2016-17 Hawks Season Review
With a 43-39 record, the Hawks extended their impressive playoff appearance streak to a full decade, the second-longest active streak in the NBA behind only the San Antonio Spurs. They made a pretty quick exit, though, as they fell in six games to the Washington Wizards in the first round. Although the Hawks took a clear step down from the previous two years under head coach Mike Budenholzer, it was nevertheless a decent achievement considering the changes to the roster.
They lost Al Horford and Jeff Teague last offseason, with Dwight Howard and Dennis Schroder taking their spots in the lineup. Schroder showed some flashes of the potential that made the Hawks move on from Teague, but he was wildly inconsistent in his first year as the starting point guard. Meanwhile, Howard had a decent regular season, but was rendered unplayable in the playoffs. Kent Bazemore was also a bit of a disappointment after signing his big-money deal.
There were some bright spots, though. Paul Millsap remained highly productive as he posted a career-high 18 points per game. Tim Hardaway Jr. had a breakout year as he emerged as a consistent offensive threat on the wing. And rookie forward Taurean Prince came on strong at the tail-end of the season and even started all six games in the playoffs.
Atlanta will be under new management in the form of GM Travis Schlenk, who comes from the Golden State Warriors. This current Hawks team is light-years behind Golden State, though, and Schlenk will have some big decisions to make in his first offseason that will hopefully point them toward the Warriors' direction.
Quick Offseason Breakdown
Potential Free Agents: Paul Millsap (Unrestricted), Tim Hardaway Jr. (Restricted) Ersan Ilyasova (Unrestricted), Thabo Sefolosha (Unrestricted), Kris Humphries (Unrestricted), Jose Calderon (Unrestricted), Mike Muscala (Unrestricted)
Partial/Non-Guaranteed Contracts: Mike Dunleavy Jr., Ryan Kelly
2017 Draft Picks (3): #19, #31, #60
Projected Cap Space: None
The Hawks will have a host of free agents this offseason, but their two big ones are Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. There's a possibility the Hawks can get under the cap, but it'll mean renouncing just about all of those free agents, which seems pretty unlikely. And if they intend to keep both Millsap and Hardaway to big money deals, they could possibly be luxury tax payers.
Atlanta will be able to use their exceptions if they do duck under the tax, and will also be armed with three draft picks to replace the free agents they choose to let go.
Biggest Offseason Priorities
1. Pull the trigger with Paul Millsap
The Hawks could have traded Millsap during last season in order to avoid the same fate they suffered with Al Horford, who walked away for nothing in free agency last summer. But they decided against it as they opted to take him off the market and instead went all in on a playoff spot. They also expressed their desire to re-sign Millsap, who will be looking to max out his value this offseason.
Of course, re-signing him was the plan of previous management. Their new GM may have other ideas in terms of locking Millsap up to a long-term deal, which will have its major drawbacks. The team’s ceiling with a 32-year-old Millsap as its best player will be fairly low, and the franchise would once again be stuck in the mediocrity they experienced back in the mid-2000s. And apart from that, the last few years of that deal will likely get very ugly.
On the other hand, though, the Hawks are going to be hamstrung for the next few years anyway after handing out big deals to Howard and Bazemore. They really can’t go into a full rebuild with those contracts on the books, so it may make more sense to hold onto Millsap and try to keep that playoff streak going.
Schlenk will have to make that tough decision either way. It will be a decision that will not only influence his first offseason as Hawks GM, but the future of the franchise under his tenure.
2. Retain Tim Hardaway Jr.
The Hawks find themselves in a similar boat in terms of whether to re-sign Hardaway, who will be one of the top shooting guards in this year’s free agent market. Although he’s restricted, he’s still likely going to command a big offer sheet from some team that will be eager to test whether Atlanta is open to signing another shooting guard to big money after doing so with Bazemore last summer.
The Hawks won’t be able to find anyone substantially better than Hardaway this offseason if they decide to let Hardaway go. He’s going to get expensive, but Atlanta can’t really afford to make a habit out of letting assets, especially young ones with upside like THJ, walk away for nothing.
3. Rebuild the bench
Virtually the entire Atlanta bench can hit free agency this offseason. They will almost definitely let veterans with big cap holds like Ersan Ilyasova, Thabo Sefolosha, and Kris Humphries go in order to avoid paying the luxury tax, especially if they do keep both Millsap and Hardaway. But since they’ll also be capped out, they’ll have to scrounge around for lower-level talent to fill the rest of the roster.
The Hawks will also have three picks in the draft, which they can and probably will use to augment that bench. They can go a bunch of different ways with how they choose to use their first-rounder at No. 19. They can draft another wing like UNC’s Justin Jackson to replace vets Sefolosha and possibly Mike Dunleavy Jr.
But with Kris Humphries and Mike Muscala hitting free agency and Howard’s play declining, picking up a big man of the future could be the way to go. The 19th pick will be right in the sweet spot of the draft to get a promising young big man like Jarrett Allen, Justin Patton, Harry Giles, or Ike Anigbogu.