NBA Offseason Guide 2022 – How the Atlanta Hawks can fix what went wrong

NBA Offseason Guide 2022 – How the Atlanta Hawks can fix what went wrong post thumbnail image

It was only last July that the Atlanta Hawks were two wins away from the NBA Finals.

The team carried that positive momentum into the offseason, handing out $300 million of new contracts to returning players Trae Young, Clint Capela, John Collins and Kevin Huerter. However, that momentum has all but disappeared after a season that saw Atlanta finish ninth in the East then lose in the first round to the Miami Heat.

Expect ownership and the Hawks’ front office to now complete a full audit on what went wrong.

Young is not going anywhere, but the humility from this season should be a warning sign that the front office will not rely on roster continuity, something the Hawks did last offseason.

MORE: Hawks rank 16th in Future Power Rankings

State of the roster

Roster status: Built to win now, but a liability on defense

There are plenty of reasons to explain what went wrong.

The logical answer is that Atlanta could not recover from a sluggish first half of the season (17-25 in the first 42 games), injuries to key players and a porous defense.

The Hawks’ inefficient fourth quarters are largely to blame for their slow start. Per ESPN Stats & Information research, prior to January 17, Atlanta ranked 28th in fourth-quarter net efficiency and 26th in fourth-quarter offensive efficiency. Last year they ranked second in fourth-quarter net efficiency after Nate McMillan took over.

Injuries certainly took a toll on the roster also. The starting lineup that lost in the Eastern Conference finals (Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Clint Capela) started only nine games this year, going 8-1. Collins, Bogdanovic, Capela and Huerter combined to miss more than 50 games.

Their defense ranked 26th in efficiency and was an Achilles heel all season. The Hawks had a 115.0 defensive efficiency with Young on the court and 108.0 when he was off. Per FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR metric, Young ranked 2nd in offensive RAPTOR, but tied for 251st in defensive RAPTOR among 257 players to play 1,000 minutes. Going forward, Atlanta will need to balance the lineup when Young is on the court.

Despite the shortcomings this year, there is still enough proof that the Hawks can be successful with their core players. Atlanta continues to be one of the top teams in offensive efficiency and went 24-13 after Jan. 15.

The Hawks will have a first-round pick to add to the roster, but little flexibility beyond that. They have eight players on guaranteed contracts and face a big decision on the future of Danilo Gallinari. If they retain the forward, Atlanta will now enter the luxury tax. For a team that failed to reach the playoffs, the financials are hard to justify.


The luxury tax

There is a consensus among all 30 front offices that ownership will pay a luxury tax penalty for a roster that can compete for a championship. Owners of each individual team however take a pause if money spent results in a first-round exit.

I saw that firsthand after the 2013-2014 season in Brooklyn.

After losing in the second round to the Miami Heat and paying at the time a league high $90.6 million tax penalty, ownership put their checkbook away. Instead of adding to an aging roster, they rightfully began to cut costs.

The difference however between that Nets team and the current Atlanta roster is youth and upside.

While this season is viewed as a disappointment, Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter have not yet reached their 25th birthday and last year proved that, when healthy, Atlanta is a top-six team in the East.

Now entering the offseason, the Hawks have a decision to make: Do they stay the course with the current roster and pay a one-year tax penalty or do they shed salary by letting Gallinari go?

With the rookie extensions for Young and Huerter set to begin in July, Atlanta is projected to have $158 million in salary, $11 million above the tax threshold after the roster is filled out. The Hawks could pay a $19 million tax penalty. If Young were to be named All-NBA, the $11 million tax overage would increase to $17 million.

The Hawks have paid the luxury tax only twice in their history and have not paid a penalty since Tony Ressler bought the team in 2015.

The easy solution to get under is to waive the veteran Gallinari. The forward has a $21.5 million salary but only $5 million is guaranteed with the balance fully protected if not waived by June 29. By waiving him, Atlanta goes under the tax by $13 million and should remain under once the roster is filled with veteran minimums and Capela’s $2 million in bonuses are accounted for.

The downside to the cost savings is Atlanta loses the production of Gallinari. In 63 games this season, Gallinari averaged 11.3 points and shot 37% from 3. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Hawks had a net rating of plus-4.1 points per 100 possessions with Gallinari on the court.

One cap maneuver the Hawks can explore is to waive Gallinari by June 29 and then sign the forward to a two-year, $13 million contract with a player option in the second year. This scenario allows Gallinari to recoup some of the unprotected salary lost from the waiver. That would leave Atlanta $1.5 below over the tax. However, this option all but gets eliminated if Young is named All-NBA and sees his $30.5 million salary increase to $36.6 million.

Atlanta could let the June 29 guaranteed date pass and keep Gallinari on the roster, but look to move him later on in a trade if the results on the court do not reflect the cost of the roster.

Because Gallinari is on an expiring contract, the Hawks will also receive significant financial relief in 2023 and are not in danger of paying a tax penalty in future years.


By trading Cam Reddish to the New York Knicks, the Hawks showed that they are betting on Hunter to be their small forward of the future. Additionally, because Atlanta doled out $300 million in new contracts last offseason, the team has essentially boxed itself into a corner financially. For the roster to improve, the Hawks need to develop their own young players (or look to make trades).

