Atlanta Hawks players speak with coach Mike Budenholzer. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
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With the 2017 NBA Trade Deadline looming on the horizon, how should the Atlanta Hawks approach potential interest in their players?
In spite of much of the recent talk from within the Atlanta Hawks organization centering around who they don’t want to trade, it seems like the organization and its fans could be in for a busy time at the trade deadline.
W hile gathering future assets to deal with upcoming free agent departures may also be wise, the Hawks are in a position where respectable role players could help them to make a deeper push in the playoffs in the coming months. They certainly have the motivation to go shopping regardless of their direction.
Before we even get to considering what the Hawks would consider looking for at the deadline, we need to prioritize the value and standing of the players who already have places on their roster.
By dividing Atlanta’s players up into five distinct categories, let’s take a look at the players who would seem like certainties to remain regardless of interest from other teams, all the way through to those who the Hawks should be happy to take whatever they can get on.
Let’s get down to taking a closer look at the Atlanta Hawks’ trade deadline outlook for 2017.
If there were any uncertainties over Dennis Schröder’s long-term future or worth to the Atlanta Hawks at the end of last season, a variety of factors should have forced them to subside in the time since.
With the decision to trade Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers in the lead-up to last summer’s NBA Draft, the Hawks effectively put their future in Schröder’s hands. Often plagued with inconsistencies up to that point, Schröder had still shown flashes of prodigious talent, and that proved enough for the Hawks to buy in on one of the youngest players on an aging roster.
In the time since, the German point guard has signed a four-year, $70 million extension with the Hawks. Although that remains a sizable investment, relative to many of the other extensions agreed upon in the current cap climate, the Hawks have reason to believe they tied Schröder up below the market rate.
Aside from his standing within the roster and the financials of his deal, most important of all in Schröder’s current value to the Hawks is his progress on the court. Having only recently turned 23, Schröder is tracking toward comfortably his best season in the NBA to date. Averaging career-highs in points, assists and rebounds per game, as well as field goal and free throw percentage, Schröder is looking more effective than ever before.
In short, for a team that isn’t exactly overflowing with long-term options, Schröder is a fundamental piece worth building around.
Regardless of what the Hawks decide to do to advance their cause in the present, they need to be mindful of protecting some of their better assets for the medium to long-term future.
The two most obvious examples of that come in the form of Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry, who were both picked in the first round of last summer’s NBA Draft. Prince and Bembry have both been lucky enough to catch significant shares of minutes at different times in their rookie seasons, and have impressed when given the opportunity in the NBA, as well as excelling when assigned to the D-League.
With the potential for that duo to be a versatile and diversely skilled wing duo in Atlanta for many years, they don’t fit the bill of disappointing first round picks who could be used as filler in a deal that would yield a short-term gain.
Also deserving of inclusion in this category is the much more experienced and highly paid swingman Kent Bazemore. Having made significant strides forward in his career since his arrival in Atlanta back in 2014, Bazemore was highly coveted in free agency last summer. Ultimately choosing slightly less than was offered elsewhere to return to Atlanta, Baze has disappointed many with his performances in the time since.
Although it’s true that Bazemore’s numbers remain down on a career season last year up to this point, it seems as if the tide is starting to turn back in his favor. Having underachieved across the board and most notably in his shooting to start the season, the former Old Dominion Monarch has shown something of a resurgence since the calendar turned over to 2017.
More specifically, in his last 15 games, Bazemore is averaging 12.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game on an impressive 46 percent shooting from the field and 39.6 percent from distance.
With that performance completely in line, and even above, much of what he showed last year, it remains too soon for the Hawks to give up on a player who they believed enough to re-invest in only a few short months ago. If Baze can continue on his recent run and trend upwards, his game will combine with his attitude and work ethic to became an important cog for the Hawks in the coming years.
It doesn’t make sense for the Atlanta Hawks to be totally locked in and unwavering on Dwight Howard’s future role with the team, in spite of his stellar performance since signing in the summer. Keeping Howard for the rest of this season and beyond should remain the preference, but not at all costs.
