While the Atlanta Hawks certainly haven’t been a dominant NBA team in 2013-14, they’re one of just three Eastern Conference teams with a winning record and are set up to succeed both now and into the future.
Hawks general manager Danny Ferry has helped place the franchise in a favorable position by making a plethora of savvy personnel decisions.
He hypnotized Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King to not only take on Joe Johnson’s contract albatross, but also to surrender a future first-round pick in the process. Ferry then let Josh Smith sign a four-year, $54 million deal with the Detroit Pistons last summer while signing Paul Millsap and upstart point guard Jeff Teague to a combined $51 million.
When compared with the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, it’s clear that the Hawks don’t have enough pieces to compete for a championship in 2014. However, with a solid core, draft picks and various trade chips, the Hawks are set up to make a serious impact moving forward.
The Hawks are led by one of the league’s most underrated talents—Al Horford.
The two-time All-Star is leading the Hawks in points (17.8), rebounds (8.4), blocks (1.5) and player efficiency rating (21.4). He’s posted seven double-doubles this season and continues to be the go-to guy in the post.
Teague, meanwhile, has improved throughout his career and has reached status as a borderline All-Star. His shooting efficiency this season has been a disappointment—40.2 percent from the field and 27.4 percent beyond the arc—but he’s shown flashes of being a rare two-way talent.
Kyle Korver continues to establish himself as one of the best, if not the best three-point shooter in the game, and he's even improved on the defensive end under new head coach Mike Budenholzer.
The Hawks have plenty of talented pieces in place; they just need another star beside Horford to tie them together.
Financial Flexibility/Draft Picks
By ridding themselves of Johnson and Smith, the Hawks have opened up financial flexibility that wasn’t a luxury until now. Everyone on the roster is reasonably paid (except maybe Elton Brand on a one-year, $4 million deal), which is a rarity in today’s NBA.
On top of the favorable financial position, the Hawks will be able to build through the draft.
Atlanta has the option to swap picks with the Brooklyn Nets in 2014 and 2015 if their pick is more favorable. Since the Nets have been so inept this season, the Hawks may luck into a lottery pick in a loaded 2014 draft.
Even if that pick doesn’t yield a franchise cornerstone, the Hawks could still land a viable starter or role player to further build the roster.
Also, if the front office isn’t enamored with any one prospect, it could trade the pick for immediate talent or draft picks down the line.
In addition to having a solid core, financial flexibility and draft picks, the Hawks have players on the roster that could easily be flipped via trade.
Asik has hurt his reputation as a professional by pouting about his reduced role, but there’s reason to believe he’ll battle every night with a fresh start.
In his first season as a Rocket, the Turkish big man played every single game (regular season and playoffs). He averaged 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per contest while carving a niche as a rim protector on defense.
Durable big men are hard to find in the NBA, and placing Asik beside Horford would take defensive pressure off the Hawks’ star.
Adding Asik appears to be a move that Horford would embrace, considering that he said in July, "I was hoping to play more in the power forward position," according to Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Consitution.
In addition to Millsap’s trade-friendly contract, the Hawks could also decide to move Lou Williams (who has struggled in Atlanta) or Elton Brand’s expiring contract.
If nothing else, Atlanta has options.
With Joe Johnson and Josh Smith on board, the Hawks waded through years of mediocrity. They made the playoffs consistently, but never reached the Eastern Conference Finals.
Now, with various possibilities at its disposal, Atlanta is poised to join the ranks of the NBA's elite.
Ferry just has to continue building the roster with shrewd decisions. Admittedly, though, that's easier said than done.