If the Atlanta Hawks wanted to begin the 2019-20 NBA season with their current roster, they could easily do so. The team currently employs 13 players, with the number set to jump to 14 whenever second-round pick Bruno Fernando signs his first professional contract, and Atlanta’s roster checks enough boxes to immediately function.
There is some uncertainty behind Trae Young at point guard, even with the addition of Evan Turner and the presence of Jaylen Adams on a non-guaranteed contract, and the Hawks are also a bit short-handed in the frontcourt in a world in which Dewayne Dedmon is on the unrestricted free agent market. Still, Travis Schlenk doesn’t necessarily have pressure to pull levers in the moment, insisting publicly that he plans to take a measured approach to free agency in the coming days.
With that said, the Hawks have at least one roster spot available (with the potential for more with a few machinations) and, given the team’s rebuilding timeline and the presence of eight-figure salary cap room, myriad options could be in play. As such, it is time to take a quick peek at a wide-ranging set of players that might make sense in Atlanta (with a hat-tip to Chris Kirschner of The Athletic for inspiration), even without fire to the smoke at this stage.
Big-ticket items that probably won’t happen
Malcolm Brogdon, Thaddeus Young, Patrick Beverley, Al-Farouq Aminu, Brook Lopez
None of these names are likely to land in Atlanta. Brogdon is perhaps the best possible addition, with the ability to function as the backup point guard and as an excellent backcourt partner with Trae Young. The local product is likely to get (a lot) more money than the Hawks could currently offer, though, and he’s a restricted free agent to boot.
Young also has local ties from his work at Georgia Tech but wouldn’t be a perfect fit positionally as a primary power forward. At a certain price point, it would make sense, as he is a terrific defender and would unlock a lot of versatility from a lineup perspective. Aminu would be much in the same boat but the Norcross High School alum might come cheaper and he’s a bit closer to Atlanta’s timeline than Young would be.
Finally, Beverley and Lopez form a pair of veterans that likely fit better on contending teams. Beverley would be an incredible backup point guard that could also fit with Young but, with Turner seemingly slated for that role, it isn’t likely to happen. Lopez would function in the Dedmon role from the last two seasons, bombing away from three and protecting the rim as the team’s starting center.
Dewayne Dedmon, Vince Carter
Dedmon is perhaps the most likely addition (er, retention?) on this entire list. He checks every box the Hawks would want in a starting center and, of course, Atlanta would know what they were getting.
As for Carter, there is certainly interest on both sides in the oldest player in the league returning, but the roster logistics could be an issue. For one, the Hawks have more options at the small-ball 4 spot, with De’Andre Hunter, Solomon Hill and Turner able to function there in some looks. Beyond that, Carter doesn’t bring future value to the table and, if the Hawks don’t move on from pieces currently on the roster, it could be too much of a squeeze. If the Hawks were to sign him, though, absolutely no one would complain.
Cory Joseph, Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, Delon Wright, Tomas Satoransky, Ish Smith, Emmanuel Mudiay, Quinn Cook, David Nwaba
The Hawks could be set at backup point guard, with the stated plan to deploy Turner in that role and Adams available to function as a more traditional option in emergency situations. Atlanta might choose to further invest, though, and that unlocks myriad options, even with Turner as a projected rotation player.
Most of the players listed above would only be in play if the Hawks pivoted to them as clear-cut backups with the potential for more playing time. That is certainly true of Rivers, who would function as a 3-and-D option with on-ball equity, and Joseph, who can defend point guards at a high level and provide a strong complement to Young. Wright and Nwaba would be defense-driven additions but that isn’t the worst thing given Atlanta’s roster construction.
Then, you have a pure point guard in Smith that simply isn’t the best fit in the world. In a pre-Turner environment, there might have been enough playing time to induce the veteran to Atlanta to provide insurance behind Young but that is probably done at this point. Finally, you have some high-level shooters in Curry and Cook, neither of whom are perfect fits with Young on the floor together, but both of whom could play with Turner as off-ball players on offense that defend the opposing lead ball-handler.