Having gone through tough times in terms of injury and fit since leaving Orlando all the way back in 2012, Howard has looked happy, engaged and better than he has for years through his first few months with his hometown Hawks. Although he’s relying less than ever on his scoring, Howard’s defensive presence and rebounding are as good as they’ve been since his prime back at the start of this decade.
Having a player of Howard’s status and skill is appealing regardless of what route the Hawks take in the coming seasons, which means that even if his improved play generates interest from elsewhere again, expect the Hawks to stick with Dwight unless they receive a “Godfather” offer.
As a player who the Hawks have worked diligently with ever since drafting him in 2013, Mike Muscala is reaping the rewards for his hard work with a career-high minutes total and consistent and important contributions to his team at both the power forward and center positions.
Muscala is an unrestricted free agent this summer, but with a host of power forwards and centers potentially leaving Atlanta, they may want to keep him for now with a view to bringing him back in the summer.
Although it’s been a rollercoaster ride for Hawks backup point guard Malcolm Delaney in his rookie NBA season, it would also be surprising if they showed a willingness to move the 27-year-old. Delaney has proven mostly serviceable in a supporting role, and has a year remaining on an incredibly cheap $2.5 million per year contract. Even if he ends up third choice next season, Delaney’s bargain deal makes him valuable for Atlanta.
To be very clear, this is not to say that the Atlanta Hawks should trade either of these players. In fact, all recent indications from within the organization would suggest that Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. will stay and play key roles in whatever this season becomes.
What would seem unwise from an Atlanta perspective — something they’ve already done in regards to Millsap — would be to categorically deny either player’s availability, though.
There’s a distinct possibility that the Hawks may not decide to re-sign either player this summer in free agency, while they may not even be the destination of choice for Millsap by the time he gets to consider all available offers. With that in mind, not at least considering what may be available for a player who could well hold no value to you just over 30 games from now, would be a short-sighted path to take.
Still, ultimately deciding not to move either in spite of an offer could be understandable.
Millsap has been the team’s best player since the moment he signed on with Atlanta in 2013. Sunday will mark Millsap’s fourth consecutive All-Star appearance as a Hawk, and even at the age of 32, he remains the team’s standout contributor on both ends.
In Hardaway’s case, the wing will be a restricted free agent in the summer, coming off the back of the strongest spell of play in his entire career. Scoring at a career-high rate on efficient shooting numbers means there’s good reason why Hardaway’s value to the Hawks in the coming months is just too much to give up.
If the decision is to see what this team can do for one last run, the Hawks will likely need to keep both of these players. If they have what would be valid doubts over whether either player can maintain their current levels for years to come, they owe it to themselves and the road ahead to at least avoid dismissing out of hand any serious offers for Millsap or Hardaway.
This is the area where things shouldn’t necessarily be complicated. If the Atlanta Hawks can trade any of these players for a player who could help them later this season in a potential playoff run, or further down the road as a future asset, they need to act now.
Perhaps the most surprising name on this list, Thabo Sefolosha has been excellent when he’s been healthy this season, but there can be no guarantee of his health holding up. Sefolosha has missed Atlanta’s last nine games with a groin injury, and has been plagued by injury troubles throughout much of his time with the Hawks.
There’s no doubt the Swiss wing could help the Hawks if healthy, but a good offer coming in would likely outweigh the risk you’d be taking to rely on him staying injury-free before free agency.
Tiago Splitter is a player who is much harder to trust than Sefolosha from an injury perspective. Having failed to play this season and only managed 36 appearances last year, Splitter could easily be moved as part of a deal requiring him to make up a salary difference. At this point, getting anything for the Brazilian would be welcome.
Mike Dunleavy Jr. has been fine since arriving in the Kyle Korver trade, but would join the likes of Kris Humphries and Mike Scott in not holding enough real value to prevent the Hawks from moving them almost instantly if there was interest from elsewhere.
What the Atlanta Hawks eventually decide to do remains uncertain, but with only six of their current roster under contract to return next season, it makes sense for the front office to be proactive rather than sentimental.