The Atlanta Hawks will be scouring the market for centers this summer. Three of their five free agents are centers. In all, the Hawks stand the possibility of losing Al Horford, Mike Muscala, and Kris Humphries.
Losing all three is not something the Hawks can afford. Sure, Atlanta still has , who should be good to go by the start of the season. But Splitter disappointed in his first year as a Hawk. He didn’t contribute the type of rebounding the Hawks had hoped for and seemed sluggish on the court at times before his season ending injury.
The Hawks would love to bring back Horford, but if they decide he’s not worth the money, Atlanta needs to bring back Humphries. Humphries provides a big man off the bench; a tough player who would do dirty work down low. More importantly, he showed an expanded range, including three-point shooting skills. While normally not a necessity among centers, Humphries’ 3-point shooting is an ability the Hawks covet and won’t find among many other centers.
Whether the Hawks bring back Horford or Humphries or both could dictate what other moves the team makes. Should the Hawks only resign one, different free agents come in to play for Atlanta.
1. Dwight Howard
Howard is the most obvious choice and has been widely connected to the Hawks for over a month. Coming from Atlanta, Howard would be returning home if he chooses the Hawks.
Once thought to be the next Superman, Howard walked in Shaq’s footsteps as he left Orlando of L.A. Then it fell apart. He couldn’t handle playing second fiddle to Kobe and struggled to find himself offensively when he was no longer the first option. Those same struggles followed him to Houston. Once again this time, he struggled alongside James Harden.
The match between Howard and the Hawks seems perfect. The Hawks are desperate for a genuine big man who can provide defense around the rim and rebounds. Although he is no longer in his prime, Howard still can give the Hawks good defense and boards. Atlanta gives Howard a fresh start, and a place where he is guaranteed to be the primary inside scorer and won’t have to battle for spot light.
Howard is on the wrong side of 30, but if the Hawks become desperate for a big center, they might be forced to pay him big bucks.
2. Hassan Whiteside
Whiteside has been a stud with the Heat the past two seasons. He dominated the league in blocks per game, averaging more than one more block per game than the closest opponent (DeAndre Jordan). He also averaged nearly 12 rebounds and 14 points per game.
Whiteside will be a max contract player, but his defensive numbers alone are worth the money. His presence inside takes the Hawks from one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, to at least an adequate rebounding one. For a team that likes to take jump shots, someone on the floor needs to be able to give the team extra possessions.
An investment in Whiteside, however, also means an investment in his personality, which has gotten him in trouble in the past. Whiteside is aggressive and confrontational on and off the court, which has earned him a suspension and fine in 2014. This season, Whiteside remained off the commissioner’s behavior list. Still, the Hawks need to remain aware of his potential. Overall, the Hawks are a no-ego team that shares the basketball and it doesn’t take much to disrupt that tranquility.
3. Joakim Noah
While Whiteside and Howard are definite starters and replacements for Horford, Noah is a player that can provide chunk of quality minutes off the bench.
Ideally, Noah could play behind another a talented big. Atlanta would re-sign Horford or possibly have Noah play alongside Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor.
Noah had his worse season in the NBA this year. He posted career low numbers in points per game, Free throw percentage, and field goal percentage this year before suffering having season ending shoulder surgery in January. Noah lost his starting job early in the season.
The Hawks could try to take advantage of Noah’s financial loss. His struggles before the injury, and the injury itself, will dampen the Noah’s market value. At age 31, he’s a veteran that’s slowing down. Yet, he could still provide good defense and consistent scoring, if healthy.