When the Kings drafted him No. 5 in the 2012, Thomas Robinson was widely hailed as one of the draft’s safest picks, the type of player who’d spend a decade in the NBA. But Robinson fell out of the league after just five seasons, spending last year in Russia.
He’s back — at least for training camp.
Shams Charania of The Athletic:
Sources: Free agent forward Thomas Robinson is signing a non-guaranteed deal with the Atlanta Hawks.
NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.
It seems as if the Hawks have been rebuilding for ages.
Really, they’re only one season removed from a decade-long playoff streak, the NBA’s second-longest at the time.
General manager Travis Schlenk has swiftly done what his predecessors didn’t – dismantle a team that won 60 games and commit to rebuilding. In fact, Schlenk has advanced far enough that he’s already well into building Atlanta back up.
Only Kent Bazemore remains the playoff-series-winning team in 2016, let alone the 60-win squad in 2015. Heck, only Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry and Bazemore remain from the team Schlenk inherited just last year.
The Hawks aren’t done dismantling. They’re poised to tank another season. But their rebuild has already seen a defining move.
On draft night, Atlanta traded the rights to No. 3 pick Luka Doncic to the Mavericks for the rights to No. 5 pick Trae Young and a future first-round pick. That decision will take year to evaluate and will linger over both franchises far longer.
For now, it seems about fair. I rated Doncic ahead of Young and both above their draft slots. The Dallas pick – top-five protected the next two years, top-three protected the following two years and unprotected in 2023 – roughly bridges the gap between the players.
If the Hawks preferred Young anyway, they did a great job leveraging an extra first-rounder and still getting their man.
Atlanta’s other first-round picks – Kevin Huerter (No. 19) and Omari Spellman (No. 30) – were also sound. Squint hard enough, and Young and Huerter comprise a backcourt that somewhat resembles Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. That’s the easy comparison considering Schlenk came from the Warriors’ front office, though that’d probably make Spellman the next Marreese Speights.
And that’s make Dennis Schroder the next Monta Ellis, a talented player it was time to move. Though Schroder is just 24, he’s too combustible with and away from the team. Young is the Hawks’ future at point guard.
Rather than pay Schroder $46.5 million over the next three years, Atlanta is better off sinking $25,534,253 into a waived Carmelo Anthony this season. And the Hawks got a potential first-rounder in the deal!
The Thunder pick is lottery-protected in 2022. Otherwise, it converts into two second-rounders. So, there’s a decent chance Atlanta never receives a first-rounder. But unloading Schroder, who had negative value to many teams around the league, was enough. Getting a pick or two – who knows how good Oklahoma City will be in four years? – is gravy.
The Hawks also swapped Mike Muscala for Justin Anderson in the three-way trade with the Thunder and 76ers. For this team in this league, going from the 27-year-old center to a 24-year-old small forward is an upgrade. Anderson must gain traction in his career, but it’s worth the bet he does so in Atlanta.
Alex Len makes sense as another flier. The former No. 5 pick had moments in five years with the Suns, and he took major strides forward last season. Perhaps, the 25-year-old is on the verge of emerging as capable of being in a good team’s rotation. I’m surprised the price (guaranteed $8.51 million over two years) was so high, but the Hawks had cap space to burn. Better to get their preferred project center.
To that end, Atlanta splurged a lot of its cap room on Jeremy Lin, getting the point guard with just a smattering of second-round considerations going between Atlanta and Brooklyn. Could that cap space have been put to better use, like a salary dump or even just saving ownership money? Did the Hawks acquire Lin as a fan draw? Will Lin generate more revenue than his $13,768,421 salary? He could work well as a veteran mentor, but that’s a lot to pay a veteran mentor.
With Young, John Collins and Taurean Prince at the forefront and Spellman, Anderson and Len diversifying the portfolio, the Hawks have a nice core to build around. They’ll add to it with their own first-rounder, the extra first-rounder from Dallas and a potential first-rounder from Cleveland (top-10 protected the next two years or else it becomes two second-rounders).
