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Trade Analysis: Atlanta is still in the asset game

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason started with a bang for the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday, when it was reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that the club have agreed to a deal with the Brooklyn Nets centered on Taurean Prince, Allen Crabbe, and a pair of first-round picks. The deal kicks off a summer that is sure to be full of a wide variety of moves for general manager Travis Schlenk and his staff. This particular trade is merely a precursor for what’s to come, the first domino in a line of trades, draft picks, and signings that will define the Hawks’ 2019 offseason and shape the 2019-20 roster.

The full details of the trade, so we have those out there at the start:

Brooklyn receives Taurean Prince and a 2021 unprotected second-round pick from Atlanta.

Atlanta receives Allen Crabbe, Brooklyn’s own 2019 first-round pick (No. 17), and a 2020 lottery-protected first-round pick, which will remain lottery-protected for three drafts before converting to a pair of second-rounders in 2023 and 2024.

From Atlanta’s perspective, this deal is another home run financial move for Schlenk in the third consecutive year he’s made a move to that effect. Crabbe is wildly overpaid at $18.5 million for the 2019-20 season, but his contract expires at the end of next year and the Hawks weren’t likely to need all ~$43 million in cap space they could have created this summer. For approximately $17 million in cap space and Prince, the Hawks were compensated with a pair of first-round picks, which gives them less financial flexibility but a lot more draft flexibility over the next two drafts.

Losing Prince hurts, but essentially nabbing a first-round pick for him was the value that made the most sense if they decided to move on from the mercurial forward. Prince had been on the block since January, when rumors first circulated that the team was interested in moving him. Talks died before gaining significant traction, but the word was out that he was available for the right price. As it turned out, Brooklyn came to the table with the right price for Atlanta to move on from him.

Prince’s league-wide value has been widely debated, with those who watch him every night bothered by his defensive issues and perceived selfishness, while the bigger picture shows a 6’8 shooter who flashed the potential for above-average defense his rookie year before the team (and his effort level on that end of the floor) went into the tank. Head coach Kenny Atkinson, who has ties to Atlanta dating back to before Prince’s arrival as a first-round draft pick, will certainly have helped his front office do their homework on Prince’s coachability and personality before they signed off the deal.

Crabbe, should he stick on the Hawks’ roster, will provide some of the same things Prince did, provided he can stay healthy. He suffered from knee issues last season and had surgery in early April to end what was a poor season for him, but he’s consistently been a high-level shooter in his career with Portland and Brooklyn. Health will be a question mark, but he’s certainly a useful player on the wing when he’s out there. He’s not a starter-level player at this point in his career due to a lack of offensive versatility and significant defensive questions, but he’ll be a rotation player for the Hawks if he’s still on the team come Opening Night.

Whether Crabbe will want to play for the Hawks or will push for a buyout is an unknown at this point. It’d be fully reasonable for him to seek a more competitive home and the Hawks would likely be open to buyout talks, as they were with Carmelo Anthony and Jamal Crawford the last two summers. On the other hand, Crabbe will likely be in line for rotation minutes with the Hawks and could use 2019-20 to rebuild his value before hitting the free agency market next summer.

The crown jewels of the trade for Atlanta are the pair of first-rounders they picked up for the trouble of taking on Crabbe’s salary. The No. 17 pick in the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft gives them yet another asset to play with in trades, and adding a 2020 protected first-rounder will give them another infusion of young talent as their roster gets more expensive. At some point, Atlanta will transfer from rebuilding to contending, at which point the young guys they’re picking up with these draft picks will either be cost-controlled talent on a roster with two or three highly-paid stars or trade ballast to obtain those stars in the first place.

Picking up No. 17 in this year’s draft makes it clear that the Hawks are not done dealing and thus cannot be judged on this trade in a vacuum. Multiple times over the last few months, Schlenk has made mention of the fact that the team doesn’t necessarily want to bring in five rookies. Well, now he has six picks and assuming his desire to not bring in five rookies was not that he wanted to bring in MORE than five rookies, the Hawks have some trades to make.

Rumors immediately flooded that they were aiming to move up within the top ten, perhaps as high as No. 5 in a trade with Cleveland, which may enable them to draft a player like Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, a prospect who fits Schlenk’s “dribble, pass, and shoot” philosophy perfectly. Should Culver be off the board by the time No. 5 rolls around, the Hawks could make a lesser deal for someone like Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, considering just how many assets they have to move. The top prize, of course, would be Zion Williamson, but there’s almost no realistic package they could send to New Orleans for the opportunity to retain Williamson’s services.

Where Atlanta goes from here will be interesting. This trade is just one piece of the puzzle; we’ll have more pieces to fill in the rest of the picture in the coming months. More than most trades made in the NBA, this move really cannot be viewed in a vacuum and must be looked at in the overall scope of their offseason, which is obviously a bit difficult to do at this moment in time. Still, the value they got in this trade was tremendous – two first-round picks, one of which is already known to be in the middle of the round, in exchange for taking on Crabbe’s salary and a young player in Prince coming up on restricted free agency next summer is a very fine deal indeed for Schlenk and his staff.

There are always risks involved in any deal. The risk that Prince’s defensive acumen was hidden below his lack of effort and he becomes a high-end 3-and-D player, the risk that they’re unable to offload multiple picks in this year’s draft to either move up or collect future draft assets, or the risk that they could have done better with the 2019 cap space used in this deal are all downsides that Schlenk had to weigh before pulling the trigger. However, the upside of multiple first-round selections and the asset flexibility it gives the Hawks should be well worth any potential downside risk.