When the Atlanta Hawks hired Travis Schlenk with the express charge of rebuilding from the ground up, many were skeptical of the decision. After all, the Hawks made the playoffs following the 2016-17 season and it isn’t a regular occurrence in the NBA to see a “playoff team” (albeit a shaky one) stripped down with an eye on the future.
Of course, there were many factors in play — ranging from the pending free agency of Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the always entertaining Dwight Howard saga — and the decision likely wasn’t made easily by ownership and the new front office. Still, there was a bit of applause for the franchise’s chosen direction on Tuesday, and it came from Kevin Pelton and Bobby Marks of ESPN.
The pair put together a “future power rankings” of NBA teams and, after placing the Hawks at No. 28 overall in the same exercise before the 2018-19 season began, Pelton and Marks combined to place Atlanta at No. 16 this time around. That jump put the Hawks among the biggest risers in the league and it came with the notion that “Atlanta’s rebuild since 2017 is further along than many in the league expected.”
That is almost certainly the case, as Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter have all met or exceeded expectations to this (very) early point in their respective careers. That certainly helps but, in the same breath, the Hawks also draw rave reviews for their available draft capital (which ESPN ranks as the best in the league) and for their financial flexibility moving forward.
The piece (which is available in full behind the ESPN+ paywall) asserts that “the Hawks ranked dead last in roster (assets) before the season and are now No. 19 because of the progression” of Young, Collins, Huerter and Taurean Prince. Beyond that, Schlenk and his staff could be working with between $40 and 47 million in salary cap space (depending on the outcome of the draft pick owed from Dallas and where any draft slots actually are) this off-season and that comes in handy, even when dealing with non-free agency ventures.
In conclusion, ESPN asserts that “Atlanta can keep this roster intact, continue to develop and maintain financial flexibility to add in free agency for the foreseeable future” and that is certainly a fantastic place to be. Make no mistake, there are teams in the NBA with clearer (and more rapid) paths to title contention, simply because they already have ready-made stars on board and, well, that is the most important thing when pursuing championships in this league. With that said, the Hawks appear to have a bright future and national voices are, at the very least, beginning to notice.