The Atlanta Hawks, led by star point guard Trae Young, are currently in the process of figuring out how to turn a slightly above-average team into one that can compete for the franchise’s first championship since it moved to Atlanta.
While the team got relatively close in 2021, coming within two games of the NBA Finals, the last two postseasons have ended in disappointment, with back-to-back first-round exits at the hands of the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics.
Young recently took to his “From The Point” podcast which launched earlier this summer to address his goals for the future with the franchise that traded for him on draft night back in 2018.
“The regular season’s a lot different than the playoffs,” explained Young. “When you go through it and when you experience it, you only want to go higher. It definitely turns your focus up.”
Hawks fans would be forgiven for holding their breath after the first part of that quote, which may bring back memories of Young calling the regular season boring just months after the Hawks’ 2021 run and subsequently teetering around .500 for the whole season.
Still, it’s true that the playoffs are indeed a different level where the real money is made.
The Hawks have a long way to go to become a contender
The only real needle-moving decision that the Hawks front office has made so far this summer was trading away John Collins to the Utah Jazz in what was essentially a salary dump.
The team drafted guard Kobe Bufkin back in June, but for a franchise that already has at least four guards and possibly more that will be ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s hard to see the former Michigan Wolverine changing much about the team’s trajectory in the near future.
One rumor that has persisted throughout the summer ties Atlanta to Toronto Raptors’ power forward Pascal Siakam, a 2023 All-Star who would provide the Hawks with some much-needed defensive versatility along with an offensive skillset that aligns pretty neatly with Young and shooting guard Dejounte Murray.
However, while this rumor has been around for a while, no substantial information or news leaks have resulted from the smoke, and the Hawks actually trading for the Swiss army knife power forward seems like a long shot at best at this point.
It’s important to note that Atlanta does have a considerable amount of talent on their roster as presently constructed. Young and Murray, despite their skillsets not being that complementary, still match the talent level of almost any backcourt in the league.
De’Andre Hunter, for all of the frustration that his inconsistency incites, is still capable of looking like an All-Star once every two weeks or so. Bogdan Bogdanovic and AJ Griffin are two legitimate sharpshooters off the bench, and Jalen Johnson and Onyeka Okongwu both figure to take big leaps heading into next season.
Still, so much of Atlanta’s problems a year ago occurred on the defensive end of the floor, where opponents frequently found themselves getting to the basket with minimal resistance. Although Atlanta is a better team without Collins in the fray, it’s certainly possible that their defensive issues could get even worse in his absence.
The options Atlanta has to fill in this gap are growing more limited by the day as the team is already well over halfway through its offseason.
With this current roster, it’s very difficult to imagine Atlanta even reaching, let alone surpassing, the heights it reached two years ago, given how much more talented the East is now.
Young might have to have an MVP-caliber season to give this roster even the slightest chance of turning his lofty expectations into reality.