Hawks may need change but now is not time for major deal

The Hawks are deciding whether to keep their core of (from left) Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and Al Horford together for one more playoff run. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

The Hawks are deciding whether to keep their core of (from left) Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and Al Horford together for one more playoff run. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Against the backdrop of double-unsourced rumors that the Hawks are willing to trade one of their two best players (Al Horford and Paul Millsap), or their starting point guard (Jeff Teague), or a guy who has been their best three-point shooter because he’s showing signs of age and wear (Kyle Korver), this is really what coach Mike Budenholzer must decide: Should he give his team’s core one more shot?

It’s easy to understand the “Break ’em up,” mentality. The Hawks finished first in the Eastern Conference last season with 60 wins and reached the conference finals before running out healthy limbs and losing to Cleveland. This season they are barely in fourth place in the East and are on pace to win 46. They look too inconsistent to be a serious playoff threat, which isn’t to say that can’t change in the final eight weeks of the regular season.

But is this the time to bust up the core? I don’t think so. Some thoughts as we near the NBA’s trade deadline Thursday (3 p.m.):

Should they break up the core now? (No) If the Hawks are going to trade Teague, Millsap, Horford or even Korver, there’s a strong possibility they will take an immediate step back in this system offense. Any upside of a deal would more likely be in the future, not this season (because no team is likely to trade them an asset that weakens themselves this year and makes the Hawks better). If we were to assume a major deal would not help the Hawks in the short term, what’s the point of effectively blowing off the postseason? The field in the East isn’t daunting. The Cavaliers lead the conference standings but they’re not conquering nations. They have LeBron James. Big plus. But they also have a head coach (Tyronn Lue) who has been on the job for three weeks and by all appearances is a puppet for the team’s best player. Lue will have to make some major decisions at some point in the playoffs. Is he ready for that? Toronto looks like a legitimate contender but this is a franchise that has won only one playoff series in its existence (2000-01). The Raptors don’t scream tradition.

If you make a trade, who/when? (Teague/summer) Should Budenholzer and general manager Wes Wilcox decide to radically change the team’s look, it makes sense to do it after the year, when more teams are resetting their rosters and therefore can get involved in trade talks. There’s little danger of Horford leaving as an unrestricted free agent. Horford is a team guy but, like any athlete, he’ll also want the richest contract possible. Even if he wants out, he can make far more money in a sign-and-trade situation because the Hawks can offer him a five-year deal whereas another team can only offer four. So he likely won’t just bolt and sign elsewhere. But I believe dealing Horford would be a mistake. You can’t find too many athletes like him who check all the boxes: production, leadership, headache-free. The financial component of his potential signing is significant but that’s a decision the Hawks can make in the summer. If the Hawks are going to trade one of their three main pieces (Horford, Millsap, Teague), Teague makes the most sense. He has made remarkable strides under Budenholzer. When he’s aggressive, he’s great. The problem is he’s not always aggressive, and therefore he’s inconsistent. But it took a while for the Hawks to find a legitimate starting point guard so they need to be careful here. And I’m not convinced Dennis Schroder is the answer.

So what to do at the trade deadline? (Shooter) The Hawks can’t change their identity now. They are not going to suddenly become a physical team at either end of the court. So it makes the most sense to add a player who can be a short-term fix and enhance what they are. The best-case scenario: That means a three-point shooter. The Hawks averaged 10 three-pointers made per game last season, shooting 38 percent outside the arc (2nd in the league). This season they are averaging 9.4 made, shooting 34.8 percent (19th in the league). The biggest drop-off belongs to Kyle Korver, who has gone from 2.9 per game to 1.9, and his three-point shooting percentage has plummeted from 49.2 to 38.6. When I spoke to Korver in December, he attributed his slow start to limited off-season workouts and shooting drills resulting from post-season ankle and elbow surgeries. He has shot threes effectively in February (15-for-29 in six games) but that’s a small sample size.

Dwight Howard, anyone? (Please, no) There’s a saying about buying a boat: Your two happiest days are the day you buy it and the day you sell it. That’s what I think about Dwight Howard. Coaches and GMs believe he can be a major asset because he can still rebound and defend. The problem is everything else that goes with it, namely attitude and the fact he has long seemed out for himself and not his team. Those believing he would be a plus for the Hawks would suggest he has been humbled. There’s no evidence of that.

Who’s most on the spot? (Budenholzer) The Hawks miss DeMarre Carroll but Budenholzer couldn’t expect to compete with Toronto’s four-year, $60 million contract offer. But, as the de-facto GM, Budenholzer was entrusted to continue what the Danny Ferry started. To this point, the jury is still out.

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6 comments
DjYogi
DjYogi

Aside from trading Joe Johnson and Hiring Coach Bud.  What has Danny Ferry really done?  His job was about mediocre as Coach Bud's current doing.  I know trading Joe Johnson has become his claim to fame.  But he never replaced what he and Zaza gave on the floor.  Joe for what it was worth was clutch.  He was one of the highest scoring 4th players when ATL had him.  Zaza was a serviceable "Rebounding Big MAN"  


These 2 Things "rebounding and clutch scoring" Atlanta has struggled with since their departures.


Ferry never drafted a starter just a bunch of bench players who are marginal


His best picks Schroder and Muscala (this is a stretch) but the rest meh.

Schroder is not a starter yet. 


Drafted John Jenkins who can't get on the floor in Dallas

Drafted Lamar Patterson (dime a dozen)

Drafted Mike Scott tweener who can't play defense

Drafted Tavares long long shot

Drafted Bebe then traded Bebe for nothing (In the Raptors rotation_

Signed Lou Williams (who was clutch) and traded him for nothing 


Ferry is also the reason the Hawks lost Carroll.  He should have known the CBA rules when he signed him to a 2 year deal.  The same 2 year deal he signed Bazemore to as well.


They way this roster is struggling to get better is a direct result of Danny Ferry and the Hawks not totally paying attention to the rules of Early Bird Free Agency.

They didn't think Carroll, Millsap or Bazemore were part of their future so they wrote bargain deals


As for Teague vs Schroder,  Ferry and Bud never gave the kid the vote of confidence.


This Danny Ferry Mularkey has to stop.

atlfanman
atlfanman

How about a three way trade, Horford to Houston, Howard to Brooklyn and Lopez to Atlanta? Everyone gets something they like. The Rockets get rid of Howard, the Nets get to dump salary, the Hawks get a center who can score and rebound and Howard get to go where he wanted to be from the beginning.

bigern73
bigern73

@JeffSchultzAJC I love Al but he's 30 & not a "max" player. Trade him now and get something in return rather than nothing this summer.

Art Vang
Art Vang

This core has peaked, not getting past 2nd round at the rate they are playing.

King_Taylor21
King_Taylor21

@JeffSchultzAJC do people forget they went to the ECF for the first time ever last year. And what do they want? Two cancers-Howard, Griffin?

Nicole Niki
Nicole Niki

He needs to let someone else but the groceries. Coach sucks at shopping.