Schlenk swinging sledgehammer — and there goes Dwight Howard

Former Hawks center Dwight Howard comes out of the game in the third quarter and did not return during a Game 6 playoff loss to the Washington Wizards. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

On the night that Golden State won the NBA title, Travis Schlenk sat up in bed in his Atlanta hotel room, watching his former team on TV, at least until he fell asleep. His wife and children attended the game and were draped in Warriors fan gear, because they probably would’ve stuck out in the expensive seats wearing Hawks shirts.

“(The Warriors) let me keep my tickets,” Schlenk said. “So they were on the floor, which was cool for my kids. Hopefully we’ll get there one day here, but it’s hard.”

Schlenk begins his rebuilding project as the Hawks’ general manager this week. He’s already swinging a sledgehammer.

If there was any doubt about the extent Schenk wants to change the look of this team, that ended Tuesday night. The Hawks traded Dwight Howard, their overpaid and ill-fit of a center, to the Charlotte Hornets, for relative table scraps: reserves Marco Belinelli and Miles Plumlee and a second-round pick (41st overall) in Thursday’s draft.

The Hawks also will send Charlotte a second-rounder (31st overall) with Howard. And a thank-you note. And maybe a house, a boat and a car.

Howard’s return to Atlanta was billed as some grand homecoming by the misguided front office. But it will go down as one of the worst free-agent mistakes in franchise history, as millions of people now scream, “I told you so.” That one move, in concert with letting Al Horford leave in free agency, doomed coach Mike Budenholzer’s tenure as team president.

It was so bad down the stretch of the season that Howard often found himself on the bench in the fourth quarter of games, including the playoffs, prompting him to vent his frustrations after the season. Howard looked even worse a week later when it was learned he had been ticketed for speeding, driving with a suspended registration and no insurance at 2 a.m. on the eve of what turned out to be their elimination game.

Howard’s exit is addition by subtraction, similar to when former general manager Danny Ferry dealt the salary-cap crushing Joe Johnson in his first move. Howard had two years and more than $47 million left on his contract, and it was believed trading him would be difficult.

But Schlenk found a way. Point for him.

The Hawks need major change. It’s not what fans want to think about a team that has made the playoffs 10 consecutive seasons (though with a cumulative postseason series record of 6-10). But if the Hawks ascend to an elite level under Schlenk, it won’t be with a roster that remotely resembled the one he inherited.

The draft is Thursday night (the Hawks own pick 19, 41 and 60, barring more deals). Free agency begins July 1. It’s safe to assume now Schlenk will be active.

Rebuilding can be ugly. The Braves have shown that for the past two-plus seasons. But if tearing down and building up gets the Hawks to where they need to be, Schlenk should be given the full backing from ownership to do it. Just be more transparent about it than the Braves were for two years. Build with young, smart and hard-working players, and fans will buy in.

This was a Hawks town for about five minutes in 2015. It can be again.

The Hawks have a number of positive things in place that seemingly bode well for the future. They have one of the NBA’s better coaches in Budenholzer. They have a majority owner, Tony Ressler, who lives in Los Angeles, but shows a strong desire to win and spend what it takes to get there. He engineered financing for a long overdue practice facility next season. The Hawks also have become sole owners of an NBA G League (renamed Tuesday) team that will take up residency in College Park in 2019.

None of these things guarantee success. You can have a great blueprint and still wind up with something built with pine straw and bubblegum. Or Billy Knight. But the starting point is promising.

Schlenk likes players who are long, athletic, smart, have high character and can shoot.

This differentiates him from general managers who are drawn to short, slow, dumb, morally bankrupt and fire 10-foot air balls.

But seriously: The fact that he came from the Warriors, who had athletic players all over the court with no dominant center, was an indication how he felt about Howard.

Kent Bazemore hasn’t lived up to his four-year, $70 million contract. Unlike Howard, he’s an athletic player and retains an upside (assuming he improves his ball-handling and shooting). But outside of Dennis Schroder and Taurean Prince, there’s not a lot of obvious pieces to build around.

A few things could swing Schlenk’s success one way or the other:

The coach/GM dynamic: Budenholzer needs to be on board with Schlenk’s decisions or this won’t work. That said, the two need to work in concert with each other, similar to the Falcons’ Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff. From Schlenk: “If I don’t do a good job, he doesn’t do a good job. If he doesn’t do a good job, I don’t do a good job. If I go out and sign a player or draft a player that he’s going to hate and is never going to play, that doesn’t do either one of us any good.”

The Paul Millsap decision: When Schlenk said other teams may offer Millsap more than the Hawks can/would pay, he was sending a message. Forget the max. Forget probably even a four-year deal, unless it’s for relatively low money. Millsap’s a terrific player, but my guess is Schlenk views him as a two- or three-year guy. That won’t please Millsap, who likes playing for Budenholzer and has built a private gym in Atlanta.

