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Atlanta Hawks should prioritize Dewayne Dedmon as free agency approaches

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NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks’ summer business is almost complete before June is out, but they still have one big pivot point for their offseason: Dewayne Dedmon. Dedmon will be a free agent after two consecutive career years with the Hawks and has the opportunity to cash in on his performance this summer, though there are varying opinions about how lucrative a new contract will be for him.

This seems insane to those of who have watched him grow as a basketball player over the last two years, but it’s a consistent theme that players who break out on lottery teams don’t always get the shine they deserve on the national stage and can sometimes slip through the cracks in free agency. That is perhaps what happened with Dedmon last year, when he opted in to a $7.2 million contract despite his fantastic 2017-18 campaign – he and his agent may have canvassed the league and found that the offers would not have come in to make opting out worthwhile.

This year, Dedmon has no option. He has to hit free agency and see what he can get on the open market. There’s a lot of money out there this summer and a few teams with cap space who could be interested in his services at the center position, Atlanta included.

The Hawks can go about signing him in a couple of different ways; if his first-year salary is less than $12.6 million, they can save a few million in cap space and sign him using the Early Bird exception, though that extra space would disappear as soon as he actually made his contract official and the Hawks wouldn’t necessarily have another roster spot to fill with a player taking up the remaining $4-5 million in cap space. The other option is to use cap space, which can get to about $13 million or so before they’ll want to hold the remainder back for Jaylen Adams’ non-guaranteed contract and Bruno Fernando’s eventual agreement.

For Atlanta, it makes some sense to use the entirety of their remaining space on Dedmon, as it’s the last hole they have to fill on the roster. After the Evan Turner acquisition earlier this week, they no longer absolutely have to invest at the backup point guard spot, leaving starting center as perhaps the team’s most glaring weakness. They’d be fine going with Alex Len and filling in the rest of the rotation with Omari Spellman, Fernando, and Miles Plumlee, but Dedmon’s versatility on both ends of the floor unlocks a lot of what they did last year and want to cultivate going forward.

Plenty of words have been written about Dedmon on this website, with nearly all of them being positive. He brings just about everything a contending team should want from their center position – he can step outside and knock down a three-pointer, rolls to the rim for lobs and offensive rebounds, and can defend at all three levels in pick-and-roll. This level of versatility on both ends of the floor makes him one of the better free agent centers available this summer, even if the market won’t quite reflect that when it’s all said and done. The rest of the league missing out on Dedmon could once again be a blessing for the Hawks, as he fits immensely well with what they’re building, even if his career timeline doesn’t line up with the rest of their young core.

If the offers for Dedmon are in the range of the mid-level exception ($9.25 million in the first year), Atlanta should come back with as much as they can spend on him for one or two years. Even if those offers came from a team higher in the league’s hierarchy and could offer Dedmon a chance to compete in a playoff setting, the extra money from the Hawks may entice him to stick around and continue building in Atlanta. A two-year contract at the mid-level would pay him about $19 million, but the Hawks could reasonably offer more than $26 million over the same period; for a player who hasn’t made a ton of money in his career after going undrafted and struggling through minimum contracts for a few years, the extra cash may make a big difference to him.

There aren’t a lot of better uses for the Hawks’ remaining financial flexibility than to give it to Dedmon. He’ll round out their starting unit with versatility on both ends of the floor and make the development of their young stars that much easier and gives them a coherent rotation at the center position. A lot of what Atlanta did last year, particularly on the offensive end, involved Dedmon as an integral part of the action, whether he was at the rim defending in pick-and-roll or popping to the perimeter in the Hawks’ famous Double Drag set with Trae Young and John Collins. A long-term investment may not make the most sense for the club, but a high-priced short-term deal would give them a solid foundation upon which they can build and develop their younger players.