Fresh off appearing in the postseason as the Eastern Conference's eighth seed, the Atlanta Hawks are already busy making moves that could lead to even better results next time.
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore, "The Hawks have agreed to a trade that will send Lou Williams and the rights to 2013 first-round draft pick Lucas Nogueira to the Raptors for John Salmons, according to a person familiar with the situation."
"The Hawks intend to waive Salmons in a move that will free up salary cap room," Vivlamore writes.
The deal isn't official just yet, but ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst are already hearing similar things:
The Hawks, sources say, will immediately waive Salmons to expand their projected salary-cap space for this summer to $15.5 million, though one source cautioned Sunday that the move is more about flexibility and roster-shaping for the Hawks than any specific free-agent target.
So perhaps we can rule out the organization making a serious run at LeBron James and/or Carmelo Anthony, but the Hawks could still swing for the fences. The home run in this free-agent market would be finding some way to pair James and Anthony together.
Stein and Windhorst reported that "the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks are among the teams mulling potential trades designed to clear enough cap space to be able to recruit the two stars and close friends."
Apart from the home run scenario, Stein and ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne also reported that "sources told ESPN.com that the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat are two more teams that could join the race for Anthony."
While the Hawks are almost in position to make a run at Anthony, they'd likely need to make another move or two in order to have a shot at James as well.
It's certainly doable, but the larger question is whether James or Anthony would be willing to forgo more established winning situations to join Atlanta.
Traditionally, the Hawks haven't had much success attracting premier free-agent talent, and it's hard to see them pulling ahead of other suitors like the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks or Los Angeles Lakers.
The more probable outcome isn't quite as exciting, but the Hawks have certainly positioned themselves to improve the roster.
Assuming this trade goes through, general manager Danny Ferry will have ensured that Atlanta at the very least has the opportunity to target one or two second-tier free agents.
The organization could pursue an above-average small forward like Luol Deng, who's reportedly on its radar.
Alternatively, it could even look at a big man Pau Gasol. It could even explore upgrades at the point guard position if it isn't convinced Jeff Teague is the floor general of the future.
Should the Hawks deal Teague, a free agent like Kyle Lowry could also be on their radar.
Though the franchise may not have the pedigree desired by the likes of James or Anthony, it certainly has some pieces that could be appealing to other free agents. Center Al Horford is one of the better big men in the business, and—whether the Hawks are sold on him or not—the 26-year-old Teague has quietly shown flashes of All-Star play.
Teague averaged 19.3 points and five assists per contest in a seven-game first-round series against the Indiana Pacers during the playoffs.
One of the better fits in Atlanta might be unrestricted free agent Lance Stephenson. The Hawks could use a dynamic playmaker alongside spot-up shooters like Kyle Korver and Pero Antic. While the Pacers don't want to lose Stephenson, they could be outbid by a club with Atlanta's resources.
If the Hawks believe the 23-year-old Stephenson is a star in the making, they could give him a deal worth $8-10 million per year. Offering a comparable contract might be difficult for the money-tight Pacers to stomach—especially given concerns over the young guard's maturity.
Whatever names Ferry and Co. have in mind, they've made it clear the Hawks will be players in this summer's free-agent talks.
That's really all you can ask from a team that's clearly still a piece or two away from making serious noise in the East.
While the big names are sure to generate headlines, don't be surprised if Atlanta takes a more measured approach this summer. Recall that the club made relatively modest signings this time last year, inking Williams and power forward Paul Millsap to very reasonable deals.
Millsap made $9.5 million last season and is due to earn the same next season.
Atlanta also re-signed sharpshooter Kyle Korver to a four-year, $24 million pact last summer.
None of those deals broke the bank, and they ensured a balanced rotation that wound up being good enough to make the postseason. That kind of approach could be the template the organization follows this time around.
Unless a big-name decision ends up favoring the Hawks, this team might not have much choice. Aiming for someone like Stephenson or Deng would meet a need on the wing, and it likely wouldn't entail a max contract.
As easy as it is to overlook these Hawks when it comes to premier free-agent destinations, they could be quietly assembling a winner before our eyes.
With head coach Mike Budenholzer taking over last season after being groomed by none other than Gregg Popovich, this franchise suddenly has a foundation worth watching—a foundation that could be significantly stronger by summer's end.
Contract information courtesy of HoopsHype.
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