Three questions the Atlanta Hawks must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 43-39 and made the playoffs for the 10th straight year, but had the point difference of a 39-43 team and lost in the first round

I know what you did last summer: Atlanta completed the breakup of the starting lineup that won 60 games a couple years ago, letting Paul Millsap leave in free agency (after trading Kyle Korver at the deadline last season). The Hawks also traded Dwight Howard in a salary dump rearrangement. New general manager Travis Schlenk is clearly rebuilding, adding No. 19 pick John Collins and an extra future first-rounder (acquired for renting cap space to pay a bought-out Jamal Crawford). But Atlanta isn’t jumping full speed into tanking. The Hawks also signed competitive veterans Dewayne Dedmon and Ersan Ilyasova.

THREE QUESTIONS THE HAWKS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Atlanta compete or tank? The Hawks look far closer to being the NBA’s worst team than a playoff qualifier. It’s hard to see a Mike Budenholzer-coached team starting the season tanking. But if Atlanta can’t surpass outside expectations, the strategy could change. When – or even if – that happens could play a large part in how this season looks.

In a weak Eastern Conference, it’s at least plausible the Hawks remain in the playoff race for a while. Veterans like Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli can play.

But if Atlanta drops in the standings, their playing time could get turned over to rawer young players, who’d likely sink the Hawks even further.

2) Is Dennis Schroder – or anyone – a long-term piece? There isn’t a single player on this team to feel confident will still be in Atlanta when the Hawks next win a playoff series, or even just make the playoffs. The Hawks slid into this rebuild after a long postseason streak, which means they haven’t had a top-10 pick in a decade.

Schroder is the closest thing to a blue-chip prospect on this roster, and he’s the only one earning big money (starting a four-year, $62 million extension this season). So, there’s a little more attention on him.

But John Collins, Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry are all indefinite keepers, too.

If Atlanta isn’t going to make the playoffs, success could be identifying which players to build around long-term.

3) Will Dewayne Dedmon and Ersan Ilyasova establish trade value? Dedmon and Ilyasova are hedges against rebuilding and the early favorites to start at power forward and center. These are proud veterans who will help the team right now – and work against the Hawks securing a high draft pick.

So, why sign those two?

Because Atlanta is surely holding out hope to be good. Teams rarely start the season tanking without first taking a shot at defying expectations.

But also maybe because Dedmon and Ilyasova will have positive trade value. If the Hawks fall out of the playoff race, they might look to deal Dedmon (two years, $12.3 million with a player option) and Ilyasova (one year, $6 million) to winners for younger players and picks. Ilyasova can block any trade, but if Atlanta sinks far enough, why wouldn’t he approve a trade to a better team, the only type of team that’d be interested in him?