The Atlanta Hawks have flown under the radar during one of the most eventful offseasons in recent history. Outside of a bold draft-night trade, Travis Schlenk and the front office have been mostly quiet, renting cap space for picks and acquiring post-prime veterans to bolster the second unit.
With that said, Atlanta has taken more than a couple leaps of faith — whether it’s gambling on a prospect or paying for potential that hasn’t yet been realized. It has been a subtly risky summer for the Hawks, and while the long-term ramifications lack catastrophic potential, it does offer a glimpse of what the front office’s philosophy might be moving forward.
Schlenk has spent the summer pounding the trade market. Allen Crabbe, Chandler Parsons, and Evan Turner are all big-money vets who now inhabit potential rotation spots. The Hawks, as a result, have managed to create some degree of flexibility in the short-term.
The Prince-Crabbe swap with Brooklyn
This deal made sense at the time. Atlanta shipped Taurean Prince to Brooklyn in exchange for Allen Crabbe and the #17 pick. It’s a prime example of renting out cap space, something smart front offices on rebuilding teams do.
Prince was plateauing in Atlanta and didn’t fit Schlenk’s long-term vision. Even in a thin rookie class, a mid-first round pick has value. The Hawks are in a rebuild and added what turned into trade ammo. It was a natural move that made sense for both sides — Brooklyn adding a young wing and clearing cap space for the eventual Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving haul.
The Hawks, to Schlenk’s credit, followed their gut on draft night. They joined in on the complex mega-Anthony Davis trade, acquiring the #4 pick in exchange for #8, #17 (trade ammo!), and Solomon Hill’s contract. Atlanta, in the middle of a rebuild, was willing to take on bad money to facilitate a trade the front office deemed positive.
In the end, however, I’m not sure it’s positive value. The Hawks used the #4 pick on De’Andre Hunter — the #7 prospect on my draft board and someone whose upside, compared to other top-8 prospects, is limited.
The Hawks have now made two bold draft-night trades up Schlenk’s guidance — the Hunter trade and the Trae Young deal in 2018. The Young-Doncic swap was even more harshly criticized, as most envisioned Doncic as the top prospect in his rookie class. He was, still is, and will be moving forward.
At this current moment, however, the Hawks are in a good place. Young has All-Star potential, gave Doncic a run for Rookie of the Year, and could turn into a star-level player himself. The collective value of Young and the Mavs’ 2019 first-round pick (now Cam Reddish) could feasibly surpass Doncic in the future.
It’s clear Atlanta is willing to trade for what it wants on draft night. It’s a commendable strategy, even if the risk involved in those trades are high. The Hawks are betting on a couple things with Hunter — a calculated risk, involving decisions about his NBA projection and his fit in Atlanta.
Hunter is, by all indications, a high-character kid. As Atlanta builds a culture under Lloyd Pierce, there’s value in good people. It’s something Brett Brown stresses in Philadelphia and a principle Pierce might carry over to the Hawks. Good people, good defenders, and a lot of length.
He also fits the core seamlessly. He can play the 3 or 4, defend across positions and hit spot-up triples — all traits Atlanta values. The Hawks are loaded with versatile defenders and will undoubtedly experiment with smaller frontcourt pairings. Using John Collins and Hunter at the 5 and 4, respectively, could yield intriguing results.
Hunter adds a defensive backbone and will complement the likes of Trae Young and the Hawks’ core. He showed face-up potential in Virginia’s molasses offense as well. There’s a chance, with NBA spacing and an up-tempo system, his offense blossoms to a new degree in the NBA.
Jarrett Culver should have been the pick at #4. He would have made the deal a bit more palatable on paper. He’s not the shooter Hunter is, but has more shake off the dribble and his mechanics project comfortably moving forward. He can put more pressure on defenses, make plays off the dribble, and add a different dynamic to a halfcourt offense. He’s not a bad defender either.
But the Hawks, again, made a bet on their guy. It appears as though Atlanta and Hunter were tied up early in the process, meaning the Hawks just needed to move up and get him. In 2018, it was a controversial trade down. In 2019, a controversial trade up. A lot of risk, but Atlanta is betting on fit, untapped potential and character.
Swapping expiring contracts
The Hawks swapped Kent Bazemore for Evan Turner — a net negative on paper. Bazemore is the better player, straight-up. He’s also a great culture guy, someone who provided a strong veteran presence in a young locker room. In a sense, this deal stands apart from others.
It’s difficult to imagine this deal not being a favor to Bazemore, at least to some degree. He has given Atlanta quite a bit over the years and now gets to play for a contender in the loaded Western Conference. The Hawks don’t need Bazemore this season, so letting him compete elsewhere is a nice gesture.
They’re also bringing an equally positive presence to the locker room. In his introductory presser, Turner mentioned his approach to joining a new team: find common ground. He looks to build organic, natural relationships, whether it’s with other vets or younger players. He’s not one to assert his status over others.
Turner is also a positive fit. While the Hawks need and value shooters, playmaking is another area of need. The Hawks lack backup point guard depth, having recently waived Jaylen Adams after an underwhelming Summer League. Right now, both Turner and Cam Reddish are expected to see some minutes as lead guards.
