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Jabari Parker signing, Omari Spellman trade continue perplexing offseason for Atlanta Hawks

Washington Wizards v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

After mostly remaining silent throughout the opening salvos of free agency, the Atlanta Hawks made their first full signing on Monday, opting to sign Jabari Parker to a reported two-year pact worth $13 million. He joins incumbent starter John Collins and newly-acquired backup Evan Turner among the team’s power forward ranks, though how exactly Turner will be deployed will change depending on which end of the court is being discussed. Parker’s presence will certainly complicate things for the Hawks, both from a lineup construction and playing time perspective.

Parker will step into a bench role as he continues to rehab his value after suffering a pair of knee injuries that completely derailed the early part of his career. The acquisition of Turner a few weeks ago made positional designations for the Hawks’ bench players nearly useless, as Turner will play backup point guard on offense but guard the other team’s best forward defensively. Parker’s fit with Turner is tenuous at best, considering the fact that both players are shaky outside shooters (Turner is significantly worse than Parker) and function best with the ball in their hands, whether as a scorer (Parker) or playmaker (Turner). Parker will hold down the other forward spot defensively and play as a scorer and spot-up shooter when the team has the ball.

Whether Parker is actually capable of helping a team win games is up for debate at this point in his career. He’s a so-so spot-up shooter at best, with some sub-standard years on his resume. He’s not a particularly good passer and doesn’t necessarily operate often as an offensive hub in the mid-post or at the elbow. Injuries have zapped at least some of his athleticism, which served as the engine of his offensive value as a scorer. His blend of size, speed, and technical ability is what led him to be the No. 2 overall pick in 2014, but things have not gone according to plan in the least for Parker.

Defense is a major, major issue for Parker. Never a particularly active or willing defender, he’s been a massive negative on that end of the floor throughout his career. The Hawks are going to have to plan around him and find places to hide him. Turner’s presence should help with that issue, to an extent, as he can defend the other team’s best forward and save Parker from that challenging task. The best aspect of Parker’s defense is that he doesn’t commit many fouls, though one might argue that it’s hard to commit fouls when you’re never close enough to the offensive players to actually make contact.

The Parker signing was swiftly followed by a trade: Omari Spellman, fresh off his rookie year, was moved to Golden State for Damian Jones and a far-off second-round pick that won’t come to the Hawks until 2026. Spellman’s exit clarifies the big man rotation quite a bit, as Jones won’t be nearly as much of a developmental focus for the organization as Spellman would have been. From a value perspective, it’s not often that a first-round pick is essentially dumped for very little return after his rookie year, but the team seemingly grew tired of Spellman and wanted to get him off their books, both from the cap and developmental perspectives.

Jones isn’t entirely without value, but the team has little reason to play him much this season. With just one year left on his rookie scale contract, they’re likely to lose him next summer in unrestricted free agency. It feels incredibly unlikely that he’ll show enough this year to warrant the club tendering him a qualifying offer and tying up some of their massive cap space for 2020, which makes his long-term future in Atlanta very doubtful.

At this stage, it’s safe to operate as though Jones will be the team’s third center behind Alex Len and Bruno Fernando. The team’s lack of center depth may also push Collins to play there in certain lineups, particularly with the addition of a power forward in Parker to add to the corps of players who can play the 4 next to Collins: Parker, Turner, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, and Chandler Parsons all either have experience or should be fine playing that spot.

In concert, these two moves shake up the team’s rotation but don’t necessarily clarify much. The bevy of young players the team needs to develop and the veterans looking for playing time will end up causing headaches for head coach Lloyd Pierce, who is now tasked with too many mouths to feed. Assuming health across the board, which isn’t necessarily a fair assumption for both Parker and Chandler Parsons, the Hawks have 12 players under contract who should reasonably expect playing time; however, playing that many guys game in and game out will be difficult for Pierce. Lineup construction is also going to be immensely important for the Hawks, as they have quite a few players with specific strengths and weaknesses that make playing certain guys together impossible.

Should the Hawks opt to consistently play Parker and Turner together on backup units, then it’s going to be imperative to surround them with as much shooting as possible. Players like Kevin Huerter and Allen Crabbe should be heavily featured in those lineups, as well as Len at center. Len is the only proven shooter the Hawks have at the 5, though Fernando has flashed some competence from beyond the arc.

Where this leaves DeAndre’ Bembry is also an open question. He’s likely not involved in the team’s best lineups with all the wings ahead of him in both the talent and developmental order. Off the bench, Bembry’s own lack of outside shooting makes him a tough fit with Parker and Turner. Defensively, Bembry may fit what the Hawks want, as he can defense opposing point guards, but a Turner-Bembry-Parker lineup at the 1, 2, and 4 is a recipe for offensive struggles.

From a big-picture perspective, the pair of moves seem to be working against one another – Spellman is a perfectly capable backup big man with significant conditioning concerns, while Parker is a slightly better player and has fewer concerns with respect to the way he takes care of himself, but he’s also able to leave for nothing next summer if he has a good year with the Hawks. Spellman’s value was tied to how long the Hawks had him under contract for very cheap and swapping that out for a player in Jones, who has just one year left on a rookie scale contract, was a curious piece of business from the Hawks. Playing Parker as Spellman’s replacement in the rotation isn’t an ideal fit due to Parker’s shooting concerns; the Hawks’ ethos of “dribble, pass, shoot” doesn’t perfectly hold up with Parker’s skillset.

Atlanta still has about $5.8 million in cap space to fill out their roster, plus the $4.8 million Room Exception, should they choose to use it. The acquisition of Parker is perhaps some level of insurance against an injury or poor play from Turner, though the team might want to sign another guard if that is the case. Jaylen Adams is a fine third point guard, but if the Turner experiment flames out, they’re going to want an actual backup point guard to run the show while Trae Young is out of the game. Jettisoning Spellman for Jones likely weakens the team’s big man rotation (at least to some degree) and essentially leaves Fernando as the backup center, so perhaps it would behoove the club to invest in a veteran center to take the game-to-game pressure off the second-round rookie.

Travis Schlenk and his staff seem to have two modes – they’re either making savvy moves in picking up good players on good contracts or finding gems in the draft, or they’re making head-scratching moves from a pure value perspective. This summer, there have been a lot more scratching of heads than pumping of fists in reaction to the Hawks’ moves, a trend that continued with signing Parker to an outsized contract and dumping Spellman for less return than one might expect from a recent first-round pick.