Atlanta lost a good coach in Mike Budenholzer, but he didn’t seem eager to oversee a rebuild. Lloyd Pierce, known for player development and teaching defense, takes over. Like practically every first-time NBA head coach, Pierce is a roll of a dice. Maybe the Hawks could have leveraged Budenholzer into securing compensation from another team for letting him leave or even just paying off less of contract. Instead, they just sent him packing.
Sometimes, it’s best to make a clean break and move on.
Offseason grade: B-
How do you feel about Trae Young, Jeremy Lin backcourt?
Trae Young is the future of the Atlanta Hawks. General manager Travis Schlenk bet big on draft night, trading away the rights to No. 3 pick Luka Doncic — the EuroLeague MVP a lot of scouts were very high on — to get Young as the point guard of the future and the face of the Hawks.
That’s part of why Schlenk went and got Jeremy Lin, to mentor Young.
“I think I can help (Young) a lot and share my experience playing in the NBA with him. I know the Hawks plan to use us on the court together. I had played for the Rockets, Lakers and Hornets that put two point guards on the court simultaneously, so I know Trae and I could play very fast. Coach Lloyd Pierce, one of the (former) coaches for the Warriors, was also my coach, so I have talked to him already. I’m really excited, about the upcoming season, it’s going to be fun.”
Said Young: “I think we’ll work really well together. This is a rebuilding team, and we’re going to try some things. Some are going to work, some aren’t, so we’re just going to work together and do whatever we can to turn this franchise around.”
I want to see this. It may be a disaster defensively, but it could be fun to watch.
Houston is still active on trade fronts, perusing the market for a wing defender, and remains interested in Kent Bazemore of the Atlanta Hawks—according to a person with knowledge of the situation….
The Pelicans are also a team interested in acquiring Bazemore, but Atlanta is not interested in taking on Solomon Hill. New Orleans also has its 2019 first-round pick.
Both teams could use Bazemore, as both want some help on the wing. Bazemore is a quality “3&D” player on the perimeter, probably the best player on a bad Hawks teams last season. He scored 12.9 points per game last season but more importantly bounced back from a down year with good three-point shooting (39.4 percent), using his drives to draw fouls, and providing leadership on a team that needed it. He will make $18 million this season with a player option for $19.3 million next season.
In Houston, Bazemore would play the two/three mixed in with James Ennis, Eric Gordon and Gerald Green (I think it’s a safe bet to say the Rockets will continue to start James Harden in there, too). The challenge is structuring the trade — Atlanta isn’t going to just take on Ryan Anderson‘s remaining two-years, $41.6 million without a lot of young players/sweeteners (and the Rockets’ own late first-round picks aren’t going to cut it). Built to win now, the Rockets aren’t flush with the kind of young talent that would interest Atlanta in a deal.
In New Orleans, Bazemore could start at the two next to Jrue Holiday and the fit would be smooth and an upgrade. Again, the challenge is how to structure a trade: E'Twaun Moore plus some young prospects and picks could work, but the Pelicans aren’t loaded in the young player/picks department, either.
Atlanta is in no rush. Bring Bazemore back, start the season with him, and wait for a good trade option to emerge either at the deadline or next summer. The Hawks don’t need to make a bad trade just to do it, they can ride this out. No pressure. If Houston or New Orleans or anyone else wants to make a trade, the pressure is on them to put together a better deal.
As Summer League ends, what are teams taking away from Las Vegas?
LAS VEGAS — Knicks fans were lined up out the door, literally overflowing the Cox Arena on the UNLV campus to get a glimpse of Kevin Knox, who averaged 21.3 points per game at Summer League and suddenly was seen as the newest star on Broadway — the perfect pairing for Kristaps Porzingis.
As Summer League has grown over the years — all 30 NBA teams were represented in Las Vegas, every game was televised nationally — so has the importance of these July exhibitions in the minds of fans.
But what do teams — their coaches, scouts, and GMs — take away from Las Vegas?
