The Atlanta Hawks have tinkered around the edges of their roster over the past two seasons. Yes, they have made the big trades to get in Dejounte Murray, who recently signed an extension, and one to get John Collins out, but it has been the end of the bench that has seen the most action.
When the Hawks drafted Sharife Cooper with the 48th pick in the 2021 NBA draft, there were high hopes he could work his way into the rotation. Cooper came into the league with the reputation of being a below-average 3-point shooter but also one of the hardest-working prospects the league had seen in a while.
The Hawks rewarded Cooper’s Summer League play and work ethic with a two-way deal. Over the season, the Hawks under-utilized Cooper and their G League affiliate found their point guard. It was not Cooper, in fact, it was Cat Barber who was leading the College Park Skyhawks to the playoffs. It presented the front office with a problem of where the guard fit in the organization.
The Atlanta Hawks eventually let Sharife Cooper walk.
It was sad when the Hawks let Cooper out of his two-way contract, and the point guard was forced to leave his home state of Georgia to pursue his dreams. He signed a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers in September of 2022 before being waived the following month.
Cooper spent last season starting for the Cleveland Charge in the G-League, averaging 21.3 points, 6.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 0.8 steals in 32.5 minutes per game. He helped guide the Charge to sixth in the Eastern Conference and a playoff berth after being the worst team in the G-League the previous season.
This season is starting well for Cooper in that his Las Vegas Summer League debut for the Cavaliers was where Cooper took over at the end of the game. With 2:14 left, the Cavaliers were four points up. The Nets were coming and the Cavs needed a player to take control. That is exactly what Cooper did for his team.
In the last 2:14, Cooper scored eight of the last 11 points for the Cavaliers. He did this by getting to the line five times, hitting four of them. He also made it to the cup twice for lay-ups. He assisted another two points and blocked one shot. While he did commit one turnover but when the ball is in your hands for most of the game’s clutch time, one mistake is not a problem.
While Cooper would not be making these plays for the Cavaliers, and certainly not for the Hawks with Trae Young and Murray in the lineup, another cool head could not hurt. While Cooper may not make another NBA roster, there is a chance that he could have been anything for the Hawks.
Hard decisions had to be made, and the Atlanta Hawks chose to move to try out other players in the two-way contract slots.
The question is, with a little more development, could Sharife Cooper be the one that got away from the Atlanta Hawks? Only time will tell.