The eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks whetted their fans' appetites for the future with a successful postseason performance in 2014, taking the top-seeded Indiana Pacers to seven games without their All-Star center Al Horford in the conference quarterfinals.
So what's next?
The Hawks will be active in free agency, trying to shore up the weaknesses on their roster. According to Basketball-Reference.com and ESPN.com, the Hawks will have roughly $13 million to spend this offseason.
Let's look at a couple of areas where the Hawks could improve their roster this summer.
Where Do the Hawks Need Help?
The Hawks could use a quality backup big man.
In the playoffs, only one post player averaged more than four rebounds per game. Paul Millsap averaged 10.9 boards a game, but the next big guy was Pero Antic at 3.9. Elton Brand and Mike Scott grabbed 3.3 and 2.6 rebounds a game in the series, respectively.
Overall, the Hawks grabbed 40 fewer rebounds than the Pacers in the seven games. That disparity is not acceptable for a team with aspirations of going deep in the playoffs.
With Horford back, the rebounding problem should be greatly alleviated. However, the Hawks could still use a proven inside banger to back up Millsap and Horford.
However, there's a different type of player that would be even more helpful to the Hawks: a scoring wing.
If you take a look at the upper-echelon teams in the NBA, they all have a shooting guard or small forward capable of creating their own shot: Dwyane Wade and LeBron James for the Heat, Manu Ginobili for the Spurs, Kevin Durant for the Thunder and Lance Stephenson and Paul George for the Pacers.
Who's the best the Hawks have to offer in that department? Lou Williams, maybe? Kyle Korver is mainly a spot-up shooter and DeMarre Carroll is not a natural scorer.
Acquiring a wing capable of putting the ball in the hoop when the offense is stalling should be Atlanta's No. 1 priority this summer.
So who will it be?
Gordon Hayward Is the Best Option
It's no secret that Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer is trying to model his team after the one he was an assistant coach for from 1996 to 2013: the San Antonio Spurs.
According to a Grantland article written last November by Brett Koremenos, "Budenholzer arrived in Atlanta after 18 years with the San Antonio Spurs. He’ll try to give the Hawks the same spacing and unselfish movement that helped make the Spurs a dynasty."
If Jeff Teague is Tony Parker and Al Horford is Tim Duncan, 24-year-old Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz would be the perfect Manu Ginobili.
Hayward will probably not have quite the career Ginobili has had with the Spurs, but there are similarities. Both players are somewhat athletic, shoot the ball well, play decent defense and know how to get their teammates involved.
The only major difference is that Hayward is right-handed whereas Ginobili is left-handed.
Let's take a look at the stats for both players' first four years in the league:
|Gordon Hayward vs. Manu Ginobili: First Four Years|
|Basketball-Reference.com's Player Comparison Tool|
Keep in mind that Hayward came into the league at 20, while Ginobili was a 25-year-old rookie. Ginobili's environment with the Spurs was also much more conducive to statistical efficiency than Hayward's situation with the Jazz.
Hayward's potential for the occasional huge game would greatly help a Hawks offense that ranked No. 18 in efficiency last year.
In January, he exploded for 37 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. His versatile scoring ability was on full display that night, as the following YouTube highlights show:
By adding Hayward as the starting shooting guard, the Hawks could trot out a starting unit of Teague, Hayward, Carroll/Korver, Millsap and Horford.
This would easily be one of the elite starting lineups in the East.
Now, for the logistics.
According to AllThatAmar of the SLC Dunk blog, Hayward will be a restricted free agent this summer. That means if the Hawks (or another team) give him an offer and the Jazz match it, Hayward is required to stay with the Jazz.
Bleacher Report's Howard Beck speculated in March that Hayward would be valued about $10 million per year this summer in agency. This is well within the Hawks' price range.
Hayward's wing scoring and passing would improve the Hawks' spacing and make their offense much more dangerous.
The Hawks won't be able to control what the Jazz do, but they would be wise to make a strong offer to Hayward that the Jazz will have a hard time matching.
Go get Gordon, Atlanta.
All stats used are from Basketball-Reference.com, unless otherwise indicated.
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