Taurean Prince is the most fascinating member of the Atlanta Hawks this summer. While some of the more high-profile players on the team will undergo important development and others will leave in free agency, Prince is in a bit of a middle ground. Not quite young or inexperienced enough to be counted among the team’s long-term core but not old enough to be considered strictly a short-term piece, what Atlanta’s management decides to do with Prince in the summer before the fourth and final year of his rookie scale contract is a topic of much debate.
Eligible for an extension as soon as the clock turns over to July 1, how those negotiations proceed will be a significant indicator as to the thinking behind what general manager Travis Schlenk and his staff thinks of Prince’s future with the team. On the other hand, should they decide that he’s no longer in their plans, this summer is the perfect time to move him, as a team would retain those same extension rights or would be able to hold onto him in restricted free agency in 2020.
There’s plenty of time to see Prince’s market play out, both on the extension and trade fronts, but it’s worth thinking about what his value would be in a potential deal with another team as we get closer to June’s draft. A move is very unlikely to materialize before the lottery takes place, but once the team knows where they will be drafting this year, they’ll be able to assess the roster moving forward and field offers for Prince, should it come to that. His name was in rumors throughout his third season with the club, with multiple playoff contenders interested in his services when the Hawks reportedly made him available. Between Oklahoma City, Portland, and Philadelphia, there was enough significant interest in Prince to project that teams will be equally interested in the forward this summer.
Where exactly Prince’s trade value falls is immensely interesting because of the perceived gap in his value to the Hawks and his value to another team with more immediate contention goals. The first three years of his career have brought some staggering highs and frustrating lows, from his fantastic development as a three-point shooter to his disappearing defense over the last two years. Those of us watching the Hawks day in and day out are acutely aware of Prince’s negatives, from the aforementioned concerns regarding his defensive effort and fortitude to his perplexing turnover numbers to a me-first style that can irritate those on the court with him.
From a broader perspective, however, the fact remains that a 6’8 forward who can shoot the ball as well as Prince does is perhaps the most valuable archetype in the NBA right now. Wings and combo forwards are the scarcest positions in the league and teams are constantly looking to fill those spots on their roster; filling one with a player who has shot nearly 40% from downtown on good volume over the last two years would be a home run for a lot of contenders. As negative as a lot of us (myself included) can be on Prince after watching him closely over the course of three full seasons, it’s a worthwhile exercise to take a look through this year’s 16 playoff teams and count how many of those clubs would be better off with him in their eight- or nine-man playoff rotation.
Of those 16, perhaps the Boston Celtics are the only team who wouldn’t necessarily have a full use for Prince. At full health, Boston can deploy Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Gordon Hayward on the wing, though even the Celtics would be able to find a way to use him, as Smart can operate as a backup point guard and Hayward has played some power forward this year in smaller alignments with multiple wings on the floor. Each and every of the other 15 teams would immediately place Prince directly into their team’s rotation and he would close games for a number of them.
How different would the Portland-Oklahoma City series be if Prince were starting and closing games on the wing for the Thunder ahead of Terrance Ferguson? The 76ers essentially have five coherent playoff-ready players on their team; Prince would be a significant upgrade over James Ennis or anybody else on their bench. Even at the top of the league, he’d be a key rotation player for the best teams; Golden State and Houston would both immediately put Prince to good use ahead of Alfonzo McKinnie or Gerald Green.
It’s important to realize that while Prince has his negatives and can be maddening to watch at times, the very fact that he’s as big as he is and can shoot like he does means he’s an immensely valuable piece for a playoff contender. He’s not without flaws, of course, which a team acquiring him would quickly find out, but getting bogged down in his negative attributes is missing the forest for the trees. The type of player he is and the role he fills remains the scarcest archetype in the league, making him immensely valuable on the trade market, should the Hawks decide on that path. Any number of teams would be beating down their door to move for Prince and it would be up to Atlanta to find the best trade for the long-term health of the club.