Free Agents: Paul Millsap (Unrestricted), Elton Brand (U), Demarre Carroll (U), John Jenkins (U), Pero Antic (Restricted)
The Hawks were the darlings of the league during the regular season and the new champions of team-ball, ready to carry the torch passed from the Spurs, until they met an ignominious end at the hands of the Cavaliers in the form of an Eastern Conference Finals sweep. Now, their future is uncertain as the all-star starting five seems to breaking up, while Thabo Sefolosha and Kyle Korver recover from surgery. During a time where their front office is in disarray after the dismissal of Danny Ferry, head-coach-turned-team-president Mike Budenholzer will certainly have his hands full in keeping his core guys.
Starting with the draft, the Hawks made a few questionable choices. They selected small forward Kelly Oubre Jr. with the 15th pick (obtained from the trade that sent Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets), only to flip him to Washington for the 19th pick and two future second round choices. From there, they selected Jerian Grant, who was immediately shipped to the Knicks in exchange for Tim Hardaway Jr. With their remaining picks, they chose the Swedish forward Marcus Eriksson at #50, and the Grecian forward Dimitrios Agravanis at #59. Although the two players are going to be kept to develop overseas, Eriksson is the superior prospect. During the 2013-2014 season, Eriksson shot 38% from the three point line, and 94% from the free throw line; at the age of 20, these feats are comparable to lottery pick Mario Hezonja (who also played in the Spanish ACB league with him). He did, however, tear his ACL at the beginning of last season, which caused him to miss the whole year. On the other hand, Agravanis is a power forward with the potential to stretch the floor after shooting 34% from three last season. He does need further work in improving his shooting stroke, and wasn’t ready to assume a starting role for his team (to be fair, Olympiakos is a team stacked with talent in terms of the Greek League).
The Hawks are a deep and versatile team, but they have already had to let go of DeMarre Carroll as he leaves for Toronto. While they normally would’ve kept him, they traded for Spurs center Tiago Splitter, whose $8.5 million salary ate up a fair portion of their cap room. Atlanta also re-signed power forward Paul Millsap on a three year deal (with a player option on the third), which should bring a sigh of relief to all Hawks fans. In terms of their benchwarmers, they could also suffer losses in the form of Brand and Jenkins. Brand is currently contemplating retirement, and Jenkins’ cap hold is simply too great compared to his production (especially after being buried behind Teague, Schroeder, and Korver, among others). Finally, the Hawks will say goodbye to Pero Antic, who has decided to go back to playing in Europe. This places a great role upon Mike Muscala, who should be up to the challenge, albeit, he might not be able to replace the three point shooting that Antic brought. All in all, the Hawks’ remainder of free agency should be simple, but they will have to adapt to the loss of Carroll.
Prediction: The Hawks will thrive once more due to their frontcourt options, the addition of Splitter brings a whole new dynamic to the team with the way he allows Horford to slide down to his natural position of power forward. Millsap will continue to be the heart of the team, as well as provide his stellar all-around play as an anchor. Schroeder should take another step forward in his development, and lineups involving both he and Teague manning the backcourt will receive more time. Sefolosha’s defensive impact also went woefully unnoticed by the vast majority of fans, and he shall receive more minutes with the loss of Carroll. The main issue the Hawks will have to solve next season will be finding out who steps up in the absence of Carroll – both Korver and Sefolosha perform better in lineups where they are the shooting guard. Perhaps it is time for Mike Scott to take on a larger role. Also, if Muscala is not able to effectively handle more minutes, that means Antic’s contributions as a stretch five are irreverably lost. These qualms shouldn’t be too much of a problem for the Hawks, but as the Cavaliers look to regain their dominant poise, I can see the Hawks sliding down a seed. Still, look for Atlanta to come back about as good as ever next season.