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Clint Capela addition fills need for Atlanta Hawks at strong value

NBA: Houston Rockets at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks made (big) news in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, reportedly acquiring center Clint Capela from the Houston Rockets as part of a wild, four-team trade extravaganza. Though the deal is not official — and the Hawks will have to move on from a member of the current roster to make the roster math work — the league’s leading news-breakers have weighed in to the point where all assumptions are that Travis Schlenk and company landed a starting-caliber center after months of speculation.

In the end, Atlanta’s side of the mega-trade is essentially a swap of a 2020 first-round pick — acquired from Brooklyn in the deal involving Taurean Prince and Allen Crabbe — and a 2024 second-round selection in exchange for Capela. The Hawks will send veteran forward Evan Turner out to match salary, with Atlanta taking in the contract of Nene Hilario, who is widely expected to be waived in the near future. As such, the value proposition centers on what Capela can bring to the Hawks, while comparing that to the pick that most project to land in the No. 15-17 range in late June.

As far as the player is concerned, Capela is, at the very least, a quality starter at the center position. He has been a full-time starter for the last four seasons in Houston, acting as a key piece to a team with title aspirations. In 2019-20, the 25-year-old is averaging 13.9 points and 13.8 rebounds per game, producing at a high level, and Capela’s efficiency on the offensive end has never been in doubt. In fact, he boasts a career 63.4 percent effective field goal percentage, which is utterly tremendous.

Capela will act as a high-end threat in the pick-and-roll, forming a tremendous theoretical partnership with Trae Young. Atlanta’s lead guard is one of the NBA’s best passers and, unlike Capela’s arrangement with James Harden and Russell Westbrook in Houston, the Hawks feature pick-and-roll on a very frequent basis. Capela is certainly not a floor-spacing threat but, when deployed properly, he can be an impactful offensive player and he is one of the game’s best offensive rebounders, landing in the top 10 of the NBA in offensive rebound rate in four consecutive seasons.

There are questions concerning Capela’s potential fit alongside John Collins but, for now, they seem to be at least somewhat overblown. It should be noted that the two big men will occasionally be in each other’s air space, with Collins also serving as an impressive roll threat and dive man. With that out of the way, Collins’ improvement as a floor spacer, particularly in the area of three-point shooting from the corners, should bring optimism when it comes to fit. There will be plenty of time for litigation on whether the frontcourt partnership is ideal for the long term but, in the moment, it doesn’t project to be a problem for the Hawks, and the team can now deploy a big-time lob threat for the vast majority of the game by staggering Capela and Collins.

On the defensive end, Capela is also a strong player and, without breaking news, he represents an overall upgrade on what the Hawks have deployed for most of the season. Capela is an excellent defensive rebounder — an area the Hawks have struggled with this season — and he has nimble feet and impressive speed for a player of his size. There is something of a divide when it comes to just how good Capela is on the defensive end but, depending on the metric, he is treated as either above-average or legitimately elite, providing real confidence that he can buoy Atlanta’s team defense in a positive direction.

Contractually, Capela projects as a real value for the next three and a half seasons. His 2019-20 salary of $14.9 million is certainly reasonable, and Capela is under team control through 2022-23, with the largest salary figure ($18.2 million) arriving in the final season. It is theoretically possible that Capela could slow down by the age of 28 in that final campaign but that isn’t an enormous concern. In totality, Capela’s contract projects to be valuable, even if not in an overwhelming sense.

When looking ahead, Capela now seemingly joins Atlanta’s “core” alongside Young, Collins, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter. That six-man group will factor in with the team’s decision-making in the near future, with Atlanta’s own first-round selection in the 2020 draft set to join the “committee” of sorts by late June. The Hawks still project to have more than $50 million in salary cap room for the summer of 2020, leaving Schlenk with the tools to push ahead toward a far more competitive landscape in 2020-21.

Given where the Hawks are with a 13-38 record on the season, the acquisition of Capela should be viewed through a future-facing lens, rather than one that is more short-sighted. Make no mistake, the Hawks will be better immediately with Capela available but, for the remainder of 2019-20, evaluation for the coming years should take precedent over what appears to be an extremely faint chance at a playoff push.

Because of the contract length, the Hawks are afforded the luxury of patience in evaluating Capela with their key pieces. That is especially important with Collins as contract extension negotiations arrive this summer and, well, there will be plenty of time for that discussion in the coming months.

In the broad picture, the Atlanta Hawks are better — both for the present and future — on Wednesday than they were on Tuesday, which isn’t a small thing. There is certainly work to be done in building a contending-level team, but Capela is an established, starting-caliber player with upside beyond that. For the modest price of a mid-first round pick (in a shaky draft) and filler salary, the risk is limited, and the transaction qualifies as something of a no-brainer.