The Atlanta Hawks have gone through an eventful few days, but what have we learned about their present and future as a result?
The trade deadline always has the potential to be a tumultuous time around the NBA, but without any groundbreaking moves having materialized, the Atlanta Hawks experienced a more eventful run in the last week than most of their competitors.
With minor trades and the possibility of much bigger ones all surrounding the franchise, Atlanta had an already busy time compounded by a series of strange results on the court and then even some off the court issues.
All of that comes at a time when the Hawks need to find their footing if they hope to push on in the playoff race, or at the very least need to ensure they string together a steady run of games to consolidate their current standing.
Still, lingering in the background of all of the day-to-day developments with Atlanta is the prospect of Paul Millsap‘s free agency, and the potential that — if not a full-blown rebuild — at the very least another retooling of sorts could be coming up fast on the horizon.
As a result, the decisions that have been made in recent days hold a little bit more significance. In trying to judge what the Hawks may be looking to do longer term, there have been a number of instances that may have offered Atlanta’s fans a quick glimpse behind the curtain.
In continuing to try and get a handle on what the coming weeks, months and years will look like in Atlanta, let’s dive in and take a more detailed look at what’s been a busy and, perhaps, important few days for the Hawks.
Upon publicly asserting that Paul Millsap would be unavailable at the trade deadline, many outside observers and Hawks fans began to wonder what exactly the franchise’s plan was. After all, how far could they see a team likely to be in the middle of the East’s playoff pack going?
As it transpired, it turned out that the Hawks had much grander ambitions than most would have dared to predict.
Starting with a minor but welcome move to exchange Tiago Splitter and a second round pick for a capable rotation piece in Ersan Ilyasova, Atlanta then set out to make the kind of moves that could have catapulted them into the championship picture as soon as this summer.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN, while teams like the Celtics and Nuggets were being talked about as the most logical destinations for All-Star forwards such as Paul George or Jimmy Butler, the Hawks made sure to at least throw their hat into the ring.
The Hawks’ pitches for PG-13 and Butler excluded core players. Asked if three first-rounder picks were offered , one source said: “More.”
An ambitious strategy that also was loaded with risks for the franchise’s future, as an organization the Hawks at least showed an intent to make the kind of move that could push them beyond the kind of nearly men status that they have carried for over a decade.
Without having the caliber of assets that other teams in the mix had to offer, the chances of a deal for Atlanta were always going to be slim to none, but the prospect of what the Hawks’ core could have achieved with one of those two stars in the increasingly fragile upper echelons of the East remains a tantalizing prospect.
Perhaps this was their one great long shot, or maybe the Hawks could revisit their interest in George and Butler, or players of similar status in the summer.
As reported by Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Hawks head coach and president of basketball operations Mike Budenholzer admitted that Atlanta was never really close to completing a shock deal on this occasion, but that didn’t make the exercise any less worthwhile.
“No, I wouldn’t categorize anything as something close,” Budenholzer said. “But I would say unequivocally we were as aggressive as we could be, as active as we could be. When you do your work and your research and you think there might be a possibility, whether it be for some of the bigger names, we feel like we’ve collected a great group of draft picks where we could be aggressive and put ourselves in that game — including other moves and other opportunities.”
With little clear about the new ownership’s long-term approach as of yet, this may be evidence that if nothing else they plan to be aggressive. That would be a significant shift to what Hawks fans have grown accustomed to, and it’s one that could lead to remarkable success or catastrophic failure.
In other words, for better or worse, things could be very different to how they’ve been in Atlanta in recent memory.
For all of the improvements that Dennis Schröder has made on the court this season, the last week has provided no shortage of evidence to suggest that he still has room to grow and mature.
More than anything, from Atlanta’s point of view the call seems to be to ask their point guard to show greater independence and take responsibility for his own actions.
Having traveled home to Germany to visit family and enjoy some rest during the All-Star break, Schröder returned later than expected as the Hawks resumed team activities.
The 23-year-old missed Atlanta’s practices on Wednesday and Thursday and was suspended without pay for Friday’s game with the Miami Heat.
The causes of Schröder’s delay were not so straightforward as to assume that he was solely to blame, although the player explained to the Atlanta Journal Constitution that in spite of assistance from the NBA and the Hawks he still didn’t manage to return on time.
