One of the worst-kept secrets in the NBA world is that the Atlanta Hawks would like to make a push for the 2020-21 playoffs. In addition to the logical progression of a rebuilding team, head coach Lloyd Pierce got the ball rolling with matter-of-fact comments in March and, since then, players have joined into the fun in openly discussing the playoffs as the team’s goal for next season. With that as the backdrop, many have opined that the Hawks, armed with the most salary cap space in the entire league, could throw their weight around when free agency (finally) begins in the coming weeks.
However, there is an additional possibility raised by multiple national sources in recent days, and that is the potential that the Hawks could utilize the No. 6 overall pick in a trade to net proven veteran help. Zach Lowe of ESPN brought those murmurs to the forefront on Thursday when he wrote the following.
The bidding for Holiday and Beal figures to center on Denver, Golden State, and Brooklyn — and to some extent Atlanta, Miami, and Dallas. The Hawks might try nabbing Holiday using their No. 6 pick — which they would be open to trading for veteran help, per several sources — but I don’t see that alone getting it done. Would they attach one of their young wings?
Lowe refers to New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, along with Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, in that snippet and that makes sense given reporting from Shams Charania of The Athletic that the Pelicans are “openly discussing” a deal for Holiday at this stage. While a potential pursuit for Holiday specifically is quite interesting, the broader implication that the Hawks “would be open to trading (the No. 6 pick) for veteran help” is perhaps worth discussion.
Earlier in the cycle, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reported that the Hawks are “shopping their first-round pick and intend to push for the playoffs.” Though that isn’t shocking, it does jive with Lowe’s reporting and, given the value of a pick in the top half of the lottery, it makes sense that Atlanta might aim high with such a pursuit.
Charania’s initial reporting on Holiday noted that “several contending teams are pursuing” and, with all respect to the current state of the Hawks, that description does not seem to speak to Atlanta. Still, there are other players, perhaps at a slightly lower level of effectiveness than a star like Beal or a fringe star like Holiday, that the Hawks could theoretically pursue.
Without intel, it is difficult to project who those players actually are, which is always frustrating from an outsider’s perspective. It is worth pointing out, though, that the Hawks could be better served using their free agent capital to invest in veterans, while still aiming for long-term development by using the No. 6 pick on a player that can grow alongside their young core in the future.
Finally, the Hawks already made a move almost directly to push for the playoffs in 2020-21 and beyond, and that was the acquisition of Clint Capela. While the transaction seemingly happened five years ago given the state of the world and the NBA, Capela is the kind of high-end starter that can (and will) make a sizable impact for the Hawks, and observers haven’t been able to evaluate that maneuver with any on-court evidence at this stage.
Travis Schlenk and the Hawks could certainly attach the No. 6 pick in a trade to secure a more established piece and, if it happens, absolutely no one should be surprised. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but there are productive arguments on both sides of that theory, and the dividing line could simply be the level of established player Atlanta could acquire. If it was an impact piece like Holiday or a star like Beal, the calculus is much different than it would be for even a high-end role player.
If nothing else, the draft is now less than two weeks away, and many questions will be answered on or before Nov. 18.