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State of the Atlanta Hawks: Bigs

Continuing our series with a look at the team’s crop of frontcourt options.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few weeks, Peachtree Hoops’ Zach Hood will run through a ‘State of the Atlanta Hawks’ series. The series will break down the roster from both a basketball and asset building perspective in an effort to access where the franchise is after being left out of the 22-team Orlando bubble.

The Atlanta Hawks had a gaping hole at center for much of the 2019-20 season following the departure of Dewayne Dedmon and the early-November suspension of John Collins. That left Alex Len, Damian Jones and Bruno Fernando as the Hawks’ primary bigs and problems arose as a result.

President of basketball operations Travis Schlenk then notoriously traded for two centers before the February deadline. He brought in Clint Capela from the Houston Rockets — in exchange for a 2020 first-round pick — and reunited Dedmon with his former teammates in a trade that sent Len and Jabari Parker to Sacramento. Capela still hasn’t played for Atlanta, while Dedmon was mostly the same player from his previous stint with the club, though he did suffer from a bit of a shooting slump during the 2019-20 campaign.

Going into 2020-21, head coach Lloyd Pierce will have a much deeper frontcourt than he has had to work with in the past. A presumably healthy trio of Capela, Dedmon and a combo big man in Collins should leave the center position in good hands. If Fernando can continue to develop, he could potentially carve out a consistent role as well.

Clint Capela, C, 26 years old, 3 years, $51.31 million remaining

Capela played just 39 games for the Rockets in 2019-20, averaging 13.9 points and 13.8 rebounds per game. He was also averaging 1.8 blocks, just short of his career high. The Hawks officially listed the injury as plantar fasciitis and a right calcaneus contusion upon acquiring him from Houston.

Capela, the No. 25 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, spent six seasons with the Rockets. He developed into one of the better ‘rim-runners’ in the league and is also a good defender in the interior, with some ability to switch out onto smaller players if needed.

Capela signed a 5-year, $85 million contract extension in the summer of 2018.

John Collins, PF/C, 23 years old, 1 year, $4.14 million remaining — Restricted free agent in 2021

Collins is entering a contract year in 2020-21, which is no secret by now. It’s also not a secret that he was playing at an All-Star level when the coronavirus hiatus began. The third-year big was putting up crazy numbers with equally appalling efficiency. Collins finished the season averaging 21.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game on 66% TS and 40% from three.

If Collins is able to replicate that performance in 2020-21, the Hawks may have no choice but to match the highest offer he receives in restricted free agency next summer, which could very well be a maximum contract. In the meantime, he is eligible for a contract extension this summer.

Dewayne Dedmon, C, 31 years old, 1 year, $13.33 million remaining — $13.33 million team option for 2022-23 with $1 million buyout

The Hawks lost Dedmon to a big 3-year, $40 million offer last summer, but were able to get him back after things didn’t work out for the big man with the Kings. The last year of his deal being non-guaranteed, combined with the Hawks’ likely lack of desire to have Parker exercise his player option, was enough for Schlenk to pull the trigger and bring Dedmon back despite the large contract for 2020-21.

Dedmon will be in line to the be the primary backup center, and overpaying him for one year in case something happens to Capela is not the worst plan. He is also a well-liked locker room presence, and Atlanta is on the record as prioritizing that appeal with Dedmon.

Bruno Fernando, C, 22 years old, 2 years, $3.30 million remaining — Restricted free agent in 2022

Going into the season, minutes are far from guaranteed for Fernando, which is a bit odd for him. He played a good bit as a rookie, yet is now in a position to potentially play less in his second season. The additions of Capela and Dedmon likely leave him as the fourth center, as Collins will probably still see 10-12 minutes a game at center. It is worth nothing, though, that both Capela and Dedmon have battled injuries in the past, which could open the door for Fernando.

Expiring bigs: Skal Labissiere, Damian Jones, Vince Carter (retired)

Offseason outlook

It would seem unlikely that Atlanta would invest significant capital in another big man between now and the start of next season, via the draft, trade or free agency. The club could bring back Labissiere on a minimum as depth — or acquire another low-cost option as insurance — but Jones is likely to land elsewhere.

The biggest potential wrinkle could be a Collins trade, as he is entering the final year of his rookie contract and there have been questions as to what exactly is going to unfold, to say the least. Barring a big change such as a Collins trade, if all goes well Atlanta’s frontcourt should be in the best shape it has been in since the days of Al Horford and Paul Millsap.

Contract info from Early Bird Rights; Listed ages reflect players’ age for 2020-21 season.