Another thrilling NBA season is coming to a close, and yet the Atlanta Hawks find themselves in a position with which they are very familiar. The team made the playoffs for the ninth straight season as the fourth seed in a tight Eastern Conference but bowed out to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round. Consistent as the Hawks have been, the past nine years of playoff basketball have only yielded them one appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, leaving many fans to wonder if the organization will ever be able to take the next step towards competing for a championship.
This offseason may begin to answer those questions, with two starters in Al Horford and Kent Bazemore testing unrestricted free agency and rumors swirling about potential trades at the point guard position. The draft in late June will provide the Hawks with even more options, and this writer will discuss about those potential scenarios throughout the next few weeks.
Horford worth the max he will likely receive?
The first order of business for Atlanta will be whether or not they want to fork out the max-contract money that it will require to keep Al Horford in a Hawks uni. The numbers certainly support bringing him back: he played in all 82 games averaging 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, over 3 assists, and a block and a half on his way to his fourth all-star selection. He also added the 3-point shot to his repertoire, attempting 256 total and making a solid 34.4% (he had attempted just 75 in his previous eight seasons).
However, there were still questions asked about his ability as a rebounder, especially when the Hawks were pitted against Tristan Thompson and the frontcourt of the Cavaliers in the playoffs. Teams will most certainly be interested in the 29-year-old big, but it is my belief that Atlanta will offer the max deal, and Horford seems like he would be more than happy to stay on board.
The Rise of Kent Bazemore
Few players improved over the course of this past season as much as Kent Bazemore, which now makes his free agency situation even more complicated. The Hawks signed the former Old Dominion wing player to a $2 million contract as a high-energy guy off the bench, but “Baze” has blossomed into a quality starter in Atlanta. Shooting over 35% from three, always being one of the best defenders on the floor, and his constant effort now put him in line for a hefty paycheck.
But the question remains: will the Hawks stick with their guy or attempt to find the next Bazemore and save money in the process? Like Horford, Bazemore has stated that he would, “love to return [to Atlanta],” but he will be in high demand and could earn as much as $12 million next season. The cap situation allows for the re-signing of both free agent starters provided the contracts of free agents Kirk Hinrich and Kris Humphries are renounced.
This writer would love to see Bazemore return to Atlanta not only because of his playing ability but also his winning mentality. However, coach Mike Budenholzer and the entire staff have shown their skills in developing bench players into starters (see DeMarre Carroll), so it is possible they will choose to let Bazemore find his payday elsewhere.
Time to decide between Teague and Schroder?
The last major decision that could be made this offseason revolves around Hawks point guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. Teague has been the starter for the past five seasons, earning one all-star appearance in the 2014-15 season and playing at a high level. However, with the selection of Schroder in the first round of the 2013 draft, Teague’s minutes have started to decline slightly and calls for the young German to take the reins have begun. Schroder himself has made it clear that he wants to start now, despite being just 22-years-old.
Many believe this is the offseason that the positional debate is finally settled. Teague is entering the last year of his contract and is coming off a fairly underwhelming year considering his standards. The Hawks shopped him at the deadline, although it should be noted that Schroder’s name came up in several rumors regarding the Philadelphia 76ers as well. From the perspective of Atlanta, it makes more sense to trade Teague. Budenholzer has shown that he trusts Schroder despite his relative inconsistencies, and Teague is four years older. Schroder is also on a bargain contract of $2.7 million heading into next season compared to Teague’s $8 million. Some possible landing spots include the aforementioned Philadelphia 76ers, the New York Knicks, and the Brooklyn Nets, among others.