Josh Smith and Al Horford
The Atlanta Hawks have obviously entered a rebuilding phase due to the numerous transactions the brass has orchestrated this past offseason. While starting fresh may not be the most popular direction, the proud fans of this franchise will be thrilled with the outcome.
This summer, the Hawks made a conscious effort to build for the future, even if it means destroying their opportunity to find success in the present. However, this isn't a bad decision, as this organization has failed to pass the second round with their current core.
General manager Danny Ferry, who was just appointed to the position in June, was quite busy in his first few months in office. Not only did he ship two starters away from the roster, but he also acquired a multitude of expiring contracts and prospects.
The first major event that transpired for the Hawks was their draft selection of guard John Jenkins, who is widely considered the best pure shooter of the draft. Many expected this former Villanova star to thrive under the tutelage of Joe Johnson, but little did they know that the selection would help lead the Hawks in the path of trading his expected mentor.
On July 11, 2012, the Atlanta Hawks sent Joe Johnson to the resurging New Jersey Nets for cap space in the form of expiring contracts and a future first-round pick, a move that was deemed impossible. Nobody thought the Hawks would ever be able to unload the cumbersome four-year, $90 million-plus contract owed to the aging superstar. Even though the Hawks didn't acquire MarShon Brooks, a promising shooting guard, they did manage to allow themselves to build a more talented franchise.
Jordan Williams, DeShawn Stevenson, Anthony Morrow and Johan Petro, who were all added through the Johnson trade, will all have to worry about finding employment next season due to the expiration of their respective contracts. Jordan Farmar, who was also obtained through the trade, was waived by the Hawks.
Additionally, both Kyle Korver's and Zaza Pachulia's contracts will end after this upcoming year.
With the new collective bargaining agreement fully engaged, the Hawks knew that Joe Johnson's massive deal wouldn't permit the franchise to add significant talent to their current roster, as general managers are reluctant to enter the luxury tax threshold.
This deal, simply put, was exactly what the organization needed, but the fun didn't stop there for Ferry on that day.
Instead, the executive decided to ship forward Marvin Williams—who has been labeled a bust for never playing up to being drafted with the second overall pick in 2005 ahead of guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams—for guard Devin Harris. At first, this trade seems pretty fair for both squads, until you delve into the financial aspect.
Williams possesses two more years on his contract at $8.3 million and $7.5 million, while Harris' $8.5 million deal is expiring after this next season. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Atlanta shipped out more than $105 million in salary and received only $23.5 million in just one unordinary Monday.
This immediately placed Atlanta near the top of the list in regards to the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. With friends Josh Smith and Anthony Morrow on the team and the fact that the city of Atlanta is where the All-NBA talent spent his childhood, the Hawks seemed like a viable destination for the NBA's best center.
Even though the team wasn't rewarded the perennial All-Star, as Howard would later be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Hawks still have the opportunity to sign the big man if he decides to enter free agency this offseason.
In fact, the Hawks may be able to not only sign Howard, but also make a run at Chris Paul while maintaining the forward duo of Josh Smith and Al Horford.
The chances this plan plays out, though, are slim to none. It is highly doubtful that Paul and Howard forgo their Bird rights, which allow them to obtain a larger deal if they re-sign with their current club.
Additionally, basketball is the main sport in the massive city of Los Angeles, which opens up more marketing opportunities for the two stars. In Atlanta, the Hawks have to compete with college football, professional baseball and professional football for fans, which hasn't fared too well for the franchise up to this point.
Nonetheless, even if the team strikes out on both of these All-Stars, the free-agent class of 2014 must be making the Hawks brass giddy with excitement.
This group of players could include the likes of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Danny Granger, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Andrew Bogut, among others.
The unrestricted free agents that summer are swingmen Bryant, Deng, Granger and Pierce and big men Gasol, Bogut and Nowitzki. The Heat trio of James, Bosh and Wade, the Knicks forward tandem of Anthony and Stoudemire and the Grizzlies duo of Gay and Randolph, on the other hand, have either a player option or early termination option, meaning they can opt-out and hit the market.
This group has the chance of being the best class ever, ahead of the famed 2010 class, and there is no doubting the fact that the Hawks will be vying to snag one of the aforementioned stars.
If the team decides to retain the high-flying Josh Smith, rookie John Jenkins, the quick Jeff Teague, the solid Al Horford and the high-octane scoring guard Lou Williams, who the franchise just signed for their mid-level exception near $5 million, Atlanta would boast the claim that they are one piece away from being considered title contenders. One look at this roster, though, immediately raises a need to either sign a small forward, if the team decides to go small with Horford and Smith at the big men spots, or a big, with those two at the forward positions.
Forwards Rudy Gay, Danny Granger or Luol Deng or center Andrew Bogut are the most realistic options. None of them would most likely command a max-level deal, which would open up cap space to pursue players for depth purposes.
Even if the team doesn't land any star players to help bring a championship to Atlanta, the Hawks are in perfect position to completely rebuild. There are two steps to this unfortunate, but necessary, process: relieving of cap and adding future star prospects.
The Hawks already have the first step completed, and the team has the trade assets to deal for the second part. The trio of Teague, Horford and Smith will absolutely net some solid youth to help build for the future in Atlanta if the team decides to follow this path.
In the end, the Hawks have a few major questions to ponder over the next few seasons, but the rebuilding phase in Atlanta is looking quite promising right now.