the extra cash. It seems far more likely that Atlanta will attempt to use the space to acquire assets (draft picks, expiring contracts, young players) via trade by taking on unfavorable contracts from team(s) that are desperate to create space for potential signings.
To that end, here are a few scenarios that might make sense for the Hawks, acknowledging that deals that actually transpire aren’t likely to perfectly mirror what we accomplish in this space.
Miami Heat trade center Hassan Whiteside, an unprotected 2019 first-round pick, and a 2023 top-10 protected first (which rolls into a 2024 top-5 protected first or 2025 unprotected first) to Atlanta for center Dewayne Dedmon and the lesser of the Lakers’ and Minnesota’s 2019 second-rounder.
You may look at this at first glance and wonder how it’s possible that Miami would want to execute such a deal, however, many factors are at play here. Whiteside has over $50 million guaranteed on the table (over $25M this year and a player option north of $27M next summer that he’ll almost certainly pick up), and, as seen in the playoffs, the Heat (and much of the league for that matter) have grown away from the style of play needed for him to be successful. Atlanta has no reason to take on Whiteside’s contract without substantial compensation given the questions surrounding his fit in the modern game.
Also, you have to factor in that Dedmon is a solid piece at a relatively low cap hit of $7.2M and fits the modern game very well, as he is an adequate three-point threat with rim-protecting capabilities at the ever-thinning center position.
Then, there’s the reality that Pat Riley effectively hates the NBA Draft (I’m only kind of kidding). Miami has already agreed to trade their 2021 first-round pick and five of their next six second-rounders. They essentially only make a draft selection when it’s required by league rule. Riley will be looking to create as much cap space as possible to enable himself to recruit talent to South Beach for a run at another NBA title.
This gets tricky, as Whiteside is not particularly known as the type of guy that would be content on a rebuilding team, and Atlanta largely has no use for him in what will be another rebuilding year this upcoming season. However, one could argue that Whiteside has enough talent to work with and that new Atlanta head coach Lloyd Pierce might be able to salvage some of the talent that earned the center such a large contract in the first place.
With the ~$27M player option looming next summer, it’s hard to imagine Whiteside is going to be open to the idea of a buyout any time soon. Atlanta’s options would be trying to eat large amounts of his contract in another potential trade or simply just having him on the roster for at least one season and re-evaluating the options next summer. The last resort would be something similar to the Luol Deng situation with the Lakers, where the team has essentially told him to go away, while still being on the roster and receiving his checks. This situation is obviously not ideal, but this package of picks could certainly be worth the headache.
Portland Trail Blazers trade forward Evan Turner, their 2019 unprotected first and a 2021 top-10 protected first (which rolls into a 2022 top-10 protected first or 2022 and 2023 second-rounders) to Atlanta for a top-55 protected 2020 second-round pick.
Turner has over $35M remaining total over the next two seasons, and with Portland fresh off a first round exit in the playoffs, they’ll surely be looking to mix things up around their core of young star guards. The space generated by moving on from Turner would certainly be valuable to a team looking for a legitimate third option.
With two fully guaranteed years, Turner sticking around in Atlanta after a potential deal wouldn’t be the craziest thing. The Hawks actually have a need for a combo forward on the roster at the moment, and his veteran presence would be a welcome sight in a largely inexperienced locker room. They could also potentially try to eat some of the contract and flip him to another team later in free agency. But if he had to suit up for the Hawks, it wouldn’t be the end of the world by any means.
Portland would effectively start the process of creating space to add another piece to their core of budding star guards, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. They’d need to make another trade or two to create significant cap space, but shedding Turner definitely helps the overall situation.
Orlando Magic trade center Bismack Biyombo and 2019 second-rounder to Atlanta for Dennis Schroder.
Atlanta clears the way for Trae Young, and Orlando clears the way for Mo Bamba (sort of). Orlando has an orchestra of forwards and centers, and Atlanta has its point guard of the future in the way of Young. While there have been rumblings that the organization might be open to playing them together at times, I personally strongly believe Atlanta would deal Schröder in a heartbeat as long as it didn’t cost the organization additional assets.
Biyombo has a $17M player option next summer, so it’s likely he would fill in behind Dedmon for backup minutes in the front court with the likes of Mike Muscala and Miles Plumlee. Atlanta would likely be stuck with Biyombo for the duration of his deal, which expires after the 2019-2020 season.