“I replaced my passport and didn’t realize that I had to put my new visa in there,” Schroder said Friday. “The Hawks organization and the NBA tried to get me as soon as possible a meeting with the consulate. We didn’t make it in time. I’m sorry for me, my teammates and the organization.”
If the reasons for Schröder’s delay to the US were understandable due to their more complex nature, much less excusable was the fact that the player was late for the team bus ahead of his team’s next game and his planned return to action.
As Chris Vivlamore reported, Budenholzer explained the team’s decision to subsequently have Schröder start from the bench against Orlando in no uncertain terms.
“We continue to hold our entire roster, all of our players, accountable,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Our culture is important to us. Respect for your teammates is important to us. That’s our job and that’s our organization’s job is to continue to build on our culture.”
It’s far from ideal for the team to have to issue punishments to one of their star players, but even less so when those decisions go on to impact two consecutive games.
Those two games could ultimately come back to hurt the Hawks when playoff matchups are decided, and when speaking to Vivlamore, Paul Millsap certainly didn’t hide the fact that the young German’s actions had negatively influenced the team.
“It hurt us last night not to have him,” Paul Millsap said. “It hurt us tonight not to start with him. Those decisions are left up to the organization. We have to accept what it is. Dennis is sorry. I think he wants to be on the court. It’s something we have to get over. These two games we have to put behind us.”
Schröder is vital to Atlanta’s present, but he projects to be even more central to the team’s future. The Hawks need him to eliminate these lapses in future, and become the leader that his status within the team demands.
Although the Schröder situation can’t simply be glossed over in judging the Hawks’ recent performances, it can’t be solely blamed as the cause for a strange run of results since the All-Star break.
In their return to action for the final stretch of the season, the Hawks have so far lost by 19 points to Orlando and 18 points to Miami, before then decisively beating the second placed Boston Celtics by 16 points.
This kind of inconsistency isn’t new to the Hawks. If anything, it’s even been the defining characteristic of their season to date.
Atlanta opened the season by winning nine of their first 11 games, establishing themselves as an apparent force at the top of the Eastern Conference. Before the end of November, the tide would turn, though, and the Hawks lost a shocking seven consecutive games.
With a record of 33-26 that’s only currently good enough for fifth in the East’s standings, Atlanta’s identity remains up in the air.
Whether the Hawks are actually good, or just how good they are remains a pressing question, but the evidence of the season so far suggests that there won’t be a clear cut answer forthcoming.
This Atlanta team has shown the capability to lock in and hit a hot run of form when they can go toe-to-toe with anyone. If that happens at the right time, they could yet have a long and exciting postseason run.
By the same token, they could fall backwards into the playoffs and get swept in the first round.
Timing is always important in the final months of the season, and the Hawks learned that when their 60-win team slowed down in the 2015 playoffs.
At this point it’s too much to ask for this Hawks team to become a well-oiled, reliable vehicle, but if they can just run when needed that might yet prove to be enough.
Familiarity Valued Highly, Potentially Limiting The Ceiling
With one foot in the present and another in the future, and having failed to execute a blockbuster trade, the Hawks may have offered another brief glimpse into what their overall team-building philosophy is.
Having taken a big swing and a miss, the Hawks left the deadline with two roster spots and the opportunity to explore the market of free agents who had recently been bought out, or to give intriguing D-League prospects a chance.
Instead, the Hawks acted immediately and went for the tried and tested instead.
Patterson would be waived days later due to personal reasons, but the point stands that rather than looking for something different that could have helped to close the gap at the top, the Hawks’ preference was to return to fringe players who they’ve already established a familiarity with.
In keeping with the bold strategy we saw at the deadline that seems to be Plan A under the current ownership, Plan B seems to solely consist of returning the same group of players.
That was the case in the summer, as on top of the big splash of adding Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore was re-signed, Dennis Schröder was extended and the Hawks even remained committed to bringing back Al Horford.
The trend looks set to continue into this summer too, as general manager Wes Wilcox indicated to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical that the plan was to re-sign Paul Millsap.
While there’s something to be admired in being consistently good, it’s not impossible for the Hawks to maintain that level while also exploring new directions from time to time.