The Atlanta Hawks announced a trade Monday evening, sending Kent Bazemore to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Evan Turner. No other pieces were involved — just a player-for-player swap of veteran wings on expiring contracts.
There has been considerable backlash on the Hawks’ end of the deal. Most view Kent Bazemore as the better player and the cap relief is marginal. From a pure talent perspective, Atlanta was a clear loser. The Blazers, on the other hand, got a serious upgrade in fit at the starting small forward spot.
Not every trade is based on talent, though. The Hawks had more in mind when shipping Bazemore out. Atlanta and Portland are in very different places on the competitive spectrum. The Hawks, as a result, have very different needs. Turner happens to fit Atlanta’s needs more than Bazemore.
Thank You, Bazemore
First and foremost, the Hawks were able to get Bazemore to a contender. He has done tremendous work both on the court and in the community during his five-year Hawks tenure. He deserves to play for a championship, and the Hawks were willing to make it happen.
Atlanta won’t contend next season. While there have been whispers of a playoff run in some circles, even improvement from Trae Young and John Collins — as well as De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish producing right away — probably isn’t enough to guarantee a spot in the top-8. The Hawks are still playing the long game.
Not only does that limit the need for Bazemore, it makes Bazemore’s presence a hindrance to a certain extent. While Bazemore’s veteran presence was an unmistakable positive, the Hawks can still infuse leadership through other avenues. By removing Bazemore, Atlanta frees up minutes for Hunter, Reddish, Kevin Huerter, and the Hawks’ younger core pieces.
Where Does Turner Fit?
A natural rebuttal, of course, would be to point to Turner. He’s labeled as a wing and, in theory, could steal those very same minutes. But expect the Hawks to utilize Turner in a different manner, unleashing his skill set as a playmaker. Turner fits the role of backup point guard quite well.
Before he arrived in Portland, Turner had some of his best seasons in Boston. In his two years as a Celtic, Turner averaged 5.5 and 4.4 assists per game — the two highest marks of his career to date. Boston used him as a playmaker, something Portland was less inclined to do.
While there were still moments for Turner to initiate the offense in Portland, the majority of those reps went to Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Turner was much less effective in that setting due to his limited shooting touch. He doesn’t space the floor well and does his best work as a ball-handler and ball-mover.
The Hawks can install Turner as a legitimate reserve point guard, allowing him to operate in pick-and-rolls and initiate sets when Trae Young sits. He can also work in the post, making high-level reads as a passer and scoring over smaller defenders inside.
Feeding the Shooters
I have written about the Hawks’ growing reliance on size and versatility around Young. Turner is a switchable wing who, at 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, is notably bigger than Bazemore. If he’s the true backup point guard, Atlanta can run out big lineups that still include multiple playmakers. It’s where the appeal of Reddish’s shot-creating upside comes into play.
In general, there are severe limitations that come with deploying non-shooters on the perimeter. Turner is a career 29.6% 3-point shooter, but saw that number drop to 21.2% last season on the fewest attempts per game since his rookie season. Not a great look.
Atlanta will need to surround Turner with shooters and afford him the opportunity to create for others, whether it’s in pick-and-roll actions, post-ups or transition. He needs to have the chance to control tempo and offer a steadying hand, or else his presence is more harmful than useful on this budding Hawks team.
That’s where the appeal is. Bazemore provides spot-up shooting and perimeter defense, but Turner can open up minutes for younger wings and fill a hole at the backup guard spot — all while feeding the Hawks’ increasingly versatile roster ambitions.
Everyone’s a Winner
It’s also worth noting Turner’s impact off the court. He’s considered a great locker room presence and was active in the Portland community. While there are fans who will miss Bazemore’s persona, Turner is an equally good person and someone who, if nothing else, will make a strong impression on the Atlanta fanbase.
The Hawks are in a position where the longest view in the room wins out. The Turner swap has virtually no cap implications, which means it’s strictly about putting Bazemore in a better spot and opening up different options, both schematically and rotationally.
With Turner, the Hawks can explore bigger lineups centered around non-traditional playmakers. The Hawks can also add a stronger, more switch-friendly body on defense. He fits those needs and creates minutes for Hunter and Reddish, two of Atlanta’s most valuable assets moving forward.
Even if it’s not an upgrade in talent, there’s a lot to like about this move. Turner has value left in his game and could get uniquely maximized in Atlanta. All while Bazemore gets to contend on a reigning Western Conference Finals team. Next year, Turner’s contract comes off the books. It’s a win-win.