While the Atlanta Hawks and the rest of the NBA go into a veritable hibernation period in the aftermath of the 2023 NBA Draft and free agency, there are some lingering storylines.
One of them is that there is increasing willingness within the Hawks organization to move on from starting center Clint Capela. The veteran big man has been bandied about in trade rumors this offseason with teams like the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets – with whom he started in the NBA – mentioned as possibilities.
But a new potential suitor could also lie in the Western Conference in the New Orleans Pelicans.
“Onyeka Okongwu is the heir apparent at center in Atlanta,” wrote Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report on July 16. “Swapping out Capela, who has two years left on his deal, for [Jonas] Valančiūnas, who comes off the books next summer, is a logical move.”
Valanciunas, 31, averaged 14.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 1.8 assists for New Orleans this past season.
He also shot 35.8% from deep over the last six seasons, albeit on 1.3 attempts per game.
What he isn’t is a true rim protector, even to the level that Capela – who does so with size and strength rather than verticality – is. Whereas Capela has only failed to average at least 1.0 blocks per game one time, and in his rookie season at that, Valanciunas has failed to crack that mark in each of the last three seasons.
He did average 1.0 blocks per game over his first eight seasons, seemingly trading in his rim-protecting abilities to stretch the floor more effectively. Valanciunas’ offensive bag is all-around greater than Capela’s.
Valanciunas is heading into the final year of a two-year, $30.1 million contract so there is the chance that he could walk for nothing in free agency next offseason if this deal was made.
Of course, that is just one way of looking at this with Capela still a key piece for Atlanta.
Trading Clint Capela would signal significant shift for Atlanta Hawks
Capela, 29, averaged 12.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, and just under 1.0 assists per game for the Hawks in 2022-23 and is starting a two-year, $46 million extension. Mostly a paint-bound presence on both ends of the floor, he is a trusted lob target for Hawks star Trae Young who has already lost his other top target with John Collins traded to the Utah Jazz.
The 6-foot-10 Capela is shorter than Valanciunas who is listed at 6-foot-11. But he is bigger than presumed heir-apparent Okongwu who stands 6-foot-8. But Atlanta saw a plus-2 swing in their net rating with Okongwu on the floor over Capela this past season, per Cleaning The Glass.
Okongwu, 22, averaged 9.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.0 assists last season in a supporting role, though his 80 appearances were 15 more than Capela’s.
Capela has averaged 67 appearances over the last three years compared to 71 for Valanciunas.
Add in that Valanciunas and Okongwu could share the floor with both having the ability to know down at least a corner three-pointer, and there could be some legs with this one if the Hawks are ready to move on as potential extensions for Okongwu and 2023 trade deadline acquisition Saddiq Bey loom large.
There are no games for the next three months so expect the speculation that we do get to run rampant with little in the way to interrupt it until training camp in September.