NBA AM: 2015 Summer Critical For Atlanta Hawks

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Was Hawks’ Season a Step in Right Direction or a Failure?

For some, the 2014-15 campaign was a dream season for the Atlanta Hawks. For others, a resounding playoff sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals will undoubtedly leave a sour taste their mouth all summer. These two conflicting viewpoints properly sum up why it’s so hard to properly categorize the current situation of the Hawks.

Should 60 wins, a top seed in the Eastern Conference, a Conference Finals appearance, four All-Stars and a Coach of the Year deem the 2014-15 campaign a success. Or should it be viewed as a disappointment, losing at the cusp of a NBA Finals appearance to a team with serious injuries to two of its own All-Stars?

Whatever side of the fence you may land, both views will be able to fully agree that this summer will be a key to the team’s future longevity at the top of the Eastern Conference hierarchy.

There are three ways to improve in the NBA – draft, free agency and trades. Let’s take a look at how the Hawks fare in each regard heading into a, some would say, earlier than expected offseason.

NBA Draft – June 25

The Hawks have three draft picks in next month’s draft – 15th, 50th (via Toronto) and 59th overall. Atlanta also has 7’3 center Walter Tavares, a 2014 second-round draft pick, stashed away in Spain who could be available next season.

As it stands currently, the Hawks won’t have many rotation minutes for a guy at No. 15. Rookies rarely carve out meaningful minutes on teams winning at a high clip, but there are prospects that figure to be on the board in the first round (Kentucky’s Devin Booker and Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker) who could find early success in Atlanta’s system.

Expect the second round selections from this year’s draft to be used in a similar fashion to how the team developed forward Mike Muscala and Tavares – with a long-term focus.

Free Agency

The Hawks have $39.3 million in guaranteed salaries on the books next season. This gives the team a bit of flexibility to be active on the free agency front. The team could have up to $25 million in salary cap space, but this figure dwindles after factoring in cap holds for All-Star forward Paul Millsap ($12.4 million), emerging forward DeMarre Carroll ($3.2 million) and perimeter center Pero Antic ($1.6 million). Veteran big man Elton Brand ($2.6 million) also has a cap hold to consider, unless the team opts to renounce rights.

Millsap signed a two-year, $19 million deal in 2013 and will undoubtedly be seeking a long-term contract once free agency opens in July. Millsap became a two-time All-Star in Atlanta, so expect the forward to have multiple suitors and eventually cash in on his talent.

Carroll will be an unrestricted free agent and experienced a breakthrough season. The forward was the only one of Atlanta’s starters not to make the All-Star team, but at one point led the club in scoring during the playoffs before suffering a sprained knee.  Carroll, who signed a two-year, $5 million deal in 2013, will get a handsome raise this summer and teams looking for help on the wing will be lining up at his doorstep.

Brand and guard John Jenkins aren’t expected to return to the team next season. But it’s important to note, Brand has taken on a mentoring role with the younger players in the locker room so don’t rule it out completely.  Jenkins has barely cracked head coach Mike Budenholzer’s rotation the last two seasons and sources close to the player say Jenkins has been considering options outside of Atlanta for quite a bit of time.

Antic is also expected to hit free agency. The center has been hot and cold during his two seasons in Atlanta, but has maintained that he hopes to remain in the NBA instead of going back overseas.

Trade Market

In regards to trade assets, the Hawks don’t have many options outside of their All-Stars under contract. However, forward Mike Scott has displayed flashes of offensive brilliance over the past two seasons and he could be an attractive option for a squad looking to take a chance on a still developing player. From a contract standpoint, Scott is owed $3.3 million in each of the next two seasons, but the final season is non-guaranteed, which eliminates risk for an opposing team.

With the emergence of second-year guard Dennis Schroder, Shelvin Mack could be available in a deal this summer. Mack is owed $2.4 million in each of the next two seasons, with the final year being non-guaranteed in nature.

All-Star center Al Horford will be entering the final season of his current deal and stares at unrestricted free agency in 2016. The Hawks could potentially lose the veteran for nothing in return, but there’s time up until the trade deadline to sort out Horford’s thoughts on Atlanta long term. But it’s worth noting this would be the first opportunity for Horford to explore the market and other situations – so definitely keep an eye on this story over the next few months.

All-Star guards Jeff Teague (owed $16 million) and Kyle Korver (owed $10.9 million) are under contract through 2016-17. Teague is entering his prime, and while Korver is a bit past his, he’s benefiting from the Hawks’ offensive system.

This summer will be huge for the Hawks franchise. They could opt to put things on cruise control by re-signing Carroll and Millsap and seeing if the core can make another run in 2016. Or the team could opt to move away from Millsap and try to lure another free agent big man such as LaMarcus Aldridge or Greg Monroe into the fold. The future is still bright for Atlanta, but how bright will be determined over the next few months.