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Optimistic future persists for Hawks despite dismal lottery results

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

May 14, 2019 wasn’t a great day for the Atlanta Hawks.

Despite rosy expectations and all kinds of hopes from the fan base, both locally and across the country, the ping-pong balls did not break in Atlanta’s favor. The end result was a pair of top-10 selections for the Hawks but, considering that the franchise entered the night with just an 8.8 percent chance to land at No. 8 overall with their own first-round draft choice, the word of the evening was “disappointment.”

After the lottery results arrived, Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk shared his thoughts with the assembled media.

As you would expect, Schlenk put a positive spin on what transpired, even while acknowledging that the result wasn’t ideal for the Hawks. In his short tenure as the lead executive for Atlanta, Schlenk has nailed the draft at every turn, unearthing gems at No. 19 in back-to-back drafts with John Collins and Kevin Huerter, and adding a franchise cornerstone in Trae Young after a move that allowed him to acquire what became the No. 10 overall pick in 2019. That provides all kinds of optimism for what the front office might be able to craft out of this less than ideal situation, even while acknowledging that five picks in a sub-optimal draft class can open doors that aren’t ideal.

In addition, the Hawks did land a second lottery pick and that wasn’t assured at the beginning of the evening. Ideally, the pick that completed the 2018 trade with the Dallas Mavericks would have been No. 9 overall but, all things considered, the presence of that selection (and the removal of any uncertainty for the future) should help to soften the overall blow.

On the more pessimistic side, the prospects heavily linked to Atlanta in advance of the lottery might be off the table at this point. Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver and Virginia’s DeAndre Hunter are likely to be selected within the top seven and, of course, that doesn’t even speak to the grim reality that Zion Williamson isn’t likely to be playing professional basketball in Atlanta. Still, this is a draft class that is largely “flat” aside from the top tier and that allows for front office creativity in the coming weeks.

There are prospects with elite potential that could be available, ranging from Oregon’s Bol Bol to Duke’s Cameron Reddish and French forward Sekou Doumbouya. There are prospects with projectable skill sets that could present value in the NBA, headlined by Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke and Texas big man Jaxson Hayes. In the end, it will take more squinting to fall in love with the available talent than it would have under rosier circumstances but, in the same breath, an argument could be made that the 2019 class is one where the gap might be smaller from No. 4 to No. 8 than it the vast majority of drafts.

Beyond the optics of this apparent blow to the prospects of the rebuild is the reality that, well, the Hawks remain in fantastic shape from a broader perspective. Trae Young was fantastic in his rookie campaign. John Collins enjoyed a breakout performance. The salary cap books are clean after the 2019-20 season. There are quality role players — Kevin Huerter, Taurean Prince, Omari Spellman, etc. — on the roster with the ability to grow under a player development-focused coaching staff. Those realities have not changed, even after a night to forget in Chicago.

The Atlanta Hawks won’t have the slam dunk opportunity to add a franchise-changing talent at the top of the draft and, in some ways, it is easy to be disappointed by that reality. Still, the future remains obscenely bright and bouncing ping-pong balls in 2019 should not deter that on their own.