Note: This piece has been updated after the trade that sent Kent Bazemore to the Portland Trail Blazers and Evan Turner to the Atlanta Hawks.
NBA free agency begins at 6:00 pm ET on June 30 and, as always, there is very little rest for the weary between the NBA Draft and the flurry of player movement that is about to begin. For the Atlanta Hawks, however, things could be a little bit quieter than normal, with the majority of the roster under contract at this stage in the process.
Of course, that doesn’t ensure that Travis Schlenk and company will stay on the sidelines, with a few roster spots to play with and, as always, the potential for trade movement. Before June 30 arrives, though, let’s take a quick look at how the roster is shaping up, with 12 players on guaranteed contracts, one player (Jaylen Adams) on a non-guaranteed deal and the presumption that No. 34 pick Bruno Fernando will soon bring the list of players under contract to 14.
Trae Young, Evan Turner, Jaylen Adams
Quite obviously, the Hawks are set at the starting point guard spot, with Trae Young as the team’s No. 1 overall piece for the present and future. On the heels of the acquisition of Evan Turner, Atlanta seems to have a direct plan for the backup spot, with the veteran penciled in for that role.
It will be interesting to see how the Hawks deploy Turner, who is essentially a combo forward defensively, especially when considering his limitations as a floor-spacer. However, the former No. 2 overall pick does have strengths as a play-maker and passer, and his presence could unlock tantalizing defensive units.
Elsewhere, Adams is operating on a non-guaranteed deal (only $100,000 of his salary is guaranteed for the 2019-20 season) and the former St. Bonaventure star is currently the No. 3 point guard. In previous seasons, the Hawks have used a Two-Way contract spot — first on Josh Magette, then on Adams himself — to address that particular need, but Turner projects as a non-traditional backup point guard option, which could leave Adams in a reasonably favorable position.
Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Allen Crabbe, DeAndre’ Bembry, Solomon Hill, Charlie Brown (Two-Way)
In some ways, it is better to split this “position” up but there is too much versatility to go with the traditional “shooting guard” and “small forward” designations. Hunter and Hill (or Turner) are both fully capable of playing the power forward spot, while others like Huerter, Bembry and Crabbe are smaller and more centralized on the off-guard position.
Regardless, the Hawks do have a plethora of options on the wing and very little is assured. Huerter projects as the sure-fire starting two-guard after serving in that role for much of the 2018-19 season and the second-year player from Maryland will be heavily visible. Elsewhere, one would expect Hunter to be prominently featured as a top-five pick, with Reddish likely becoming a priority in his own right as the upcoming season progresses.
As far as the veterans are concerned, Crabbe is something of a specialist with his three-point shooting, but he’s been a strong rotation player in the NBA before. The absence of Bazemore, combined with the presence of a non-shooting backup point guard, could theoretically unlock Crabbe as an important rotation piece.
Bembry could also see a more prominent role with Bazemore in Portland, though it will be noteworthy to see how the Hawks use him when combined with Turner. Because both struggle to shoot from beyond the arc, minutes with Bembry and Turner on the floor together could be an adventure, but Bembry’s combination of athleticism, aggressiveness and strong defense clearly appeals to head coach Lloyd Pierce and that should dictate regular deployment.
As for Hill, he projects as more of a hybrid forward and, oddly, Turner checks a lot of the same boxes, even while playing the “point guard” position. Hill is more of a shooter and traditional “3-and-D” archetype but, as presently constructed, the newly acquired forward might be the odds-on favorite to begin the season out of the rotation.
Finally, the Hawks invested in St. Joseph’s product Charlie Brown with a Two-Way contract after the draft. He will not count against Atlanta’s 15-man roster but, like Jaylen Adams and Alex Poythress during the 2018-19 campaign, Brown could be deployed with the big-league club for as many as 45 days.
Ultimately, there are seven wing options (with Turner making eight) that could all reasonably take the floor in NBA action this season. That presents something of a log-jam in that, well, seven wings aren’t likely to break the season in the rotation, but trade winds could blow and, particularly for a player like Hill, a “break in case of emergency” role could emerge.
John Collins, Alex Len, Omari Spellman, Miles Plumlee, Bruno Fernando (technically unsigned)
Unlike the backlog that could exist on the wing, there isn’t overwhelming depth in the frontcourt at the moment. Collins is the unquestioned starter at the power forward position on the heels of a dynamic showing in his second NBA season and, at present, Len would almost certainly be the team’s starting center with how the current roster is constructed.
Beyond that, Spellman can function at both the 4 and 5 spots, and a full summer (and training camp) of work could aid in helping the second-year big man contribute at a higher level. Plumlee, when healthy, is a competent third center but, at this stage, he shouldn’t be looked at as more than that, leaving Fernando with more potential to crack the rotation, even as a second-round pick.
Because players like Hunter and Hill can function at the power forward spot, there isn’t a grave need for further investment and the same could be said at center, where Collins and Spellman could easily fill minutes if need be. Still, it feels likely that something will be added to the big man rotation before the season begins.
Atlanta’s own free agents
Dewayne Dedmon, Justin Anderson, Vince Carter, Alex Poythress (Two-Way)
This is always tricky. Until free agents are renounced, salary cap holds are on Atlanta’s books for Dedmon, Anderson, and Carter.
Dedmon is easily the most intriguing player on the list of free agents, with a $9.36 million cap hold (per Early Bird Rights) and what is sure to be widespread interest around the league. On one hand, the veteran is a fantastic complement to John Collins, with Dedmon’s ability to space the floor as a shooter and protect the rim defensively. Beyond that, Dedmon is well-regarded within Atlanta’s locker room and, in a vacuum, it makes a ton of sense to bring him back for another run. However, Dedmon will have suitors and there is certainly a price point in which the Hawks might be wise to bow out of a bidding war, leaving some shakiness with any evaluation.
Elsewhere, Anderson would become a restricted free agent but only in the event that the Hawks present the four-year veteran with a $3.6 million qualifying offer. If the Hawks chose to do that, they would need to do so with full knowledge that Anderson might simply sign it for one season and, at the very least, he would carry a $7.5 million cap hold until a final resolution comes to fruition.
Finally, there will be plenty of attention paid to Carter, as he has (repeatedly) declared his intent to play in 2019-20 season as something of a “last dance.” Carter is beloved in Atlanta, both for what he was able to accomplish as a dead-eye shooter and for his locker room influence, and there might be a place to rekindle that marriage. Still, he could have other interest, particularly from contending teams, and it is difficult to simply pencil in a roster spot for Carter at this stage.
If the Hawks chose to simply “stand pat” with their current contracts, Atlanta would have only one (!) roster spot to work with in free agency, even before accounting for free agents like Dedmon, Carter and/or Anderson. That is a bit of an unusual circumstance for a rebuilding club but, in the coming days, further clarity will arrive and it seems like a safe bet to assume something will happen to produce fireworks.