With the future as the focus of everything for the franchise, the Atlanta Hawks were a logical team to monitor in advance of the NBA trade deadline. After all, the Hawks had a pair of potentially intriguing expiring contracts for veterans in Dewayne Dedmon and Jeremy Lin, a high-dollar two-way wing in Kent Bazemore, a talented (and cost-effective) forward in Taurean Prince and future flexibility by which to get involved in myriad discussions with other teams.
Then, the dust settled after the 3:00 pm ET deadline and the Hawks didn’t pull the trigger on any significant moves. Technically, Atlanta made three transactions, with Tyler Dorsey heading to Memphis, Daniel Hamilton moving on from the Hawks, and the team coming together with the Celtics on a financially-centered trade involving Jabari Bird. Still, the headliners were quiet and, prior to the team’s match-up with the Toronto Raptors on Thursday, general manager Travis Schlenk shared his public thoughts on why a more high-profile deal didn’t come to fruition.
“I would say that, going into this trade deadline, our objectives were the same as they were day one when I got here,” Schlenk said. “We were going to look to accumulate assets if we could. We were going to look to maintain our financial flexibility into the future. But we listened to a whole bunch of different offers. In the end, we never really found anything that met those two major objectives to us.”
As Schlenk notes, keeping financial flexibility for the future is paramount for this organization and all signs point to deals for Lin and Dedmon being difficult to construct as a result. Lin’s salary ($13.7 million) proved to be a road block for potential deals, with league-mandated requirements of salary matching in play and the Hawks unwilling to take long-term money back without appropriate compensation to do so. As for Dedmon, it was more of a surprise that the veteran center did not move before the deadline, but buzz indicates that the Hawks simply did not have their asking price met and elected to keep their group in tact, at least for a bit longer.
Even with a loss on Thursday, the Hawks are 12-13 in their last 25 games and playing objectively improved basketball. Atlanta isn’t likely to make a playoff push (or anything approaching one) this season, leading many to question why they wouldn’t do anything possible to part ways with veterans that can help the team win in the near term. Schlenk pointed to cohesion and not wanting to “tinker” with the positive vibes within the locker room.
“We are very pleased with the direction of the team,” said Schlenk prior to tip-off on Thursday. “Over the last 24 games, the way that we’re playing, the way that our group has come together, the vibe that we have in the locker room, that’s special. And it’s hard to get in professional sports, especially when you go through a rocky patch and then you are able to get that positive momentum, it becomes really difficult to tinker with, because sometimes you don’t know how you get it and when you lose it you are not sure how to get it back. So, for the growth of our young group I think it’s important to be very careful with that.”
From an asset perspective, it certainly isn’t ideal that the Hawks were unable to coax compensation out of Lin and Dedmon, to say nothing of the potential of deals involving Bazemore and Prince. For the latter duo, there will opportunities in the future to capitalize if Schlenk and his team don’t view Bazemore and Prince as long-term fits in Atlanta. For Lin and Dedmon, however, this was Atlanta’s final opportunity (at least before their contracts expire) to fulfill the stated goal of accumulating assets but, in the end, Schlenk elected to preserve flexibility when his on-the-record desires were not met by offers from the outside.
That leads to natural discussions about potential buyouts for Dedmon and Lin, and Schlenk was prompted about that possibility.
“I have not talked to any of our guys about that or their representatives,” Schlenk said of potential buyout talks. “Like I mentioned, one of the things that went into this, we’re excited about the way the team has played over the last couple of months. So, certainly it wouldn’t come from us. Now, if they come to us and they feel like they are in a situation where they feel like they can go to a playoff team or they’re not happy... but we really are excited about the vibe we have and the way our locker room is. Those of you that are here a lot and see us, it’s like, it’s positive. So, I hope not, but we will work with guys if that’s what they want to do.”
Following the press conference, Dewayne Dedmon shared his desire to remain in Atlanta down the stretch with Chris Kirschner of The Athletic and that isn’t a surprise in many ways. Dedmon occupies a prominent role within the Hawks’ pecking order and he also has a financial incentive (in the form of a $900,000 bump in salary if he starts 41 games this season) to stick around and be the starting center. As for Lin, all has been quiet to this point, though it would make a bit more sense for the veteran point guard to seek an escape route if a playoff-bound team was in search of his services before the buyout deadline of March 1.
All things considered, it would be tough to anoint Thursday as an overly positive day for the Hawks, as they simply maintained the status quo rather than actively improving their stockpile of assets. Part of the calculus, however, was Schlenk’s stated assertion (one he shared on the Locked on Hawks podcast in December) to prioritize draft choices in the future rather than in 2019, where the team is line for as many as five selections.
“I think what’s important is staying with our objectives of maintaining,” Schlenk said. “We have five picks in this year’s draft. We feel like even adding five rookies to the team next year might be too many. So when teams would come at us with a second-round pick in this draft, that wasn’t appealing to us for what we may or may not have to do to get that pick. So keeping our flexibility moving forward, not taking money on for next year was a great asset, and we wanted to stay away from those. It’s a balancing act.”
It would be easy to pick apart that objective, simply because acquiring more picks in 2019 (at the right cost) would obviously be preferable, from a pure asset perspective, to not having additional selections at all. Still, Schlenk and his team will have the benefit of all kinds of salary flexibility when Lin and Dedmon come off the books this summer and, as we’ve seen with deals throughout his tenure, Schlenk is willing to take on high-dollar salary in order to acquire draft compensation that will help his roster-building efforts in the future.
The Atlanta Hawks were quiet on Thursday and, as a general rule, that was a surprise to league observers and a presumed letdown to fans of the team. In the grand scheme, however, the team seemingly prioritized flexibility over the accumulation of (minor) assets and it will be difficult to evaluate that overarching decision until future roster decisions are made. Buyout discussions could emerge but, with Feb. 7 in the rear view mirror, the Hawks will turn their attention to what will be a wildly intriguing 2019 NBA Draft process and, of course, the remaining 28 games on their 2018-19 schedule.