This is where Hunter comes into play.

The forward is rookie extension eligible. Although Atlanta took an aggressive approach with Young and Kevin Huerter last offseason (the duo earned a total of $240 million in new contracts), can they afford to do the same with Hunter?

Atlanta has improved on the defensive end after trading Reddish and getting Hunter back from injury. After ranking 27th in the league before Jan. 12, the Hawks ranked 20th from that point through the end of the regular season.

However, as Zach Lowe wrote recently, there are concerns that Hunter has stagnated on his development.

Hunter has not quite built on his growth last season as a secondary scorer and defensive stopper. His catch-and-go game — his most important skill on offense other than 3-point shooting — can be stilted; his total drives have plateaued, and his assist and turnover numbers are heading in the wrong directions, per Second Spectrum. Hunter is dishing just 1.5 dimes per 36 minutes — startlingly low, even considering Young’s ball dominance. Hunter has more turnovers than assists.

There are also durability concerns. Hunter missed 91 games in his first three seasons, 61 of which were a result of undergoing two separate surgeries to address his right knee.

As for his next contract, Hunter could be the temporary fall guy for the Hawks handing out lucrative extensions last offseason. Unless Atlanta finds a deal to their liking ($13 million-$14 million range), the team should wait until the 2023 offseason when the forward will be a restricted free agent.


Offseason cap breakdown

Team needs

Resources to build the roster

  • The draft: First-round pick

  • Future assets: Own first-round pick in the next seven years and a future first from Charlotte

  • Sweet spot contracts: Six players earning between $18-$2.8M

  • Exception: $10.3M midlevel or $6.3M tax midlevel

  • Cash: $6.2M to send or receive in a trade


Dates to watch

  • There are two dates to watch as it relates to All-Star guard Trae Young. The first is in mid-May when All-NBA is announced. If Young is named to any of the three All-NBA teams, the projected $175.5M rookie extension that he signed last August will increase to $212 million. The second date is at the end of June when the NBA sets the salary cap for 2022-23. The $30.5M cap hit for 2022-23 is a projection based on a cap of $122M and could increase or possibly decrease once the cap is set.

  • JUNE 29: The Hawks have the end of June to tender Kevin Knox a one-year $7.9M qualifying offer. Since the trade from New York, Knox played in 10 games, averaging 6.9 minutes and 1.9 points. The Hawks would have until July 13 to pull the offer without the consent of Knox. Atlanta would still have his Bird rights and the ability to exceed the cap if they elect to bypass sending the qualifying offer. Two-way player Sharife Cooper is also eligible to receive a qualifying offer.


Restrictions

  • The poison pill restrictions for Young and Huerter will get lifted on July 1. For trade purposes from now until June 30, the outgoing salary in a trade is the fourth year of their contract and the incoming salary for the new team is the average of the extension and last year of the rookie scale contract. For example, if Huerter is traded, his outgoing salary is $4.25M and incoming salary is $13.85M.

  • The Hawks sent out $834,589 to offset Solomon Hill’s salary in the trade with New York. They have $4.95M available to send out in a trade up until June 30. Their cash available in a trade replenishes to $6.2M on July 1.

  • Bogdanovic has a 15% trade bonus in his contract. The bonus is $2.7M if the guard is traded in the offseason and the Hawks are responsible for paying it.

  • Young has a 15% trade bonus. Because he has a max salary, the bonus is voided if he is traded.


Extension-eligible

Last offseason, the Hawks were in the business of handing out extensions. Young, Huerter and Capela signed new contracts that totaled over $250M.

This offseason, expect Atlanta to put the checkbook away, except for a possible new deal for Hunter. Gallinari and Bogdanovic are extension eligible, but it is hard to believe that either will receive a new contract.

For Gallinari, because of luxury tax concerns, there is no guarantee that he will be on the roster when free agency begins in July. Plus, he will turn 34 in August and signing him for additional years (unless of course it is team friendly) will result in a dead weight contract in the future.

Bogdanovic shot 43.8% and 36% from three the past two seasons but injuries have slowed him. He played 44 games in 2020-21 and missed 13 this season with a right knee and ankle.


The draft

Atlanta has its own first and second in June. The Hawks also own a first from the Hornets that is top-16 protected in 2023 and top-14 protected in 2024 and 2025. If it is not conveyed, Atlanta will receive 2026 and 2027 second-round picks from Charlotte.

Here’s how ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz have Atlanta selecting in June:

No. 16 (own): Malaki Branham, SG, Ohio State

Branham’s size, frame, length, scoring instincts and shot-making prowess off the dribble (44% FG%) and with his feet set (43%) make his game look seamlessly translatable for what the NBA is looking for at his position. He got to his spots in the mid-range and rose up beautifully with his high release point, and showed he can do a little more than that too by facilitating for others and showing competitiveness defensively one-on-one. While he has some things to work with as a ball handler and off-ball defender, the fact that he’s 18 years old, has made such impressive strides as the season moved on and plays with a unique combination of aggressiveness and poise could put him in lottery conversations. — Givony

No. 44 (own): Dalen Terry, PG/SG, Arizona

MORE: Complete 2022 NBA draft coverage



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