There’s also a chance a Turner-Young pairing works. While some of Trae’s brightest moments are as a passer, he’s also a dynamic shooter who does his most proficient damage off the catch. Turner can operate as a safety valve, relieving pressure, allowing Young to work off-ball, and diversifying the 20-year-old’s shot profile.
More contract swaps
The Hawks proceeded to send Solomon Hill and Miles Plumlee to Memphis in exchange for Chandler Parsons — akin to the ET deal, no extra draft capital involved. It was a swap of albatross expiring contracts, essentially allowing the Hawks to open up an extra roster spot.
Atlanta now sits with two unoccupied spots on the roster. Additional depth — both at point guard and in the frontcourt — is needed. The Hawks aren’t done yet, so expect a few more moves to transpire before the summer tappers off.
As for Parsons, he’s an interesting get. Once a highly-touted free agent, injuries have ravaged Parsons’ career. He spent last season in limbo, at one point leaving the Grizzlies before returning late in the season. He hasn’t gotten much of an opportunity to re-establish himself in the NBA.
For his career, Parsons has always been a joyful personality and, outside his rough tenure in Memphis, someone fans appreciated. He became a fan favorite in Dallas, both for his social media presence and his friendship with Mark Cuban.
He comes to Atlanta looking to showcase his forgotten talent. In 25 games last season, Parsons managed 7.5 points in 19.8 minutes per contest, posting an effective field goal percentage of just 45.3 — the second-lowest mark of his career. You can chalk it up to a weird and uncomfortable situation, but there’s also an unavoidable truth. Injuries have taken an irreversible toll on Parsons’ body.
On paper, he’s a clean fit — another versatile wing who can run the offense in spurts, hit threes and defend multiple positions. The odds of his on-paper fit coming to fruition, however, are slim. There’s also a chance he gets bought out at some point.
The Spellman trade
In a curious but understandable move, the Hawks shipped 2018 first-round pick Omari Spellman to Golden State in exchange for Damian Jones and a future second-round pick. This once again comes down to culture. There’s a good chance the Hawks simply lacked faith in Spellman long term.
After dealing with injuries as a rookie, Spellman’s conditioning became a public concern. The Hawks now shed that concern and add Jones, someone who fills a noticeable void at the center spot. Atlanta, after losing Dewayne Dedmon in free agency and trading Miles Plumlee, doesn’t have much in terms of full-time centers.
Jones isn’t a better prospect than Spellman. He’s also older, makes slightly more money, and is under team control for less time. The only reason for Atlanta to make this deal would involve Spellman, not Jones. It’s a lack of faith in Spellman and his development, not an abundance of lust for a replacement-level center who barely cracked the rotation in Oakland.
An embattled #2 pick
The Hawks signed Jabari Parker — the #2 overall pick in 2014 — to a two-year, $13 million contract. That’s quite a commitment to someone who has been actively bad since suffering a second torn ACL in 2017. Parker struggles on defense and has questioned its importance in the past, but the Hawks were willing to take a calculated risk.
Prior to his second injury, Parker averaged 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds in his third NBA season. He posted shooting splits of .490/.365/.743, came into his own as a go-to scorer, and looked the part of a rising #2 pick. Parker was the real deal.
Now he’s trying to make it back. Parker is a constant negative on defense and hasn’t been efficient in years, but the raw talent is still there. Atlanta has the development system and culture to take a chance on him.
With the Hawks, Parker will get playing time in a free-flowing offensive system. As long as he embraces ball movement, hits spot-up threes, and effectively slashes to the rim, there’s real value in someone who can get buckets in Parker’s mold. The Hawks have enough versatile, athletic bodies to surround him on defense.
It also speaks to Atlanta’s priorities. Outside a few trades involved bad contracts, the Hawks have shown little interest in adding more veteran talent. Atlanta is embracing a rebuild centered on young up-and-comers, and Parker has a chance to join that young core.
Pierce will focus on the development of Atlanta’s young pieces next season. The roster is built around Trae Young, the pass-slinging fulcrum on which the Hawks’ offensive engine turns. That’s why trading for Hunter at #4 makes even remote sense. That’s why Turner-for-Bazemore makes even remote sense on a basketball level.
The Hawks will hope Parker can slide into a forward spot and operate as a secondary option on the perimeter — another shot-maker and floor-spacer who can put pressure on the opposing defense. If his defense moves toward palatable, all the better.
Atlanta’s summer has generated quite a bit of controversy. The draft-night trade for Hunter looks particularly bad right now, as Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker were sublime during New Orleans’ Summer League run. The Parker signing left quite a few pundits scratching their head.
But, at the very least, we got a sense of the Hawks’ priorities. What’s driving Travis Schlenk and the front office. These moves all point to fit, culture and calculated risk. The Hawks are in a rebuild and can afford to eat two years of Parker’s contract. They can afford to open an extra roster spot and roll the dice on Chandler Parsons.
The Hawks aren’t trying to be good next season. The defense will underwhelm and the talent isn’t mature enough, even in a wide-open Eastern Conference. But there’s room for the offense to grow, the young talent to evolve, and Lloyd Pierce to instill his culture.
Atlanta has a direction. A set of goals. And they’re willing to make unconventional moves to accomplish those goals.