Satoransky is perhaps my favorite fit, as the 27-year-old combines size (6’7), play-making and shooting (40 percent from three in his career) in a fun way. It does make (a lot) less sense with Turner in the fold, however, and Satoransky is a restricted free agent that could command a bit of an overpay to avoid Washington matching an offer.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Reggie Bullock, James Ennis, Danuel House, Glenn Robinson
I can already hear the retorts about how crowded Atlanta’s wing situation is and, trust me, I understand. In fact, the Hawks just moved on from a rotation-quality wing in Kent Bazemore, with one reported explanation that his presence could have stifled the development of young pieces.
On the flip side, I am on record as believing that NBA teams essentially can’t have too many wings and, even if unlikely, there are a few intriguing options. Caldwell-Pope is exceptionally interesting, as he has a local connection, defends small guards at a high level and has the capability of knocking down shots. There will likely be more interest on the market than Atlanta should have, but it’s something.
The rest of the players listed here are rotational options, with Bullock as the best of the bunch, particularly as a shooter. Ennis and House have functioned as role players on playoff teams and, while Robinson can’t make that claim, he’d be young, cheap and athletic as a small forward developmental project.
Marcus Morris, JaMychal Green, Noah Vonleh, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jared Dudley
As noted above, backup power forward isn’t necessarily a need and, for most guys on this list, that would be their primary role. However, there is at least the potential that the Hawks could get a bit creative given the flexibility of Collins and Omari Spellman, unlocking some possibility of investment here.
Morris and Green are likely to receive starter money, or at least something close, and that makes a partnership unlikely here. In a world in which the Hawks wanted to use Collins as a true hybrid, there would be enough playing time and that makes it semi-interesting.
The other options are more malleable and, more importantly, cheaper. Vonleh is almost better at center and his defensive utility would come in handy. Hollis-Jefferson (still) can’t shoot, which is a problem, but the Hawks have enjoyed success in reworking jump shots with new additions and, through the principle of defensive versatility, it might be fun. Dudley would only be an option in a world in which Carter did not return, but having an older hand on the bench wouldn’t be a bad idea, and Dudley can still play a little bit.
Robin Lopez, Kevon Looney, Willie Cauley-Stein, Maxi Kleber, Nerlens Noel, Kyle O’Quinn, Khem Birch, Jordan Bell, Thomas Bryant, Daniel Theis, Ed Davis
We’ve discussed (ad nauseum) the potential of Dedmon returning to the fold and, in truth, he’s better than anyone on this mini-list. If that doesn’t happen, the Hawks might choose to prioritize another center option to give Bruno Fernando more time to develop and to complement Alex Len.
Lopez, Looney, Cauley-Stein and Kleber are likely in line for significant paydays, albeit with different kinds of teams lining up for their services.
Lopez is probably a better fit on a contender and he doesn’t bring the kind of future potential to the table that Atlanta might prefer. Looney is switchable defensively, very young, and highly intriguing as a complementary piece, but the Warriors may not let him go easily.
Cauley-Stein and Kleber are both likely to be restricted free agents and, by proxy, the Hawks (and any non-incumbent team) would need to overpay. That can get tricky but, with Cauley-Stein, you have tangible defensive upside and a weirdly intriguing skill set. Kleber would be a closer comparison to Dedmon in terms of profile, with the ability to space the floor offensively and protect the rim defensively, albeit without typical center size and physicality.
The rest of the list is occupied by, in my view, backup center options. Is there a world in which one or two of these players would be better than Alex Len immediately? Perhaps, but none would be anything approaching a clear upgrade and Atlanta would need to believe that depth-driven acquisitions were needed in order to invest in Noel, O’Quinn, Birch, Bell, Bryant (who will be restricted and potentially pricy), Theis and Davis.
It is likely clear by the sprawling nature of this list but the Hawks could go a number of different directions with their remaining salary cap and roster space. Atlanta could virtually stand pat, invest heavily in a single player, or even get creative (in conjunction with a trade and/or buyout) to spread things out in a more varied way. Regardless, the madness begins at 6:00 pm ET on June 30 and there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way.