Winners and Losers from Hawks-Spurs Dejounte Murray Trade

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured Columnist IVJune 30, 2022

Winners and Losers from Hawks-Spurs Dejounte Murray Trade

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    Dejounte Murray is now a member of the Atlanta Hawks.

    And the San Antonio Spurs are, as a result, the proud owners of a significant chunk of Atlanta's future.

    As reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe, the Hawks will send out Danilo Gallinari, the Charlotte Hornets' 2023 fist-round pick (top-16 protection), an unprotected 2025 first-round pick, an unprotected 2026 first-round swap and an unprotected 2027 first-round pick in exchange for Murray, who is fresh off an All-Star appearance and instantly forms one of the league's most polarizing backcourt partnerships with Trae Young.

    At times like this, there is only one thing we can do: fire up the recently polished and serviced Immediate Reactionizer 3000 and parse this deal for the most notable winners and losers.

Winner: Hawks Defense

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    Dejounte Murray fits like a glove within Atlanta's defense—in no small part because he actually plays it.

    Few players are as ubiquitous in passing lanes, both on and away from the ball. Murray isn't huge, at 6'4", but his length gives him a human-eclipse feel. He is hell on Earth to screen; it's like he can teleport through or around bodies.

    And while there are bigger guards, Murray's length is indiscriminately disruptive, and it scales to both smaller point-of-attack assignments and wing responsibilities. He can guard the other team's best perimeter ball-handler, almost without exception. Nobody on the Spurs last season spent more time guarding No. 1 options, according to BBall Index.

    That is, quite literally, everything the Hawks need in the backcourt beside Trae Young. Their megastar maestro has shown he can put up more of a fight on the ball when he plays with thrust, but 6'1" guards who aren't built like miniature Mack Trucks are always easier to manipulate and relentlessly targeted by opposing offenses.

    Atlanta must still find places to stash Young. The difference now, though, is the Hawks have someone other than De'Andre Hunter or Delon Wright (unrestricted) to use at the point of attack (and elsewhere). Murray is an upgrade over both, and his presence has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the defense. The Hawks still need to add another plus defender—and, frankly, further consolidate the roster—but they now have clearer paths to lineup packages with net-positive stopping power.

TBD: Hawks Offense and Future, Dejounte Murray, Trae Young

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    Integrating Dejounte Murray into the offense is much less of a no-brainer proposition. Just so we're clear: That's different from saying it's the wrong call.

    Murray is a more talented table-setter and self-creator—and, recently, even a more efficient finisher around the basket—than Delon Wright. The latter is a more-than-capable backup and running mate. But Murray has additional layers to his armory that uniquely qualify him to bolster lineups without Trae Young. Those minutes remained a problem last season. The Hawks were better than bearable with both Wright and Bogdan Bogdanovic on the floor, but either way, Murray improves the Trae-less stretches.

    Whether his partnership with Young unfolds as seamlessly is a separate matter. The idea of displacing Trae from the ball and leveraging his shooting into off-ball mayhem is drool-inducing. Theoretically.

    We have no idea what Young would look like as part of a backcourt cooperative because we've yet to see it. Over 83 percent of his made baskets went unassisted last season, the fourth-largest share among 96 players who averaged more than 30 minutes per game. He also ranked fourth under the same criteria (minimum five games played) in 2020-21, sixth in 2019-20 and ninth in 2018-19.

    Assuming Young will cede agency over a chunk of possessions and has zero issue inciting mayhem away from the ball, are we sure, with absolute certainty, Murray is the creator who can take advantage of it? He has made strides with his changes in pace, reads in transition and pick-and-roll ball control. He also has an operable mid-range game. But he still likes to live inside the arc and isn't your conventional quick-twitch off-the-bounce jump shooter. Space could get tight in the half-court—or at the very least a little complicated—when playing with Clint Capela.

    How well the Hawks fare following this trade matters a great deal. They just forfeited control of three unprotected first-rounders when accounting for the 2026 swap. Anything less than fringe title contention by that time is a disappointment—particularly with Murray scheduled for free agency in 2024.

    To that end, Murray has a lot riding on this move, too. The Hawks are a better team than the Spurs on paper. But San Antonio's period of transition afforded him more control over the offense and facilitated an ascension that had many believing he'd forgo extension talks because he'd be a max-contract candidate on the open market. He loses some of his appeal if this new marriage doesn't pan out as intended.

Winner: Spurs' Future

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    San Antonio has been uncharacteristically active on the trade market over the past year—and it has plenty to show for stepping outside its comfort zone.

    Just look at its future first-round stash:

    • All their own firsts
    • 2023 Charlotte Hornets first (top-16 protection next year; lottery protection in 2024 and 2025; turns into 2026 and 2027 seconds if not conveyed)
    • 2025 Hawks first (unprotected)
    • 2025 Chicago Bulls first (top-10 protection in 2025; top-eight protection in 2026 and 2027; turns into 2028 second-rounder if not conveyed)
    • 2026 first-round swap with Hawks (unprotected)
    • 2027 Hawks first (unprotected)
    • 2028 first-round swap with Boston Celtics (top-one protection)

    Oklahoma City Thunder team president Sam Presti is almost impressed with this haul. (But only almost.)

    Dealing Dejounte Murray also allows the Spurs to move free and clear into a total rebuild. More minutes in the backcourt can be devoted to the development of Josh Primo and Tre Jones. Devin Vassell's ball skills can be more thoroughly plumbed. The same may go for Keldon Johnson (more on him in a second).

