As the free agency negotiating period begins in the NBA, the Hawks are at a crossroads.
Coming off their best season in modern franchise history in 2014-15, the Hawks slid from 60 victories to 48 wins in 2015-16. And, in each of the last two seasons, their postseason run was ended by the same opponent (the Cavaliers) in the same fashion (a four-game sweep).
So, is it possible for the Hawks to make the necessary moves in free agency to finally get past the Cleveland obstacle? They have the financial flexibility to do so, but will be competing against 29 other teams in the league to lure a top free agent to Atlanta.
The two biggest free agent targets for the Hawks may be members of their existing roster: center Al Horford, and swingman Kent Bazemore. Horford is likely to command a max offer as one of the top big men in the league. The issue is more complicated with Bazemore, who has gone from a role player to a solid NBA starter and is likely due a huge raise. How much the Hawks are willing to pay Bazemore could determine if he will be retained; and, if he is not, how aggressive the Hawks will be in pursuing a free agent small forward.
With the trade of Jeff Teague to Indiana, the Hawks currently only have one point guard on their roster, third-year German Dennis Schroder. This means the Hawks will likely be shopping for two point guards, including a veteran who can be the primary back-up to Schroder. It is unlikely the Hawks would be in the bidding for a top-tier point guard, but a veteran who can play 20 minutes per game would be an attractive target.
The Hawks have plenty of depth at shooting guard with Kyle Korver and Tim Hardaway, Junior among the returnees. However, Korver is aging and is entering the late stages of his contract, so the Hawks may be shopping for a shooting guard if the price is right.
If Bazemore is to depart, the Hawks primary focus in free agency becomes finding a starting small forward. Though Thabo Sefolosha could be an option as a member of the current roster, this is a position where the Hawks may be trying to make a splash, and a number of outstanding small forwards are on the market as both restricted and unrestricted free agents. The Hawks also drafted two small forwards in the first round of this year’s draft, but neither are expected to make immediate impacts.
At power forward, the Hawks have one more year with Paul Millsap before he is likely to exercise his player option and pursue a raise. Behind him, Mike Scott and Mike Muscala both are in team option territory, which means the Hawks may be looking for a depth addition at this position.
Assuming Horford remains in Atlanta, it is unlikely the Hawks would pursue a center. Tiago Splitter is due back from hip surgery, and the Hawks are still working on developing Edy Tavares into an NBA player. However, if Horford was to leave in free agency, the Hawks will have to scramble to find a center. Would they pursue a veteran rim protector who can help them with rebounds, or would they look for a hybrid-type player such as Horford who can stretch opposing defenses out to the three-point line?