The Tim Hardaway Jr. decision: Public criticism aside, I’m predisposed to liking him. He made extraordinary progress this past season with Budenholzer and is one of the few offensive weapons on the roster. Schlenk would like to keep him, depending on what offers he gets as a restricted free agent.

The Warriors recently missed the playoffs 17 of 18 seasons. But they’ve won two of the past three titles and will be favored again next year. The Braves hope this pain pays off one day. The Hawks need to take that same approach.

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Reader Comments 0

20 comments
Jack7
Jack7

The Hawks should draft Tyler Lydon from Syracuse with the 19th pick tonight. He will be the next Kevin Love in that he is a big that can rebound and shoot the deep 3. He will open the lane for Prince and Baze. His pick and pop will be the best among NBA rookies and will be among the top rookie rebounders. He will make the All-Rookie team and surprise all those that passed over him. If they don't get him he will end up with San Antonio or Golden State or Cleveland. And whomever the Hawks get will not be as good.

Jack7
Jack7

The Hawks should draft Tyler Lydon from Syracuse with the 19th pick tonight.

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DawgNole
DawgNole

"The Hawks need major change. It’s not what fans want to think about a team that has made the playoffs 10 consecutive seasons (though with a cumulative postseason series record of 6-10)." 

_______________

Actually, it's not what fans want to think about a team that has FAILED to make a Finals appearance even once during its nearly half-century of play in ATL.

E.J. Trey Alverson
E.J. Trey Alverson

Just say NO to the rebuild. I remember the 13 win season... Wizards are in rumors to land George. Heyward to the Celtics? And we're trading for lesser Plumlees... Come on... The Hawks just jacked up season ticket prices by 70% in my section and they expect us to pay that to watch a garbage fire? Seriously? Schlenk is all over the media saying "fans want direction." Oh really? How many actual ticket buying fans has he talked to? I'm one and I don't care about "direction" or "flexibility" or whatever other GM euphemisms he chooses to employ instead of the truth (aka "an inferior basketball product compared to what you're used to seeing."). I want to cheer for a team that can compete at the top of the Eastern Conference--as has recently been the case.  

DawgNole
DawgNole

@E.J. Trey Alverson: "I want to cheer for a team that can compete at the top of the Eastern Conference--as has recently been the case."

______________

And that's exactly why the ATL pro sports mindset has forever been beset by A Culture of LOSING.  

I want to cheer for a team that can do better than ZERO appearances in the finals during its entire 49-year history in ATL. 

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Robert1959
Robert1959

Clearly this move was made to put more white fans in the stands.  Only white people will watch a team of sorry (Plumlee, Billinelli, etc.) white guys lose every night at home.  The Hawks are not worried about putting a wining team on the basketball court.  The Hawks can kiss Paul Millsap butt good bye because he is not re-signing with Atlanta.  Hawks GM Schlenk is a real "Smock". 

UWreckMeBaby
UWreckMeBaby

@Robert1959 Why the racist comment?  I like Millsap. He's black. I like players based on their abilities. I don't like Plumlee because he's from Duke. The Blue Devils always have a good white player or two but I despise them. And I don't like Coach K. who is white. I like ballplayers. Howard was not a good fit for the Hawks. I wished we could have gotten better players for him, whether they are black/white/purple.

green machine
green machine

Whatever dude! I'm white and this statement is ridiculous! I'm a fan of the Atlanta Hawks! This trade doesn't make me want to go see them play any more or any less! I go watch them play because I like the Atlanta Hawks! I'll always root for the Atlanta Hawks no matter who is wearing that jersey! I'm ready to this team to win! Period! This team was real close to winning two years ago! Now-that team is gone! How long it takes to get that back to that position is anybody's guess--but it sure does seem like a LONG time from now!

Manman
Manman

@Robert1959 congratulations on the dumbest thing I've ready all day. Hawks are committed to retaining an "urban" atmosphere in the arena and are marketing towards young people and black people. They are not shy about letting people know this.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@RonMexico

Dumbest post of the day is nothing for this jerk, most of whose "contributions" to the AJC blogs easily merit dumbest post of the YEAR consideration.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@green machine: "I'm ready to this team to win! Period!"

________________

Some of us have been ready for 49 years.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Robert1959 Dumba$$ , the move was made to get Dwight Howard's overpriced contract of the Hawks Payroll. If the the Hawks only received a deflated basketball in return it would still be a great deal. Plumlee or Billinelli will most likely occupy spots at the end of the Hawks bench. Why don't you save your racist rants for the BOOK blog ? 

tyger
tyger

Cant believe I actually paid for that...