When Clint Capela was acquired by the Atlanta Hawks in a multi-team trade in early February, the transaction was as much, or more, about the future than it was about the present. After all, the Hawks were not in a position to a make a likely run to the postseason and part of Capela’s appeal was a thoroughly reasonable contract that extends through the 2022-23 season.
Still, Atlanta was hoping to be able to assess Capela — who was battling an injury upon arrival — alongside his new teammates at some point during the 2019-20 season. That hope continued all the way until the final word that the Hawks would not, in fact, be invited to the “bubble” environment in Orlando.
In an overall sense, the Hawks are “hopeful” to have answers on their offseason schedule in the near future but, with regard to Capela’s injury status, the news is generally positive as the summer arrives.
“Way, way, way better,” Capela said when asked on how his injured foot/heel is feeling on Friday. “I’ve been taking care of it all this time. Now, I really feel that my heel has maybe healed, so it doesn’t bother me when I walk around or do my workout so far. I just can’t wait to go out there and play.”
The 26-year-old center last appeared on the floor for the Rockets on Jan. 29 before Atlanta acquired Capela just days later. Given the mercurial nature of Capela’s injury — which the Hawks officially describe as “right calcaneus contusion/plantar fasciitis” — the timeline for his return was unclear, even before the pandemic arrived. From there, the Hawks haven’t been able to fully evaluate and monitor his progress since the NBA’s hiatus began, leaving some uncertainty on Capela’s overall health.
Capela seems optimistic that he would have returned at some point if the Hawks continued the 2019-20 season, though, even while acknowledging he isn’t 100 percent sure of his status.
“Obviously, I don’t know 100 percent since I haven’t been having games,” Capela said on his progression. “I haven’t done any full practices, 5-on-5 with my teammates... It’s still something I’m going to have to check with the team.”
Capela did indicate that he has participated in “a little bit” of basketball activity and, specifically, that he has been “been able to do some individual workouts.” Until he is fully cleared by the organization, though, the full picture is at least a little bit cloudy.
“It would have not been my call only,” Capela said when asked if he could have played if the Hawks continued the season this summer. “It would have been me and the team agreeing on it. For my part, I think that I would have been part of it.”
Previously, Hawks president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk said it was “certainly not ideal” to have the season cut short without being able to see Capela in action while wearing a Hawks uniform, further indicating that the team “would have loved to see some game action with him.” Still, it is unquestionably helpful that Capela has an established track record to evaluate and a defined skill set that should help the Hawks on the floor.
The veteran center averaged 13.9 points and 13.8 rebounds per game in 2019-20, with strongly above-average efficiency as a play-finisher offensively. In addition, Capela provides defensive resistance at the center position that the Hawks did not boast in 2019-20, presenting a sharp overall upgrade over the combination of players he is replacing
“As it stands now, if we’re not able to play, it’d essentially be like signing a free agent,” Schlenk said of Capela. “It happens every year in every team, so it’s not unprecedented, but it sure would be advantageous to work out those kinks out at the end of this season or during the summer. But if we can’t, we’ll just go into next year and we’ll have camp to do that. It might take a little bit longer for him to get used to playing with our guys. But we’ll get there, I have full confidence in that.”
Questions loom on Capela’s injury recovery, as well as his potential fit alongside John Collins in Atlanta’s frontcourt. On the whole, however, all signs point to this extra recovery time being a positive for the newly acquired center and, with him in the middle, it feels safe to project that the Hawks will be in a substantially better position on the floor when 2020-21 begins, even before the draft and free agency arrive.