“It’s just benchmarks for the guys,” new Hawks’ coach Lloyd Pierce told NBC Sports in Las Vegas. “I got bear cubs right now. I saw Omari (Spellman) at Villanova, but I hadn’t touched him. I saw Trae (Young) at Oklahoma, but I hadn’t touched him. Kevin (Huerter) I still haven’t touched (hand surgery).
“So we have a couple areas with Trae, and we have a couple areas with John Collins and a couple areas with Tyler Dorsey where we say, ‘you know what, I know what we need to work on.’ More will come, but at least I have a starting point, and we can have a conversation now.”
That conversation is about how much more work needs to be done.
Summer League has become big business for the NBA, it’s marketed and put on a bigger stage, and with that it’s natural that Summer League games have grown in importance in the eyes of fans (and media). But for teams, the purpose hasn’t changed since the games were an almost forgotten part of the NBA season at the Pyramid on the Long Beach State campus.
Multiple NBA coaches and executives told NBC Sports is just the first post-draft step in evaluation, and where a player is on the scale right now is not nearly as important as where he goes from here. Those decision makers know that 90 percent of the players in Las Vegas will not even be invited to an NBA training camp, then combine that with limited practices and there is only so much big-picture evaluation that can take place.
“I don’t get wrapped up into the rookies, as far as being discouraged with what you see here,” said Bobby Marks, former assistant general manager with the Brooklyn Nets and current ESPN analyst. “I think I’m more discouraged if I have a second- or third-year player who does not play well here…
“You take gradual steps. You look at where you were when you first get to Vegas, where they were at the end of June or early July, then you see where they are in the middle of July.”
A lot of the evaluation from teams is not in those televised Las Vegas games, but rather on the practice court.
“The first thing is you evaluate how coachable they are, because you don’t have a lot of time, but there’s a few things you emphasize just to see if they do it,” said Utah Jazz Summer League coach Alex Jensen. “Summer League is one of those things where they are always trying to showcase themselves, so sometimes it’s not the easiest thing to do, but we want to see how coachable they are.”
For those first-round and high second-round picks, it’s also a chance to put players in NBA situations. For example, Portland Summer League coach Jim Moran said they run a lot of the same sets in Las Vegas they will run come the fall, with the goal of getting guys like Gary Trent Jr. or Anfernee Simons shots they will see come the games that matter.
“We’re trying to put them in situations they’ll be put in the regular season,” Moran said. “So whether it be defensively having our bigs switch out on smaller guys, or learning how to move and keep smaller guys in front of them, or offensively just getting them a feel for where their shots are going to come from in certain plays, we want to see it.”
For a first-round pick such as Portland’s Simons or the Knicks’ Knox or Atlanta’s Young, Summer League is a showcase. Every first-round pick has a guaranteed NBA contract — they are going to get paid come the fall. That’s not to say they don’t play hard or take it seriously, but no matter what happens in Las Vegas they will be on a roster come October.
The real business of Summer League is second-round picks, undrafted players, and guys coming back from playing overseas trying to get noticed — by NBA teams, ideally, but at least by European scouts who can land them good paying gigs playing basketball. It’s an on-court job application for almost everyone in uniform. NBA staffs are taking notes on these guys, as well.
“Second-rounders, undrafted guys, guys you might sign to two-ways, guys you might need to call up on a two way, because you don’t really know,” ESPN’s Marks said of who he watched closely at Summer League in his executive days. “There could be guys who were playing in Europe last year, or maybe from lower level schools and you didn’t bring them in for a workout, there’s a newness to this. So I think it benefits them more than your first round picks.”
Put in a good showing and guys can find their way onto a roster — Trevon Bluiett out of Xavier averaged 18.3 points per game for the Pelicans, and they signed him to a two-way contract. A handful of other guys did the same, or will get training camp invites out of Las Vegas.
Because of that those guys are hustling — say what you want about the glorified pick-up game nature of Summer League play, guys go hard because paychecks are on the line.
However, for bigger name, higher drafted players, performance in Las Vegas matters more to fans than it does the franchise.
“There are takeaways, it gives you a baseline for the rest of the summer,” Marks said.
And that’s just the first step. By Halloween, all these games will be a distant memory.