We are back for more Hawks talk.
Earlier this week, senior NBA writer John Hollinger — who was the Grizzlies vice president of basketball operations from 2012-19 — and Hawks beat writer Chris Kirschner pieced together a wide-ranging discussion about the Hawks.
Today, they tackle new topics, including Atlanta’s pursuit of another star talent, whom the team might be able to pursue in free agency, Nate McMillan’s future as its head coach and draft targets.
Here is Part 2:
Kirschner: John, when we left off, we were discussing who on the Hawks’ roster might be considered untouchable, so let’s talk about how the team can look to upgrade the roster in substantial ways this offseason. Atlanta will not have cap space for a substantial free-agency addition, even if it decides to waive Danilo Gallinari and pay him his $5 million guarantee.
The clearest way for the Hawks to meaningfully improve the roster is through trades. What Utah decides to do with both Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert should be of interest to Atlanta. I believe the Hawks would be interested in either player if one of them were to come available. I’ve also been told the Jazz like Hunter’s game, so I’d imagine he would be in any trade package for Mitchell or Gobert.
The Hawks have the young players, all of their draft picks and the pricey veteran contracts necessary to complete a trade for a star on a max contract. I’ve felt for a few years now that the Hawks were setting themselves up for a consolidation trade, and now seems like the time to push in their chips to acquire a second star for Young. We still don’t know if the Jazz will break up the Mitchell-Gobert pairing (they should) or if a different star will come available.
How do you think the Hawks should approach trading for a star, and are there any out there who could come available and who you think would make sense for them?
Hollinger: Well, the first step is the hardest. Identifying a star player who a) is available and b) makes sense for the Hawks at any price is a difficult endeavor. Philadelphia spent an entire year searching for this a year ago with Ben Simmons and still ended up with a bad fit in James Harden.
That said, I don’t think there’s any question Gobert makes the most sense for Atlanta. I don’t love the Mitchell pairing as much; there is only one basketball for Young and Mitchell to share, and that backcourt would get absolutely cooked on defense. Gobert, on the other hand, has already shown he can make shambolic perimeter defenders look a lot better with his menacing presence at the rim, and he will happily screen and rim-run all day for Trae.
The Hawks have a ready salary match in a Gobert deal with a Clint Capela-Hunter combo, so the real questions are how much the Hawks need to add on top in terms of assets and draft picks and whether that price is ultimately worth it. The bare minimum would be adding in Jalen Johnson (needed to complete a salary match) and the 16th pick in this year’s draft; the Jazz likely would push for at least one future Atlanta first on top of that, plus the future first Charlotte owes the Hawks from the Cam Reddish trade. If the Jazz really push it, they might ask for a swap of Kevin Huerter for the unwanted contracts of Rudy Gay and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, too.
So … how much is too much? Is it worth going all-in on a soon-to-be 30-year-old center who will make $47 million in 2025-26? Where is the line at which the Hawks should pass? Keep in mind the Hawks won’t be the only team after Gobert, if he is truly available; surely Charlotte, for instance, would have eyes for him.
Finally, in any trade between Utah and Atlanta, I just want both Bogdanovićs to end up on the same team. I don’t care how it happens.
Kirschner: Yeah, I think there’s a cliff in asking price when it comes to Gobert’s availability. If I were in charge, I wouldn’t be going all-out to get Gobert, though he would improve the roster. His expensive contract has to be a part of the equation here, so it would be about the cost from Atlanta’s side and how much the Hawks can keep so they can continue building out the roster.
I’ve been saying for a while now that the Hawks should consider Simmons, and the fit would be great between him and Young. If Brooklyn does want to move on from Simmons already, the Hawks should be interested again — and they were before Philly knew Harden wanted out. I’m also a fan of the Hawks trying to acquire Atlanta native Malcolm Brogdon. The Pacers likely will listen to offers for him, and he makes a lot of sense for what the Hawks need. I do think Deandre Ayton would be an intriguing name to watch, especially after the Suns just got bounced in the second round. Like Gobert, a deal for Ayton would come down to the price for him in a sign-and-trade.
Like you said, trades are difficult to pull off, so let’s talk about more realistic ways Atlanta can improve the roster.
We mentioned the midlevel exception the Hawks will have in free agency. Are there any bargain free agents you see who could bolster the bench? Preferably, they’d be above-average perimeter defenders, because the Hawks badly need help there.
Hollinger: Well, now you’ve hit the most likely scenario for improvement next year, which is of the more boring kind: the Hawks getting good, solid wing defenders so they aren’t shredded to pieces by the Jimmy Butlers of the world.
