Over the past decade, consistency is a term that can be used to describe the Atlanta Hawks organization. The team has made nine consecutive playoff appearances and allowed their core groups to remain intact long enough to reach their respective ceilings. The Hawks have been steadfast in their culture and dedicated to their approach of roster building.
However, 2017 could test the Hawks’ ability to remain consistent in this regard. With the league’s salary cap widely expected to exceed $100 million, the Hawks potentially have nine players who could be headed to the unpredictable land of free agency. When you talk to most players about their upcoming free agency, the majority will tell you they’re taking things day by day or that they haven’t thought about it in the least. But this isn’t the case. Some guys press and struggle due to the uncertainty. Some thrive in the contract year. A lot of players aren’t impacted one way or the other.
Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer expects his players to prevent free agency from impacting their on-court performance.
“I’m excited for all of our guys and I think they’ll all handle [their looming free agency] like pros and have great years,” Budenholzer told Basketball Insiders when asked about how he feels his players will approach their contract years. “I think we just approach it day by day. We just want the same focus, the competitive spirit, the unselfishness, all the things that are core to us. If players and coaches as an organization are focused on those things, everything will fall into place.”
Budenholzer’s level of optimism is impressive considering three-fifths of his projected starting lineup will in all likelihood be testing the market next summer. Veteran forwards Paul Millsap (player option) and Kyle Korver are in their 30s and will be seeking multi-year deals, while fourth-year guard Dennis Schroder enters the season as a first-time starter.
Korver and Millsap were two acquisitions by the franchise that didn’t generate huge headlines, but both have subsequently developed into All-Star performers. This past summer, the Hawks traded former All-Star guard Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers in order to give Schroder an opportunity to be the floor general full-time. The team has until October 31 to extend Schroder otherwise he’ll become a restricted free agent next offseason, allowing the league to set his market value and giving Atlanta the opportunity to match any offer he receives.
Cap space won’t necessarily be a barrier, as the Hawks have just $46 million in guaranteed salaries currently on the books for the 2017-18 campaign (not including Millsap’s $21.5 million player option). However, the team has work to do to solidify their future with only two players – Dwight Howard and Kent Bazemore – fully locked under contract through 2019.
Atlanta’s other upcoming free agents are veteran role players and in-house developed talent. Let’s take a look:
Kris Humphries: The team re-signed the 31-year-old forward this past summer to a one-year, $4 million deal. Humphries averaged 9.3 points and six rebounds for the Hawks last postseason.
Thabo Sefolosha: The 32-year-old wing shot a career high 51 percent from the field this past season and is in the final year of his deal. He’ll earn $3.9 million this year.
Tiago Splitter: The 31-year-old center has only appeared in 35 games since arriving to Atlanta due to an assortment of injuries. Splitter was originally acquired to give Budenholzer more physicality down low, but the team has since added Howard and Humphries on the interior. It remains to be seen if Splitter is part of the team’s long-term plan. He’s owed $8.5 million this season.
Jarrett Jack: The 32-year-old guard is currently rehabbing from a knee injury that ended his season in 2016. Jack signed a veteran minimum deal with the Hawks this past summer and is set to make $980,000 this season.
In-House Developed Talent/Younger Assets
Mike Scott: The forward’s tenure with the organization has been marked with plenty of ups and plenty of downs. Scott has been in the doghouse at times and in the starting lineup at other times, so it’s tough to peg how the organization views him from a long-term term standpoint.
Mike Muscala: The forward appeared in 20 games in 2014, 40 games in 2015 and 60 games this past season, which shows the coaching staff is looking for ways to get him into the rotation. On the flip side, Muscala’s minutes per game decreased last season. It’s worth noting that the minutes decline may not be an indication of his value since the Hawks were in more firefights compared to the 2014 campaign, when they rollicked to 60 wins.
Tim Hardaway Jr.: The shooting guard averaged double-digit points in his first two NBA seasons with the New York Knicks, but last year he played in just 51 contests and averaged 6.4 points for the Hawks. The common thought for Hardaway’s decline is that he averaged a lot of points on a not-so-good Knicks team, but struggled once he transitioned to a playoff-bound group. To be fair, making that kind of transition is always an adjustment for a young player. To start the preseason, Hardaway was mired in a 3-30 shooting slump (including 0-11 from three-point range).
Budenholzer, who’s also the Hawks’ president of basketball operations, will have a busy summer crafting his unit for the future. For now, the coach believes if everyone handles things right in the short-term, everything will fall into place long-term.
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