The Atlanta Hawks accomplished much during their 2014-2015 campaign. They won 60 games for the first time in franchise history, won 19 consecutive games, sent four players to the All-Star game in February, won their first division title in 24 years, and went to their first Eastern Conference Finals.
Even though the ECF may seem to diminish the accomplishments of the Hawks this past season, there is much to be excited about as a Hawks fan for the offseason and the 2015-2016 campaign.
Many fans don’t realize the grand scheme of the Danny Ferry and Mike Budenholzer administration: this team was not a finished product this season. This was supposed to be another step in the plan, and they accomplished more than anyone could have asked of them.
The Cavaliers exposed flaws in the current make-up of the Hawks. They lack interior size and a legitimate rim defender, as well as a proven scorer off the bench. The Hawks depth was significantly diminished with the loss of Thabo Sefolosha at the hands of the NYPD in an off the court incident that occurred near the end of the regular season (a fact which seemed to escape national media attention during the postseason).
The injury of DeMarre Carroll in Game 1 limited his defensive prowess for the rest of the series, and the loss of Kyle Korver in Game 2 was a crushing blow to a team that truly is the sum of its parts.
Though they were unable to vanquish the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, due in part to a combination of deplorable officiating, injuries and ejections caused by a backup point guard who plays with reckless abandon, and the histrionics of the infallible Lebron James, the Atlanta Hawks accomplished much this season.
But in order to take the next step in their development, the Hawks must modify the composition of their team this offseason. The Hawks thankfully have a significant amount of cap space and financial flexibility which enables them to attempt to sign a top free agent to a max contract. By shedding the contracts of John Jenkins and Elton Brand, they will accrue even more space to increase the depth of the club.
The Hawks will enter next year with Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver under contract for 2 more years. Al Horford is under contract for 1 more year. DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap are unrestricted free-agents and are coming off career years. They will command significant increases in salary and will most certainly draw attention from other clubs looking to add valuable pieces to their teams.
Also, Millsap is 30 years old and probably not worth the long term commitment he will desire. DeMarre Carroll is also fast approaching 30.
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Though some fans will want to keep both Millsap and Carroll, their age and inevitable raises will inhibit the Hawks’ ability to add more valuable pieces to remain atop the Eastern Conference.
Here are some solutions for the Hawks this offseason that can help them break through the ceiling of the Eastern Conference Finals:
1. Re-sign DeMarre Carroll
The Hawks SF proved his worth this postseason with his suffocating defense and emergence as a legitimate offensive threat. His “D and 3” skill-set and ability to cut to the basket unfettered fits the Hawks and Budenholzer perfectly, and a better replacement is not likely to be found via free agency or the draft. What he brings on both ends of the floor is invaluable, and it would prove to be detrimental to the Hawks if they were to lose him.
2. Don’t Sign Paul Millsap
Though he has proven to be a key cog in the Hawks offensive engine, it is time for the Hawks to move past Paul Millsap. He’s 30 years old, undersized (as evidenced by his matchup with Tristan Thompson in the ECF), and will command a significant increase in pay. Millsap is too small to take advantage of match ups with physical 4’s and is preventing Al Horford from playing his natural position. Though his contributions as a stretch 4 will be missed, the Hawks should let him walk in order to…May 15, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) shoots in the second quarter against the Golden State Warriors in game six of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
3. Go After Marc Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge
The ECF showed the importance of having a superstar. It’s more than giving the ball to a player in crunch time when you need a shot or your offense is sputtering–it’s about the calls you get. If Lebron James’s melodrama taught the Hawks anything, it’s that those borderline calls that go your way are imperative. Gasol and Aldridge bring that swagger and charisma to the table, and both would fit into Mike Budenholzer’s system perfectly.
Both have a silky stroke from midrange that would complement Al Horford and would allow the Hawks to stretch the floor even more. Both have the size and rebounding acumen to increase the Hawks proficiency off the glass. Finally, the addition of either would allow Al Horford to slide down to his natural position.
With all the financial flexibility that the Hawks possess, it would behoove the team immensely to make a run at either player. This season represented a shift in the perception of the Hawks and a change in the culture of the franchise. That makes Atlanta a much more attractive landing spot for top free agents than it was even a year ago.
4. Draft Frank Kaminsky
Lack of size and scoring off the bench for the Hawks was a clear deficiency in the postseason. Drafting the Naismith Award Winner out of Wisconsin presents the Hawks with NBA ready talent and strengthens the depth off the bench. He brings much needed size and scoring ability, and can spell anyone in the front court. He is a much more attractive option than Mike Scott or Pero Antic. Though it may seem like a long shot that he will still be on the board when the Hawks pick at 15, they need to take him if he is still there.
It’s been a wonderful ride in 2015, but 2016 looks to be an even more exciting year for Hawks fans as we try to reach the Promised Land of the NBA Finals.