Offseason Grades: Atlanta Hawks
The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.
Additions: Paul Millsap, Elton Brand, Dennis Schröder (No. 17 in 2013 draft), Jared Cunningham, DeMarre Carroll, Pero Antic, Gustavo Ayon, Mike Budenholzer (coach)
Losses: Josh Smith, Devin Harris, Zaza Pachulia, DeShawn Stevenson, Larry Drew (coach)
Other Moves: Re-signed Jeff Teague, re-signed Kyle Korver, drafted Lucas Nogueria (No. 16; expected to play overseas this season), drafted Mike Muscala (No. 44; expected to play overseas this season), hired Mike Budenholzer to replace Larry Drew as coach
What Went Right: Summer No. 2 of general manager Danny Ferry’s organizational overhaul saw the Hawks do what they opted against at the trade deadline: part ways with Smith, a franchise mainstay since 2004. The writing was on the wall long enough that it had plenty of time to dry: Smith’s unhappiness was well known and Atlanta seemed firmly committed to avoid bending over backward to appease him. Ferry technically wound up letting Smith walk to the Pistons for nothing, but his signing of Millsap essentially made for a clean swap.
Statistically, Smith and Millsap, who are separated by less than a year in age, make for an interesting comparison. On a per-minute basis, their 2012-13 statistics are quite similar, and while Smith, 27, has better raw numbers and is regarded as a much better defender, Millsap, 28, is a more efficient shooter (from the field, from three-point range and definitely from the free-throw line) and boasts a better Player Efficiency Rating. It seems the biggest difference between the two players is the size of their new contracts: Detroit paid Smith $54 million over four years while Atlanta committed just $19 million over two years to Millsap. The contrast is comical and the conclusion is obvious: This was a better way for the Hawks to spend their money.
Not to get too hokey, but a swimming analogy works fairly well to describe what’s at work in Atlanta. A few years ago, the Hawks were under water cap-wise, burdened by a pair of ankle weights that were major financial commitments (current or future) to Smith, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Al Horford and up-and-coming point guard Teague. Now, the Hawks have shed the anchors and are treading water — energetically — with a core trio of Horford, Teague and Millsap. Those three will make a combined $29.5 million this season, not all that much more than the $21.5 million that the Nets will pay Johnson alone.
To continue the analogy, the next step is to start making some real progress swimming somewhere; after all, this is a franchise that hasn’t made the conference finals since 1970 and has won just three playoff series over the last 14 seasons. None of the other moves this summer will directly make that happen. Teague’s four-year, $32 million re-signing was a solid value, retaining sharpshooter Korver was clearly a priority and Schröder looked like a draft steal at the Las Vegas Summer League, but what happens over the next year or two will determine whether this was merely a financially efficient summer or a meaningful step toward excellence.
What Went Wrong: For those who thought that Atlanta had a legitimate chance at either Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, I suppose this summer qualifies as a disappointment. For those living in reality (i.e., not employed by the team’s ticket sales department), the list of possible complaints is fairly minor: Teague’s restricted free agency dance got a little messy, and Korver’s four-year, $24 million contract appears to be a bit generous. The first issue is probably already water under the bridge, and the second shouldn’t be too damaging as long as the 32-year-old Korver remains healthy.
Grade: B-plus. Budenholzer enters a situation that is the best of both worlds for a first-time head coach: His roster has the talent to compete on a night-to-night basis immediately while also possessing the financial flexibility necessary to manipulate its composition to his needs as he settles in over the next few seasons. Ferry has significantly more work to do to fashion the Hawks into a contender, but he’s yet to make a major misstep.