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Meet the new Hawks, same as the old Hawks

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Atlanta Hawks (117) Vs. Boston Celtics (125) At TD Garden Photo by Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Trade Deadline 2024 has come and gone, and the Hawks roster hasn’t changed one iota.

It’s an annual tradition at this point to enter February with major questions about whether one or more starters will be moved elsewhere. And for the umpteenth time in a row, nothing came to fruition.

Even last time around, the Hawks picked up the serviceable but unspectacular Saddiq Bey for a boatload of second-round picks.

But this season, caught between buying and selling, Atlanta did neither — signaling their attempt to improve from within and push for the playoffs.

John Collins previously occupied a perch on the trade block after two contentious extension/contract negotiations before and after playoff success. Now in Utah, he’s having trouble hiding his relief to be done with that ordeal.

The Hawks this winter officially made no trades — this despite rumors swirling for months around some of the most vital players on the team. At 22-29 and clinging to a spot in the Play-In Tournament, the proceedings of Thursday may be a difficult pill to swallow.

I can hear you screaming at your screen, “pick a direction!” This team has waffled on where to head after the 2021 run to the Eastern Conference Finals. At first, building centrally around the dynamism of Trae Young seemed like the proper move. But almost immediately, the steady but unscalable Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter as well as the lack of frontcourt playmaking doomed the operation when faced with aggressive defenses like the Miami Heat.

Enter Dejounte Murray: a 2021-22 All-Star averaging 21-9-8 and with a stingy reputation on defense. Murray helped transform the Hawks from the second-best offense and 26th-best defense in 2021-22 all the way to...the seventh-best offense and the 22nd-best defense in 2022-23.

Oof.

Even after signing an extension worth up to $120.5 million across four years in new money that kicks in this offseason, it seems the honeymoon is over.

Last year’s Hawks fought a valiant fight against the forces of mid — and almost lost if not for a late postseason surge. This year’s Hawks are up against the ropes to mid once again, and it’s not looking pretty. And so the buzzards began swarming late in 2023, and dropping locker room morale may have led to a desire for some players to head to a different basketball home.

With the Lakers following up a Western Conference Finals run by also battling .500 in the regular season, rumors quickly linked Klutch client Murray with the team of Klutch clients. According to many of the most mainstream NBA insiders, Dejounte Murray seemed somewhat likely to end up with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Hawks have already picked their direction, however. Quin Snyder was brought in to bring stability and culture-building to Atlanta. It will be a slow process should all parties remain committed to the vision. Still, yours truly has already declared himself out on the hopes that the Trae Young-Dejounte Murray duo can truly lift the Hawks to new heights.

Even so, there is no bottoming out. Not with their 2025 first-round pick, 2027 first-round pick, and the rights to the better of theirs and the Spurs’ 2026 first-round pick in the possession of San Antonio.

The organization will have some difficult choices to make in the offseason, especially if the 2024-25 cap and tax level continue to project downward. This could place the Hawks into next year’s projected tax level just with the salary currently on the books. While the top levels of the organization continue to dispute that as a motivation, the Hawks have been one of the four-lowest tax spending teams in the league since 2001 according to Forbes.

So now what?

All the Hawks can do is keep trudging along. A Larry O’Brien trophy hoist isn’t in the cards for this season, but the team has displayed better basketball as of late — coinciding with the return of De’Andre Hunter. In the past six games, the Hawks have beaten the Raptors, Lakers, Warriors, Suns, and have narrowly lost to the conference-leading Clippers and Celtics.

There are 31 regular season games left for the Hawks to both position themselves to play in the postseason, as well as prove to themselves that the current iteration of the team is good enough to stay the course over the summer. But I have my doubts the short-sighted nature of the current “extend-now-and-trade-later” roster strategy will see the Hawks get ahead of the curve in today’s NBA.

And so once the offseason hits, it might be worthwhile to tap back into the rumor mill once again.