Pieces Atlanta Hawks Must Acquire to Become a True Contender

Joe Wirth@JoeWirth11Contributor IIIMay 31, 2013

Pieces Atlanta Hawks Must Acquire to Become a True Contender

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

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

    Do not expect the Hawks to re-sign Smith. He has been a good player for the franchise throughout his nine-year career, but he is not worth superstar money.

    Other Hawks players 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. 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.

    As currently constructed, the Hawks do not have the pieces to be a championship contender, but if they have a successful offseason, they could become a part of the NBA's elite.

Chris Paul

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    Although Jeff Teague has become a good point guard for the Hawks, Atlanta would immediately vault to the NBA elite if they signed Chris Paul.

    Paul is the best point guard in the league, and his ability to facilitate an offense from the point guard position is unmatched. He will be asking for a lot of money, but with a number of contracts coming off the books, the Hawks can afford him.

    Paul will have a lot of suitors during free agency, but the Hawks will be able to offer him as much money as he wants. For Atlanta to be attractive to Paul, they will have to make it clear to him that they are willing to do anything to win, and they could demonstrate that by signing other marquee free agents like a Dwight Howard or Al Jefferson.

    Paul averaged 16.9 points per game and nearly 10 assists per game last season and would be a tremendous addition to the Hawks.

Andrew Bynum

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    Any team who signs Andrew 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 past 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.

Al Jefferson

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    Although Al Jefferson is normally slotted as a center, if he came to Atlanta, he and Al Horford would be interchangeable at the center and power forward positions.

    Jefferson is a big man who would lift the Hawks into contention in the East. He averaged 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game for the Utah Jazz this season.

    Jefferson is 28 years old, and his production will be at its peak over the next few seasons.

    The Hawks received great production from Horford this season, but if they brought in another marquee power forward or center, they would have one of the best frontcourts in the NBA.

    Jefferson is an elite big man with the ability to score with his back to the basket as well as face up his defender. He has not averaged less than 16 points per game since the 2005-06 season.

    While the likes of Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard will be receiving most of the buzz this offseason, Jefferson is an All-Star-caliber player who could vault the Hawks into real contenders in the Eastern Conference.

    As with any marquee free agent, Atlanta management has to be willing to take some risks and spend money.

Dwight Howard

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    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.

    Howard would provide a dynamic presence in the paint on both the offensive and defensive ends. He would give the Hawks a dominant big man that would replace offensive production should Josh Smith depart, provide a complement to Horford and make the team into one of the NBA's elite.

    As with Paul, convincing Howard to come to Atlanta requires the organization to demonstrate that it is fully committed to building a championship-caliber team.

Jarrett Jack

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    Jarrett Jack does not start for the Golden State Warriors, but he is a solid sixth man who can create his own scoring opportunities.

    This season, Jack averaged 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.

    Jack's performance in the postseason shows he can play well when it matters most. Despite starting only four games in the playoffs, Jack managed to be second on the team in scoring with an average of 17.2 points per game.

    Jack could be a serviceable back up for Chris Paul (if the Hawks signed him) or compete for the starting job with Jeff Teague. A team can never have too many talented point guards.

    That type of playoff success is something lacking in Atlanta, and Jack's presence could mean more postseason success for the Hawks.