With Josh Smith’s contract coming off of the books, the Atlanta Hawks will have plenty of cap space to pursue free agents this offseason and take the next step in becoming an elite franchise in the NBA.
Other Hawks whose contracts will be coming off the books include Devin Harris, Zaza Pachulia, Kyle Korver, Johan Petro and Dahntay Jones.
With the expiration of these contracts, Atlanta will be saving $25.5 million, and considering Korver is the only player from that group who averages more than 10 points per game, the franchise will get better value for its money.
It is likely that the Hawks will re-sign some of these players, but it also gives them the ability to have more freedom with their money and play a more active role in the 2013 free-agency scene.
With the uncertainty that surrounds most NBA draft picks, the only surefire way to improve in the NBA is through free agency.
Free agency gives an organization the ability to sign a proven player who can make an immediate impact on the team.
If the Hawks spend their money effectively this offseason, they could take the next step and become a truly elite team in the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta will be very active this offseason, and it must build off the nucleus of Lou Williams, Al Horford and Jeff Teague.
Assuming the Hawks lose Smith to another team through free agency, Atlanta’s needs would consist of a scoring small forward who could replace Smith’s productivity, a veteran point guard and a big man who would complement Horford in the frontcourt.
A player who could satisfy that need for a veteran point guard would be Jarrett Jack.
Jack does not start for the Golden State Warriors, but he is a solid sixth man who is a true pass-first point guard.
This season, Jack is averaging 13.2 points, 5.5 assists and three rebounds per game. He is not the type of player who would put the Hawks over the top, but he is a glue guy who can come off the bench, be a major contributor and help the maturation process of Jeff Teague.
Golden State has one of the most prolific scoring offenses in the NBA and Jack’s facilitation has a lot to do with it. If he can bring that type of production to Atlanta, the Hawks would have a more efficient offense.
Although Horford is listed as Atlanta’s center, his size is more typical of a power forward. If the Hawks could acquire an impact big man though free agency, they would have one of the more formidable frontcourts in the NBA.
Potential free agents who would fit that mold would be Andrew Bynum or Dwight Howard.
Any team who signs Bynum this offseason will be taking a big risk. With that risk, however, a team will be acquiring one of the few true centers in the NBA.
The risk is not just with his suspect knee, which is a major concern, but it is also with his attitude. He often sulked during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers and was never fully committed to playing with the Philadelphia 76ers this season.
All that being said, Bynum can be a dominant player and will be one of the most coveted players this offseason. Although it may seem like he has been around for a long time, he is only 25 years old and just entering the prime of his career.
During the 2011-12 season—his last full season of play—Bynum was beginning to hit his stride. He averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and nearly two blocks per game.
After his acrimonious departure from Los Angeles and his subsequent injury problems in Philadelphia, people have forgotten what kind of player Bynum is—a young center just entering his prime with the potential to become a dominant force in the NBA.
Bynum would play center, and that would allow Horford to play power forward.
The risks are obvious, but if Atlanta ponies up and offers Bynum the kind of money he is expecting, the reward could be great.
If Bynum can return to the production he had in the 2011-12 season, he will immediately vault the Hawks into the elite of the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta native Dwight Howard would be another player who could fill the void at center for Atlanta. Like Bynum, his attitude in Los Angeles was in question, but if he is healthy (many question if he was fully recovered from his back injury this past season) and focused, Howard can be one of the most dominant players in the NBA.
At the end of his tenure with the Orlando Magic and in his one season in Los Angeles, Howard was not happy and is play suffered because of it.
A homecoming could do him a lot of good, and if the Hawks are willing to make the financial commitment necessary to land a star like Howard, they would have an elite big man for the foreseeable future.
What the Hawks do in the draft is very dependent upon what their expectations are for free agency.
The Hawks main need this offseason will be adding a playmaking center to complement Al Horford.
The Hawks will be drafting in the late teens, and if they choose to address this need through the draft, a player who could be available at that spot is center Alex Len from Maryland.
What Len lacks in experience he makes up for in raw talent and size.
This era of the NBA is known for its absence of true centers. The seven-foot Len is a true center who could give the Hawks a much-needed complementary presence to Al Horford down low.
Len would probably benefit from another year of college, but his upside could be too much for the Hawks to pass up. Because there is as much uncertainty as there is upside surrounding Len, he could easily fall to the Hawks’ draft position.
Len averaged 11.7 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game and nearly two blocks per game. He was a force in the paint, but as evident by his relatively low rebound average, he has not begun to scratch the surface of his potential.
Len saved his best performances for the Terrapin’s toughest competition. He scored 23 points and recorded 12 rebounds in Maryland’s opener against Kentucky. And he did that damage against Nerlens Noel, another highly touted big man.
Len also recorded 19 points and nine rebounds against then No. 2 Duke, had 16 points and nine rebounds against Miami and had 20 points and seven rebounds against North Carolina.
Len has the type of upside that could have his stock on the rise as the draft approaches. If he is still on the board when the Hawks are on the clock, he would be a great option.
There is no doubt that he is a bit of a project and could take some time to develop, but the finished product could be something special.
The Hawks are what they are—a middle-of-the-pack team that might win one playoff series if it gets lucky.
The Hawks weathered the departure of Joe Johnson, and they are fully capable of doing the same thing if Josh Smith leaves this offseason. The key will be an aggressive offseason game plan by a front office that cannot be afraid to take risks.
Something needs to change if this organization expects to compete for championships, and going out and spending money on big-time free agents and being smart in the draft is the first step in communicating to the fanbase that the franchise is serious about winning.