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Hawks strike gold with Schröder-Anthony trade

Absolutely one for Travis Schlenk’s win column.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Travis Schlenk has had his share of ups and downs in his short tenure with the Atlanta Hawks, but his latest move might have been his very best. On Thursday afternoon, news broke that Schlenk and his fellow general managers in Oklahoma City and Philadelphia had come to an agreement on a trade that had been rumored for a few days but finally came to fruition in a slightly different form – Atlanta will send out Dennis Schröder to Oklahoma City and Mike Muscala to Philadelphia in exchange for Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-rounder from Oklahoma City and Justin Anderson from Philadelphia. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot will move to Oklahoma City from Philadelphia and the Thunder will receive a large trade exception to round out the details of the deal.

The Hawks’ stated goal throughout the offseason was not to be active in signing players but to facilitate trades. Specifically, Schlenk was looking to take on bad contracts in addition to future draft assets, a viewpoint that took the longest view in the room among NBA teams and understood that Atlanta was not going to be very competitive for the next few years as they draft and develop young players and use a significant portion of their cap space on dead weight.

Last week, the first of these moves came to be, as the Hawks took on Jeremy Lin along with at least one second-round pick from the Brooklyn Nets, a trade that puzzled those around the league, but left the Hawks with cap space for a second deal. By all reports and general logic, the Hawks could just as easily have had the package Denver sent to Brooklyn without involving the Nets at all, but that would have made this trade impossible in its current form. There’s certainly a strong argument to be made that the Denver package is better in a vacuum for Atlanta than the combination of moves with Brooklyn, Oklahoma City, and Philadelphia will be for the Hawks, but given that the Lin trade had already gone through, this move couldn’t have been a better use of their remaining space.

Anthony is the biggest name being traded here, but for Atlanta, getting rid of Schröder was far more valuable than anything else they’ve done this offseason. Moving his contract had been a constant goal for the team over the last six months, when it was clear that any motivation he previously held to play for the Hawks had disappeared along with the team’s chances of competing for the playoffs. Rather than embrace his role as the veteran leader and best player on the roster, the mercurial point guard went the other way – any level of defensive effort dried up and there was almost no discernable improvement in his offensive game.

It was never a matter of whether Schröder could or couldn’t, just a matter of whether he would or wouldn’t; and he absolutely wouldn’t for the Hawks in the 2017-18 season. With three years and $46.5 million left on his contract for what has become backup point guard production, there aren’t many worse contracts in the league with the length and magnitude of Schröder’s. In a vacuum, the Hawks would have likely had to part with at least one first-round pick to move his salary to another team, but instead will receive one from the Thunder in exchange for taking on the last year of Anthony’s deal.

Muscala was a necessary inclusion in the deal to make the math work and will be missed in the locker room and on the floor, but Atlanta’s acquisition of Anderson should not go overlooked. With just $2.5 million owed to him in 2018-19 before hitting restricted free agency next summer, the Hawks got both younger and more flexible for the future in this aspect of the deal – if Anderson shows that he belongs, then they can tender him a qualifying offer and attempt to bring him back on a reasonable salary. If not, they can pull it and get back another $7.5 million in cap space next summer, likely with similar goals to take on money, draft picks, and young players.

He doesn’t quite fit Schlenk’s stated ethos of shooting and playmaking, but Anderson brings solid wing defense to the table and is familiar with new head coach Lloyd Pierce from their time together in Philadelphia. Muscala found playing time hard to come by in the 2017-18 season and with the Hawks bringing back all of their big men along with draft pick Omari Spellman, it would have been a tough road toward the court for him once again this year. Anderson balances the roster much better than Muscala did and although he’s a bit small to be considered a true small forward, he’ll be able to play there along with a lot of the other players on the roster.

If there’s any criticism to lay at Schlenk’s feet over the two trades, it’s that the picks he received are so far out in the future that their present value is lower than, say, what Brooklyn received from Denver. Oklahoma City couldn’t legally send a lottery-protected pick before 2022 anyway, but he and his staff certainly deserve some of the skepticism surrounding the picks coming from the Nets along with Lin. However, the first-rounder from Oklahoma City could be a coup for the Hawks, as reporting indicates that the NBA is preparing to end the one-and-done rule in time for the 2022 draft. If the league does in fact abolish one-and-done and allow high schoolers to enter the 2022 draft, the pool will be twice as deep – players who graduate high school in 2021 will have completed their one-and-done season in college, and the players who graduate in 2022 will be able to enter the draft outright.

It was previously reported that Adam Silver was targeting 2021 for the end of the one-and-done era, but subsequent reporting indicates that Silver is telling teams to prepare for the windfall of young players to occur in 2022. Of course, there’s no telling where the Thunder will be by the 2021-22 season – of the players currently on their roster, only Russell Westbrook is absolutely under contract for that year at $44.2 million and he’ll turn 33 years old early in the season.

Paul George has a player option or perhaps could be playing under an extended contract, but the rest of the roster is completely up in the air, as is the respective health and production of those two current stars as they age toward the back ends of their primes. Westbrook in particular plays a game that won’t be conducive to losing a half-step athletically, so it’s not out of the question that the Thunder will not convey that 2022 pick. If not, two second-rounders in 2024 and 2025 will certainly be useful to a Hawks team that should be competitive by then and will enjoy the fruits of cheap labor on second-round minimum contracts to go with some of their higher-paid players, whether that’s John Collins and Trae Young or anybody else they target in free agency over the next half-decade.

Moving off of Schröder’s contract, getting a first-round pick, and upgrading from one year of Muscala to one year of Anderson plus restricted rights in exchange for the remaining $10+ million of the Hawks’ cap space is just about as good as it gets for Atlanta. Oklahoma City were desperate to move Anthony without having to stretch him so that they could remain as competitive as possible in 2018-19 and the Hawks were there with the necessary players and cap space to make it happen for the Thunder.

Schlenk and his front office staff have certainly ridden a roller coaster of praise and criticism over the last 14 months since taking the reins in Atlanta, but they’ve hit a home run here.