The Atlanta Hawks have traded Dejounte Murray, but now what?

Dejounte Murray and the Hawks have parted ways, but after six days of inactivity in free agency, fans are becoming impatient with the franchise.
Dejounte in a matchup versus the TImberwolves
Dejounte in a matchup versus the TImberwolves / David Berding/GettyImages

There has been radio silence from the Atlanta Hawks after trading Dejounte Murray to the New Orleans Pelicans on June 28th. After a failed experiment pairing him with Trae Young, General Manager Landry Fields decided Dyson Daniels and Larry Nance Jr. would fit better in what the Hawks are trying to create around Young. Daniels is an exceptional defender at 21 years old and will serve as a good backcourt rotation piece with Kobe Bufkin.

Nance played power forward primarily while in the Pelicans' rotation, and he will likely do the same under Hawks head coach Quin Snyder. 

This concerted effort to shore up the defense is a promising sign for the Hawks.

Murray's trade has also enhanced the team's spacing. However, the question remains: what’s next? The Hawks must find another shot-creator alongside Young to replace Murray. Free agency is in full swing with recent moves in the league, such as Klay Thompson's departure from the Golden State Warriors and Paul George's max deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, adding more pressure on Fields and the front office to make a move. 

The stakes are high as they must improve this off-season, especially considering the possibility of Young requesting a trade after another mediocre season in Atlanta. Brandon Ingram is a real possibility because he has one year left on his five-year $158 million contract with New Orleans, and Pelicans general manager David Griffin hasn’t offered Ingram an extension yet.

The Miami Heat are still negotiating with Jimmy Butler. As of July 4th, no progress has been reported on the situation. 

The problem for the Hawks is that owner Tony Ressler, and the front office do not want to pay the luxury tax to acquire another star player. It’s understandable, considering role players like Vit Krejci and Bruno Fernando still need to be paid. Their biggest priority is to save as much money as possible to negotiate an extension with Young when the time comes in 2026. Young makes up 30.61% of the Hawks' salary cap hit percentage, and another star will take up the same amount if not more. 

Teams can officially sign free agents on July 6th, and the Hawks have plenty of options

The front office must choose between paying the tax for another star player or being a lower-seeded team in the Eastern Conference for the third consecutive season.

Multiple free agents are still available if Fields and Co. are open to spending the money. Malik Beasley is coming off a stellar season from beyond the arc (41%) and would be a decent shot-creator for a reasonable price. Taylor Horton Tucker is another young, promising shooting guard who is an unrestricted free agent and could be a piece for the future at 23.

Many NBA analysts believe that Ressler will not pay the tax, and if so, this would be a massive gamble. This young roster needs to be developed more to compete with powerhouses like the newly crowned champions Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, and the improved Sixers. The Hawks are constantly criticized for not making moves in the off-season, and a big part of this is Ressler’s financial restraint on the franchise.

Ressler bought the team from Bruce Levenson in June of 2015 for $850 million and has increased the Hawks' value to $3.33 billion since then. During this time, the largest contract they’ve paid was Young’s $207 million 5-year extension in 2021, and nothing close to that magnitude since. They lost a lot of members of the 2021 Eastern Conference finals run because they didn’t want to pay the tax.

Two poor seasons followed after, and they will experience the same thing during the 2024-2025 season unless a big move is made. 

The NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement has a rule that if you do not pay the luxury tax, you will receive bonus cash for your franchise. If the front office considers the bonus cash valuable for the future, they may choose not to pursue a star-level player, prioritizing financial stability. However, if they’re serious about winning now, Ressler will pay the luxury tax, taking a considerable risk for a franchise-changing reward.