UPDATE: Jeremy Lin and the Atlanta Hawks are reportedly nearing a buyout, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. As noted below, Atlanta’s stated position was to only initiate discussions if the player (and/or the player’s representation) approached the organization to do so.
After a lot of fanfare and a handful of rumors, the Atlanta Hawks stood pat at the trade deadline, save for a pair of small moves at the end of their roster. As of this writing, they still have two open roster spots; they’ll have to fill at least one of those but likely will use both much in the same way they did last year: to rotate through 10-day contracts in the hopes of finding a diamond in the rough among the G Leaguers they call up.
There will also be the opportunity to convert Alex Poythress from his Two-Way contract, but this late in the season and with no postseason in front of them, doing so wouldn’t be advisable. Restricted free agency for Two-Way players is so team-friendly that converting a player for a non-playoff team is more about doing that player and his agent a favor than gaining any real competitive advantage.
In the wake of the deadline, the Hawks immediately got out in front of any buyout rumors for the veterans they were unable to trade by February 7. General manager Travis Schlenk told assembled reporters that there hadn’t been buyout talks to that point, though there is obviously still time for that stance to change. The primary candidates are center Dewayne Dedmon (who doesn’t seem eager to seek a buyout) and point guard Jeremy Lin, both of whom are going to be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season and might want the chance to catch on with a playoff team this year in order to showcase their value ahead of the summer.
From the team’s perspective, the fact that they haven’t engaged either player or their agents on buyouts makes sense – if they’re happy to stay with the Hawks through the end of the year, there’s no real advantage gained by moving on from them. They already have the two open roster spots as a result of their deadline day moves, so the prospect of opening extra space in that way doesn’t make much sense. There’s no reasonable scenario in which a buyout would net the team any level of cap space; they’re much too far over the cap for that to make sense.
For the individual players involved, a buyout might be preferable to remaining on the Hawks’ roster this season, but it depends on what those guys value and where they see a better fit throughout the league. After a flurry of moves in the week leading up to the deadline, there are a number of roster spots available on contending teams.
As of this writing, there are a total of 30 open roster spots, with 19 different teams holding an open spot. Several of those teams have multiple spots to fill and are contenders for a deep playoff run this season. Should Lin or Dedmon want to capitalize on these openings to find a more competitive home for the next few months, nobody would begrudge them from asking the Hawks for a buyout and the club would likely oblige in kind, as they did last year with Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.
Schlenk specifically mentioned that he was happy with the way the team was playing and wouldn’t want to go out of his way to break up the chemistry in the locker room and on the court this squad has developed. Dedmon and Lin are a big part of that, both as leaders and in their roles on the team. If the team didn’t create two open roster spots with their deadline day moves, then perhaps there would be an argument that short-term chemistry isn’t worth the possibility of finding a future rotation pile among the 10-day contracts Atlanta will try over the next two months, but they already have two spots they can cycle through; any more than that would just be overkill.
Atlanta’s decision to not actively engage Dedmon and Lin on buyout negotiations continues a theme that has emerged this season: Schlenk and the Hawks are okay with the team winning a handful of extra games this season, even if it costs them a few percentage points on lottery night. 2017-18 was a different story; that team had very few long-term pieces on it who needed development and losing as much as possible was more beneficial due to the lottery odds being more heavily weighted toward the worst teams. This year, those two things have changed.
The team has an active interest in staying as competitive as possible to give Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, and John Collins as many competitive reps as possible and the lottery odds are much flatter than they were before – finishing with the fifth-worst record in the league only costs them 3.5 percentage points in the race for Zion Williamson. Last year, finishing with the fifth-worst record would have lost them 16.2 percentage points as compared to coming in dead last in the league.
The incentives to heavily tank just aren’t there anymore, and combined with the chance to develop their younger guys and continue the run they’ve enjoyed over the last two months, it makes sense on some level that Schlenk isn’t exactly itching to make the team worse.