Biggest Questions the Atlanta Hawks Must Answer This Offseason

Joe Wirth@JoeWirth11Contributor IIIMay 13, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 12:  Larry Drew and Devin Harris #34 of the Atlanta Hawks converse during free throws against the Milwaukee Bucks at Philips Arena on April 12, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Atlanta Hawks are not an elite team as they are constructed now. If they want to become a member of the upper echelon of the NBA, they are going to have to make adjustments this offseason.

The biggest question facing the Hawks is can they make the proper adjustments to take the next step and become a part of the elite of the Eastern Conference and the NBA?

With the expiration of many high-paying contracts at the end of the season, the Atlanta Hawks will have plenty cap space to pursue a solid free-agent market in the 2013 offseason.

The most notable contract that is set to expire at the end of the season is that of Josh Smith. Smith is currently making $13.2 million per year and is looking for more in his next contract.

Assuming the Hawks lose Smith to another team through free agency, the biggest needs facing Atlanta this offseason are finding someone to replace Smith’s production, a big man who could provide a one-two punch with Horford and establish a defensive identity.

Two players who would satisfy these needs would be Andrew Bynum or Dwight Howard.

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.

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 his Lakers and was never fully committed to playing with the 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, a position that he is more comfortable playing.

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.

Both Bynum and Howard would provide a dynamic presence in the paint on the offensive and defensive end. They would give the Hawks a dominant big man that would replace Smith's offensive production and vault them into the NBA elite.

The main questions facing the Hawks this offseason is how will they replace the probable departure of Josh Smith and how can they improve their defense to become a team that can succeed in the playoffs. Howard and Bynum would provide answers to these questions.