‘Bold prediction’ sees Atlanta Hawks move on from two starters

Mar 28, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray (5) reacts with forward De'Andre Hunter (12) and center Clint Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 28, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray (5) reacts with forward De'Andre Hunter (12) and center Clint Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

After a season full of significant changes, many naturally expect the Atlanta Hawks‘ roster to face a similar makeover under new head coach Quin Snyder.

“Team governor Tony Ressler has yet to pay the tax, and he’s never sounded particularly enthusiastic about digging deeper into his pockets when asked whether that’ll change,” wrote Dan Favale of Bleacher Report on June 2. “Ducking the tax pretty much guarantees one of the Hawks’ starters will be given the ol’ heave-ho.”

Favale notes the popularity of trade rumors involving forward John Collins.

The longest-tenured member of the team, Collins has been mired in trade speculation for the better part of the last three years. But his contract has proven to be a roadblock with multiple potential suitors said to want additional compensation to take him on.

Instead, Favale offers up Clint Capela and De’Andre Hunter, in particular, as the Hawks look to avoid the $13.5 million tax bill they’re currently tabbed for next season, per Spotrac.

Capela, 29, averaged 12 points, 11 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks this past season. The rebounding champion in 2021, Capela is beginning a two-year, $46 million contract he signed as an extension in 2021 that gives the Hawks control through the 2025 campaign but, as Favale notes, fourth-year big man Onyeka Okongwu is poised to step in, and step up.

Okongwu, 22, averaged 9.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and 1.0 assists this past season.

He also followed through on his promise to come back with a serviceable jump shot, knocking down 66.7% of his (limited) attempted from five to nine feet out.

The Hawks selected Okongwu with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and will have to make a decision on him by next summer. He will be a restricted free agent next offseason giving them the right of first refusal on any offer sheet.

But it might also behoove them to open up more minutes for him to get a better evaluation.

There is a much different argument for Hunter who has someone behind him in third-year man Jalen Johnson. But Johnson is not ready to contribute quite to the level Okongwu has appeared to be when given the opportunity. And Hunter, 25, is still an ascending player who is also beginning a four-year, $90 million contract next season.

Johnson, whom the Hawks selected No. 20 overall in 2021, does not turn 22 years old until December and offers a different skill set than Hunter who posted a 15.4/4.2/1.4 line this year.

It is important to note that Ressler has said he will pay the luxury tax for a title contender.

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The question then becomes how close this version of the Hawks is to being a true title contender coming off their second consecutive first-round exit from the playoffs.

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The Hawks are set to welcome their next group of pre-draft workouts on June 5, per Lauren L. Williams of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and among the many intriguing names is Virginia guard Kihei Clark who won a National Championship with Hunter in 2019.

Clark is small – listed at 5-foot-9 – but was named to the 2022-23 ACC All-Defensive team.

Also in the group are longtime Gonzaga big man Drew Timme, a three-time consensus All-American, Alabama 7-footer Charles Bediako who averaged 1.8 blocks this past season, and 2023 All-ACC Tournament selection Jordan Miller from the University of Miami.

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Rounding it out are Justin Powell out of Washington State and Javan Johnson from DePaul.