In the seven years between 2008 and 2014, 10 teams made the playoffs at least five times:
Atlanta – which joins San Antonio as the only ones to reach the postseason all seven years – is the only team on the list not to reach even the conference finals in that span.
The Hawks: Often good, never great.
Until last year.
Atlanta won a franchise-record 60 games and reached the conference finals for the first time. (Its last comparable playoff advancement came in 1970, when it reached the division finals, before the league split into conferences.) The Hawks had four All-Stars: Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver – all of whom returned for this season.
But Atlanta has fallen back into the heap of good, not great, teams in the East. The Hawks are 30-24 and fifth in the conference, 1.5 games from both third and seventh.
Where do they go from here?
The Atlanta Hawks are engaged in serious internal discussions ahead of the Feb. 18 trade deadline about the future direction of their team and their core players, including three All-Stars from their historic 2014-15 team: Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver.
Sources close to the organization emphasize that if the Hawks become active in the next week, it will not be to “blow it up,” but rather an attempt to exchange their existing players for commensurate, if younger, talent.
Those sources also said head coach/president of basketball operations Mike Budenholzer isn’t inclined to dismantle a team less than nine months removed from a conference finals appearance.
So, Atlanta wants to trade it players for equally talented replacements who are younger (and, therefore, probably cheaper)? Good luck with that.
It’s instructive that the Hawks are thinking about a shakeup, and this article contains plenty of detail worth exploring. But it seems unlikely their line of thinking actually leads to a major move.
The most pressing concern is Horford, who becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. Already linked to the Pistons, he will likely draw multiple max offers – projected to be worth more than $145 million over five years from the Hawks and $108 million over four years from other teams.
Arnovitz and Windhorst:
Sources say that while ownership has pledged to both spend and to entrust the Hawks’ basketball minds to make basketball decisions, that figure, along with the overall tab — which would be one of the richest contracts in the NBA — has the Hawks’ brass a bit skittish.
It’s reasonable to be concerned. Horford turns 30 this summer, and while he also has a high basketball IQ, athleticism influences his on-court excellence. This is a tricky time to have a star up for a big contract.
The Hawks could face a question many teams in this position must answer: Would you rather “overpay” him or not have him at all?
I’d lean toward biting the bullet and paying Horford. The cap is skyrocketing, and with many players locked into old-money contracts, teams will have plenty to spend on free agents the next couple years. Horford, a borderline All-Star annually, is a huge part of Atlanta’s success. It’d be too difficult to replace him.
Plus, teams too often overthink committing big money to single player based on financial hesitation (though it has been less of a problem lately). The Hawks will probably spend a similar overall amount the next five years, anyway. Who cares whether Horford receives a huge share of that expenditure or it’s split equally among multiple lesser players based on overal spending? You can put just five players on the court. Generally, I’d rather sink more assets into fewer players.
But it all depends what the Hawks do with the rest of their roster. If they trade Korver and/or Teague to take a short-term step back, Horford could leave. Losing Horford for nothing is the worst-case scenario.
Atlanta’s best bet for getting a significant return in a Horford trade is working with him and his agent to find a team where he’d want to re-sign. The NBA prohibits any under-the-table agreements, but they happen. If Horford pledges to re-sign with a team, it will – justifiably – offer the Hawks more in a trade.
Short of that, I doubt they’ll get enough to justify dealing him. It’s just not worth it for other teams to offer Atlanta much now when they can try signing him outright in the summer.
A Teague trade seems most likely, because the Hawks already have his younger replacement on the roster – Dennis Schröder, who has made his desire to become a starting point guard well known.
Arnovitz and Windhorst:
Sources say the Indiana Pacers have made inquiries and have dangled guard George Hill as a possible swap. The Magic are also potential suitors for Teague, sources confirmed.
I’m not sure what Hill – who’s older than Teague – accomplishes for Atlanta. Both players make $8 million this year and next. Hill is a better defender and capable of playing shooting guard, but neither fact trumps the age difference. The Pacers would have to offer more.
Teague would improve the Magic’s backcourt shooting, which they desperately need. More importantly, this could signal Orlando isn’t completely sold on Elfrid Payton as its point guard of the future.
The Knicks are also reportedly interested in Teague, but they’re linked to any available point guard – and lack assets to get one now.
Finally, there’s Korver, who’s sneakily old – 35 next month. With him shooting nearly a career-low 38.3% on 3-pointers – great for almost everyone else – this seems like a bad time to trade him. But if a team wants help winning right now and values Korver highly, the Hawks should listen.
The downside of dealing Korver for younger players and/or draft picks is sending a signal that causes Horford to leave in free agency. So, if the Hawks trade Korver, they should consider trading Horford. And if they deal Horford, why not get more of the roster on the same timeline and also trade Teague?
One of the Hawks’ best on-court attributes is their cohesion, and building their roster is similarly related. If one domino falls, others could follow. The more Atlanta disrupts this roster, the more additional moves could make sense.
But given Budenholzer’s attitude and the team’s newfound connection with fans – especially important with a new owner – my guess is the Hawks try to keep their core in tact.
Good, not great, isn’t so bad.