The Atlanta Hawks’ financial outlook could force them into some tough decisions in the near future. They have several players on big contracts, some with new money kicking in next season, and others due up for new money in the near future.
With an ownership group that has outlined a clear set of circumstances under which it would pay the luxury tax and which the Hawks currently fall short of, things could get interesting.
“Normally, we’d say the Hawks should lock up [Onyeka] Okongwu,” wrote Keith Smith of Spotrac on June 6. “But this team has so much long-term salary already committed for a middle-of-the-pack roster. Because of that, Atlanta may need to rebalance the roster a bit before taking care of Okongwu. That means this probably goes to restricted free agency in 2024.”
Smith, as the passage eludes to, predicts the Hawks hold off on an extension for Oknogwu.
The No. 6 overall pick in 2020, Okongwu has shaken off early injury concerns to turn into one of the more promising young big men around the league and arguably one of the top backups for any experience level.
He averaged 9.9 points and 7.2 rebounds this past season, adding 1.0 assists and even stretching his offense out to the three-point line on occasion.
Okongwu, 22, also knocked down 78.1% of his free throws.
“The sky’s the limit,” teammate Dejounte Murray said via Wepa.Fm on March 28. “He’s just got to stay humble, stay confident, and just keep working.”
Atlanta has Okongwu under contract for next season and he will be a restricted free agent following the 2024-25 season; the same time starting center Clint Capela’s deal expires. But taking a wait-and-see approach could get risky for the Hawks if another team comes in with a big offer and forces their hand.
They would have the right of first refusal but that isn’t the only risk.
As we have seen with forward John Collins – the longest-tenured member of the team, having to fight for what they feel they are worth can take a toll on players. The Hawks surely want to avoid having another situation like that on their hands.
Okongwu sounds far from disgruntled as things currently stand.
Atlanta Hawks’ financial crunch could impact Clint Capela
Okongwu’s skill set and pending contract situation could force the Hawks into a decision between him and Capela.
Capela, 29, is starting a two-year, $46 million contract extension signed in 2021.
“Atlanta is scheduled to be more than $10 million into the luxury tax next season,” wrote Dan Favale of Bleacher Report on June 2. “Clint Capela is past his athletic heyday and owed $42.9 million over the next two years. With Onyeka Okongwu behind him…the Hawks could look to totally revamp their frontline.”
Capela averaged 12.0 points and 11.0 rebounds this past season as his points increased by the exact margin his rebound numbers fell – 0.9.
As former Brooklyn Nets assistant general manager and current ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks notes, Capela will also be extension eligible in October adding another possibility if the Hawks find reason to include Okongwu in a trade for another star.
Capela is also a trusted lob target for Trae Young.
Atlanta’s starting lineup – which included Capela – was also one of just three five-man lineups to log at least 738 minutes together during the regular season, logging the second-best net rating of the group at plus-5.3, per NBA.com. The other two were the Denver Nuggets (plus-13.1) and the Sacramento Kings (plus-2.2).
At any rate, there figures to be some level of change to the Hawks’ roster, be it this summer or at the trade deadline next season. Until then, or until they make a decision on Okongwu, speculation will continue on one of the more polarizing teams in the NBA.