Schröder would slide into the starting point guard role in Orlando. With a weak point guard free agent class and no legitimate starting point guard on the roster, the Magic may be one of if not the only organization willing to take on Schröder and the remaining $46.5M on his contract.
New York Knicks trade center Joakim Noah and 2020 second-round pick (from Charlotte) to Atlanta for Dennis Schröder.
This deal is very similar to the Orlando one, although much less likely in my opinion. New York doesn’t have a great option at point guard, but they do have Frank Ntilikina (if they believe he’s a point guard) and Emmanuel Mudiay under contract next season, and potentially Trey Burke as well, so they may elect to keep Noah and his two remaining years over Schröder’s three.
More notably, the Knicks may elect to hold off on any Schröder deal due to the rumor that Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving may be interested in coming to New York when he’s a free agent next summer. It might be wise for New York to avoid prolonging the Noah issue regardless, as Noah expires a year before Schröder. If you’re New York, this deal only makes sense if you really believe in Schroder.
Atlanta would be doing this deal to clear the way for Young, as well as shedding the last year of Schröder’s contract.
Unlike Deng, Noah stuck around as a cheerleader last year with New York despite being in street clothes the majority of the season. Who knows what he would do in Atlanta, but with almost $19M due next summer, a buy-out most likely won’t be happening.
Schröder would get a fresh start in New York, and a chance to play alongside star forward Kristaps Porzingis.
Los Angeles Lakers trade Brandon Ingram and Luol Deng to Atlanta for a heavily protected 2020 second-rounder.*
*Atlanta would have to shed a small contract, such as Tyler Dorsey or DeAndre Bembry, to free up the ~$400K in cap space required for this move to go through.
The Lakers are expected to make major waves this summer, but to fully enact their plan of building a team to compete with the Warriors, they’ll likely need to shed Deng’s contract. Also, many have raised questions as to whether LeBron James would want to play with the current young core in Los Angeles.
For Atlanta, this is much like the deals above. Use the available space to conjure up assets from teams looking to create room for free agents. Acquiring Ingram would be well worth paying Deng the remaining ~$36.8 million on his contract over the next two years.
As mentioned earlier in the article, the Lakers essentially paid Deng to stay home for the majority of last season, and Atlanta may elect to go with a similar arrangement if they acquire him. Deng showed little interest in being around for a Laker rebuild, so it’s hard to imagine he’ll be any more enthused after a trade to a team with an agenda such as Atlanta’s.
The Lakers sacrifice the upside of Ingram to create space for a potential super team featuring two, maybe three of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Demarcus Cousins on the open market this summer. It’s unlikely they could make room for three max players at all, but if they have Deng on the roster it’s most definitely impossible. While losing Ingram (instead of picks) is a steep price to pay, if they fail to get rid of Deng, the remaining $18.8M for 2019-2020 may very well ruin their free agency plans next summer.
Phoenix Suns trade guard Brandon Knight to Atlanta for Dennis Schröder.
When Elie Okobo slipped to Phoenix in the second round of this year’s NBA Draft, the chances of this trade happening slimmed at least a little bit. However, Phoenix allegedly in win-now mode after selecting center DeAndre Ayton number one overall to go with incumbent star Devin Booker, so they maybe be desperate to bring in a starting-caliber guard with playoff experience like Schroder. The Suns are likely to test the free agent waters with guys like Fred VanVleet and Marcus Smart, but if they strike out in the shallow point guard market, they may turn to a Schroder trade.
This trade again clears the runway for the Trae Young era in Atlanta. Knight would likely take on bench role for the Hawks. He has just over $30M remaining on his contract over the next two years.
Schroder goes on to start alongside Booker in the Suns’ backcourt. This move restricts the Suns ability to make future moves somewhat as Schroder is still owed through 2020-2021 at $15.5M per season.
Atlanta would have a couple familiar options with Knight. They can give him a high-end reserve role and try to rebuild his value, or immediately look for team willing to take on at least some of the remaining money owed to him.
No matter what the Atlanta front office does this summer, it’s safe to assume it’ll be based in the mold of asset acquisition rather than trying to immediately get back into playoff contention around an inexperienced core. Things around the league will start to shape up over the weekend and madness will surely ensue. Stay tuned.