With the season mercifully over for the Atlanta Hawks, an offseason of change awaits.
Atlanta will have three selections in the first round of the NBA Draft, as well as one of the top four selections of the second round. Unless the Hawks move some of those picks in trades or pick players that will be in other leagues next season, it could cause a lot of roster turnover.
Atlanta has four solid returning starters in point guard Dennis Schroder, shooting guard Kent Bazemore, small forward Taurean Prince and power forward John Collins. There’s a bit of uncertainty at the center position, where starter Dewayne Dedmon has a player option and could test the waters of free agency. Collins was asked what position or skill set the Hawks should target in the draft after the season-ending loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I just think we need the best player available, regardless of whether it be a one, two, three, four or five,” said Collins. “Whatever position comes into this organization, coach is going to make it work. We’re all going to make it work as a team and play basketball like we do.”
The Hawks added an extra pick when the Timberwolves defeated the Nuggets on the final night of the season and conveyed its lottery-protected first round pick from the 2014 trade that sent forward Adreian Payne to Minnesota. The NBA will hold its Draft Lottery tiebreak drawing today at 5:45 p.m. (televised on NBA TV) for teams that finished with identical records. Since the Hawks share a 24-58 record with the Dallas Mavericks, the tiebreak will determine which team picks first in the event that neither team moves into the top three via the NBA Draft Lottery to be held on May 15. Atlanta and Dallas will evenly split the winning lottery combinations normally assigned to the teams with the third and fourth-worst records.
Today’s tiebreak will also determine if the Timberwolves pick will be 18th or 19th since Minnesota and the San Antonio Spurs had identical 47-35 records. At the start of the second round, the Hawks and Mavericks will pick in inverse order of how they selected in the first round. If the Hawks get a higher pick in the first round, the Mavericks will get the third pick of the second round while the Hawks pick fourth.
Bazemore spoke at his season-ending availability about the difficulty for the young Hawks to compete in an environment where the fans are hoping for more losses and better lottery odds.
“It hurts because the sad reality of the sport is that there are guys on this team that are playing for another chance,” said Bazemore. “People wanting them to underachieve is beyond me. That’s not the culture here in Atlanta. We just lost a lot of games due to inexperience.”
Bazemore was shut down for the season after suffering a bone bruise in March. He said that, in addition to getting healthy this summer, he plans to get stronger.
“[I’m] looking to get to the free throw line a lot more next year, kind of control the tempo of the game like the best players do,” said Bazemore. “James Harden, DeMar DeRozan … those guys, they get to the free throw line so much down the stretch, they really dictate the game.”
Another source of uncertainty for the Hawks is the status of coach Mike Budenholzer after Bucks writer Gery Woelfel wrote that league sources told him Budenholzer had interest in Milwaukee’s coaching position
“Multiple sources said two current head coaches — Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mike Budenholzer of Atlanta — have more than a passing interest in the Bucks’ job and coaching the NBA’s brightest young star in Giannis Antetokounmpo,” wrote Woelfel. “Some NBA officials said Budenholzer, who guided the Hawks to 60 wins just three seasons ago when he was accorded NBA’s Coach of the Year honors, also doesn’t want to be part of an extensive rebuild in Atlanta.”
Budenholzer told Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jeff Schultz that rumors that he has inquired about the Milwaukee job via back channels are untrue. But when pressed to say with certainty that he will be back as Hawks coach next season, Budenholzer said the season just ended and “I’m not going there.”
Hawks GM Travis Schlenk also told Schultz that he had no reason to believe that Budenholzer was interested in another job.
“I’ve gotten zero indication that any of these rumors are true, even though they’re out there,” said Schlenk.
For Bazemore’s part, he said he thinks Budenholzer will be back in Atlanta next season.
“I’ve seen Coach Bud coach a 60-win team that’s been to the Eastern Conference Finals, and I’ve seen him coach this year,” said Bazemore. “There wasn’t a difference. I think he’s embraced the challenge of getting back there. Because once you get a taste of it, you want it again. That’s a new challenge for him, for me, for this team, for this organization, is to see — being the third or fourth-worst team in the league — seeing if we can get back.”
Bazemore heaped praise on Budenholzer, saying that he’s come to love as well as respect him as a coach.
“With the young guys we had, you see so many guys get better as the season goes on,” said Bazemore. “That’s a testament to him and the guys that he has in his corner. He just makes this job so much easier for you.”
The Hawks could have avoided sharing the third-worst record with the Mavericks by losing one more game. Instead, the Hawks closed the season by winning three of its final six contests. It’s an eerily-similar scenario to 2004 when the Hawks won four of its final seven games to finish with a 28-54 record to tie the Clippers for the fourth-worst record. The Clippers won the tie-break, which dropped the Hawks to the sixth pick after the team failed to land in the top three via the Draft Lottery.
Tonight’s tiebreak drawing will decide if the Hawks’ floor is the sixth or seventh pick. If the Mavericks win the tiebreak, there’s an unlikely scenario in which three teams with better records leapfrog into the top three, which would push Atlanta down to seventh.
The Hawks can also be players in free agency since the team has only $56 million in guaranteed salary for next season, not counting options, according to the Hawks team salary page maintained by Basketball Insiders senior writer Eric Pincus. Expect the Hawks to move aggressively in the draft and free-agency since lottery reform will be in place next season. The teams with the four worst records will have nearly-identical odds to land a top-three pick under new lottery rules, while the fifth-worst team will have only an eight percent worse chance of landing in the top-three than the team with the worst record.
The odds for teams with the eighth through 11th-worst records to land in the top three have nearly doubled. This means the Hawks can win as many games as possible next season and still have a shot at decent lottery odds in the event that Atlanta again misses the postseason. Expect the team that makes that chase next season to look a lot different than the one that just missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
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