    Rookies Jeremy Sochan (No. 9), Malaki Branham (No. 20) and Blake Wesley (No. 25) should get more prominent opportunities now that cracking the play-in tournament clearly won't be the goal. Still armed with more than $15 million in cap space, the Spurs can take swings on younger players or underused prospects in need of second or third chances. And projecting even further, they are enviably stocked for a consolidation trade if and when the right opportunity surfaces.

    Future draft picks are over-romanticized. I get it. But the Spurs were stuck in NBA purgatory before now: too good to organically land in cornerstone territory during the draft, yet not nearly good enough that forcing a future revolving around Murray made inarguable sense.

    This trade etches out a more concrete direction, not to mention a crack at lottery odds high enough to potentially bag top prospect Victor Wembanyama in the 2023 draft. There is value in both that immediate clarity and the unpredictability of what comes next.

Loser: Spurs' Present

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    So, like, is this really how Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich will spend his final days on the sidelines, however many he may have left? Stewarding the beginning of a rebuild for which he won't be around to finish?

    Or does this suggest he plans on coaching longer than expected?

    Or, perhaps, are the Spurs just going to be flat-out better than expected, sooner than expected, and give him one last postseason hurrah?

    This isn't a huge loss. There seems to be an energy about Pop, both on the sidelines and in the huddle, that can only be described as a rejuvenation of sorts. Maybe he enjoys the molding-the-kiddies part of this gig more than anything. And no matter what, his legacy as one of the greatest to ever do it is infinitely secure.

    Still, if next season is his last, it'd be a minor victory to see him guide a team playing for higher stakes.

Winner: Teams Interested in Trading for Other Spurs Players

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    Chances are this will be the first of a few selloffs for the Spurs—provided they're serious about embracing the full-tilt reset.

    Danilo Gallinari is an immediate buyout candidate. Josh Richardson is a plug-and-play wing, on an expiring contract, who quietly cobbled together a stellar 2021-22 campaign.

    Jakob Poeltl is one of the league's top rim protectors, wields a nifty floater and has just one year left on his deal. Doug McDermott's price tag is on the steeper end (two years, $27.5 million), but teams who need functional shooting and someone who can finish near the basket off movement should be giving San Antonio a call.

    Another name to consider: Keldon Johnson.

    He is extension-eligible this summer and will hit restricted free agency in 2023 if he and the Spurs don't hash out an agreement before the start of next season. Going on 23, he has far from aged himself out of a rebuilding situation. But will San Antonio be prepared to seriously pay anyone so soon into its directional shift?

    Maybe the Spurs won't have a problem. Johnson, after all, proved to be more plug-and-play on offense last year and offers positional malleability at the defensive end.

    Prospective suitors should inquire about him anyway. Wholesale change is afoot in San Antonio, and Johnson far from tops the list of the incumbent players the Spurs would deem untouchable. (Feel free to loop Devin Vassell into this conversation, as well. But he has an extra year left on his rookie scale. It seems too early to include him here.)

Loser: Deandre Ayton and Phoenix Suns...and Miles Bridges, Too

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    Deandre Ayton wants max money in restricted free agency, according to Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer.

    His chance to get it independent of working in tandem with the Phoenix Suns just got a lot harder.

    Both the Spurs and Detroit Pistons punted on max cap space that could've been used on an Ayton offer sheet. On the bright side, San Antonio has more than $15 million in wiggle room remaining. That's enough to hammer out a sign-and-trade with Phoenix while easing the challenges of Base Year Compensation.

    On the not-so-bright side: Why would the Spurs want to max out Ayton now when they're in the infancy of a total rebuild? It doesn't matter that he's only 23, going on 24. They'd need to believe he's The Guy if they're lucratively paying a non-All-Star five seconds after unloading an actual All-Star.

    Miles Bridges is in the same boat. He can no longer leverage the Charlotte Hornets into a blank check with (possible) offers from Detroit or San Antonio. He needs to hope the Orlando Magic want to get weird or something.

    The Suns lose here, too. As Fischer noted, Ayton's relationship with Chris Paul and head coach Monty Williams has grown "untenable." Phoenix now (probably) just lost another sign-and-trade partner. It still has the option of bringing the big man back and figuring it out later. That's how restricted free agency works. Incumbent teams hold all the power.

    According to Fischer, though, there is now "far less belief the Suns will ultimately match whatever offer Ayton can draw." Letting him walk for nothing is unfathomable—and the biggest potential L of all. Regardless, the likely absence of the Spurs from these proceedings complicates any potential resolution for both Ayton and Phoenix.

Loser...for Now: John Collins

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    John Collins is a loser at first glance. A source close to Collins told The Athletic's Chris Kirschner the big man is "done in Atlanta." But the Hawks just orchestrated a blockbuster trade, and, well, Collins is still in Atlanta.

    Let's be real, though: There are worse outcomes than sticking with a team that, at its functional peak, now forecasts as a much more lethal threat in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks could also still move Collins. Or maybe they instead move Clint Capela, thereby allowing Collins to resume a monopoly over primary-screener duties.

    On the other hand, the Hawks could do nothing, in which case Collins' lust for a larger offensive role falls entirely by the wayside. It won't get any easier to juice up his touches or expand his usage archetype with Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter all on the perimeter, and with both Capela and Onyeka Okongwu also headlining the frontcourt rotation.

    I'll stick with the "for now" designation. There's plenty of time for the new status quo to change. There are also no assurance it does.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by NBA Math's Adam Fromal.

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