A couple of unlikely names warrant further exploration. Nic Batum seems likely to re-up with the Clippers and has early Bird rights, but he’d be a nice fit in Atlanta as a short-term piece. Portland is unlikely to waive Josh Hart, but if the Blazers cut his non-guaranteed deal (or look to trade him), the Hawks should pounce.
The top two guys on my list for Atlanta, however, are Bruce Brown and Kyle Anderson. Brown returned to Brooklyn last year on his $4.8 million qualifying offer, an indication that the market isn’t in love with him, but his statistical impact has been strongly positive each of the past two years. He’s an iffy shooter, but he can defend, switch and make good decisions on the ball.
Anderson might be an easier piece to plug in because he’s a more conventional combo forward, except that he handles the ball well enough to run the offense when Young is off the floor. (Full disclosure: We signed Anderson with our MLE in Memphis when I was working there in 2018.) He’s not a shooter, but he’s a vastly underrated defender with great hands and anticipation, and he would give the Hawks a lot of positional flexibility.
Kirschner: I’ve also mentioned Brown before as a potential target the Hawks should explore in free agency. I think he’d be my No. 1 option for how the Hawks should spend their MLE. I’ve also said the Hawks should use their Bird rights and re-sign Delon Wright. He proved himself to be valuable down the stretch for Atlanta with his perimeter defense.
OK, we need to talk about McMillan and the job he did this season.
He could do no wrong last season as he led the Hawks to the conference finals and secured a long-term deal after he took over for Lloyd Pierce in the middle of the year. This season, I think we saw some of the concerns anyone who’s watched McMillan’s teams has had. He’s notoriously difficult when it comes to tweaking lineups, he favors older veterans even if it’s clearly obvious to go in a different direction (hello, Lou Williams), and, importantly, his in-game adjustments sometimes do leave a bit to be desired.
After the season ended, I wrote about what went wrong for the Hawks, and sources placed a lot of blame on McMillan.
How do you evaluate the job McMillan did, and do you feel as if he’s the right guy long-term for the Hawks? I think the Hawks didn’t have much of a choice to bring him back after what he did last season, and that was evidenced by them not conducting a coaching search.
Hollinger: One of the hazards of promoting the interim guy is you end up with him as the permanent coach if the team does well — even if that might not have been the team’s original intent. McMillan turned the ship around post-Pierce last season and deserves credit for that, but I think 2021-22 showcased some of his weaknesses in terms of maxing out the defense and sprinkling enough variety on offense — a trend that dogged him in Portland and Indiana as well.
At this point, McMillan is the starting pitcher who has given up three runs through five innings. You might not be ready to pull him from the game just yet, but you’re definitely thinking about who should be up in the bullpen just in case. He’ll need a fast start next year to calm down the rumor mill, as he’s likely to enter the season with one of the league’s warmer seats.
Kirschner: I also believe it’s important to note that if the Hawks did part with him now, they’d be paying a hefty buyout because he just finished Year 1 of a four-year contract.
Lastly, it’s not as important as it was just a few years ago for the Hawks, but they will select 16th in the draft. We just saw Johnson and Sharife Cooper essentially have a redshirt year under McMillan. Are there any prospects in this range who could crack the Hawks’ rotation this coming season — or prospects who might not make an immediate impact but would fit long term with how the Hawks should be built around Young?
Hollinger: Going through my board and where the Hawks are weakest, I see multiple players in that 6-foot-7 to 6-foot-8 size range who are likely to be available. Baylor’s Kendall Brown is probably the one with the most long-term upside and potential to make a material impact at the defensive end, while Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell might offer the most immediate ready-to-play impact as a combo forward who can defend and make open shots. Liddell is better suited at the four, however, and would likely fit better if John Collins were gone. Another intriguing player is LSU forward Tari Eason, who is an awesome individual defender but has a pretty reckless offensive style that may not mesh well with the Hawks’ Young-centric approach.
If I were the Hawks, I’d be most intrigued by Brown, even if he becomes another “redshirt year” guy. He fits this group best if you look a couple of years down the road, and he probably has the most long-term upside, too. Not surprisingly, he’s also the one of these three who is most likely to be gone by No. 16.
Kirschner: I also wouldn’t rule out a trade up for the Hawks, especially if they want to clear some money off their books and potentially get a productive veteran in return. Sacramento at No. 4 and Portland at No. 7 could make for potential trade partners. A couple of players stand out to me in a possible trade-up scenario: Baylor’s Jeremy Sochan, G League Ignite’s Dyson Daniels and Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, in no particular order.
(Photo of Trae Young and Deandre Ayton: Joe Camporeale / USA Today)