The Atlanta Hawks were one of the great stories of the 2020-21 season, bursting into the playoffs for the first time since 2017. The young squad advanced to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to the eventual NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.
But this season has been a disappointment, as Atlanta has stumbled to a record of 17-22. The Hawks didn't make significant changes over the offseason, though they did re-sign John Collins and extend Kevin Huerter, hoping the team would grow together.
On Tuesday, Hawks president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk vented his frustration on 92.9 The Game's The Morning Show w/ John & Hugh.
"Every team we play goes out and gets 130 [points]. The common denominator in that is us," Schlenk said. "I have to accept that responsibility that maybe it wasn't such a great idea to bring everybody back. That's on me. We have a few weeks before the trade deadline. That's what I have to figure out."
The Hawks sound like a franchise open for business before the February 10 deadline, and Schlenk is clearly concerned about his team's ability to defend.
The Hawks would need to send out at least $26.3 million in outgoing contracts to match Simmons' $33 million salary, regardless of whatever Simmons is giving up while not playing for the Sixers. Atlanta can get most of the way there with either John Collins ($23 million) or Danilo Gallinari ($20.5 million). Collins is in the first of a five-year, $125 million deal (player option on the final season) and is “increasingly frustrated” with his role in Atlanta, per Shams Charania of The Athletic. Gallinari's $21.5 million for 2022-23 is only $5 million guaranteed.
Atlanta can also offer multiple first-round picks (if needed) and prospects like Cam Reddish, De'Andre Hunter and/or Onyeka Okongwu. Would the Sixers view Collins as a forward who can play alongside All-Star center Joel Embiid? Or would Philadelphia prefer the financial flexibility in Gallinari's contract and as many of the Hawks' youthful considerations as possible? Or would the Hawks need a third team willing to offer something substantial to the 76ers for a bounty from Atlanta?
The answers may not be apparent until next month's deadline, but the Hawks would be making a substantial financial commitment if they were able to add Simmons while keeping Collins.
Would Atlanta be willing to take $141 million in six players (Trae Young, Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, Collins and Simmons) into 2022-23 with a projected luxury tax threshold of $145 million? Keep in mind that the team hasn't paid tax since 2011-12.
If the Hawks trade Collins for Simmons and keep Gallinari (to waive and stretch his $5 million 2022-23 salary over three years), that total drops to five players at a heavy but more reasonable $119 million. That difference suggests the Hawks would prioritize moving Collins for Simmons unless the franchise is suddenly willing to dive deep into luxury taxes.
Meanwhile, some competing executives have Atlanta as a credible destination for Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant. The Pistons are thought to covet a young center, making Okongwu a potentially attractive option in a trade along with Reddish. Hunter is believed to be more of a priority in Atlanta, though his inability to stay healthy consistently hasn't made him untouchable. Both Reddish and Hunter are due extensions before the start of next season; otherwise, they'll be restricted free agents in 2023. Gallinari would probably be included in a theoretical move for Grant for salary matching.
While Grant isn't as expensive as Simmons, his $21 million for 2022-23 would push the Hawks to a payroll of at least $150 million next season. Perhaps that's not too egregious of a tax for Atlanta, with a penalty in the $7.5 million range.
The Hawks can also look to do smaller deals before the deadline that include Reddish and players with expiring salaries like Gorgui Dieng, Delon Wright and/or Lou Williams (who can block any trade by the One-Year Bird rule).
Monk Breaking Out
The Los Angeles Lakers surged to their first four-game winning streak of the season before losing Sunday night to Memphis. The team has embraced small ball with LeBron James playing center, but a big part of the Lakers' success has coincided with Malik Monk's move to the starting lineup.
The 23-year-old guard signed a minimum contract with the Lakers after the Charlotte Hornets chose not to make Monk (the No. 11 pick in 2017) a restricted free agent. The Lakers may have gotten a steal with Monk on a one-year deal at just $1.8 million, but it may mean his stay in Los Angeles is short.
The team will only have Monk's non-Bird rights, which can pay up to $2.15 million next July. If he continues to break out, that won't be enough.
What may help the Lakers: The 2022 offseason projects to be the tightest in recent memory. Only four teams project to have substantial cap space: the Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies and Pistons. Those franchises may not prioritize Monk, but much of the league will have the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (NTMLE) at about $10.1 million. The Lakers might have to use their own NTMLE to pay Monk, but that produces another problem.
If a team uses its NTMLE, it locks in a hard cap for the season. That would limit the Lakers to a total payroll of about $152 million. The Lakers will climb well above that total if Russell Westbrook opts into his final year at $47.1 million, as expected. With Monk at $10.1 million, the team would easily reach an illegal $165 million. While the equation would shift if Westbrook opts out, that's a significant long shot.
Instead, the Lakers should be limited to their taxpayer mid-level exception at about $6.2 million, which would not trigger a hard cap. At that price, Monk may not want to lock in a long-term deal to hit free agency again in 2023.
At that point, Los Angeles would have Monk's Early Bird rights and the ability to start his next contract in the $11 million range (for at least two to four years). That's comparable to Reggie Jackson's deal with the Los Angeles Clippers, on a two-year, $21.6 million contract signed this past offseason via Early Bird.
Can Bamba Solve the Grant Question?
The Magic and Pistons are the bottom two teams in the NBA. Neither franchise is committed to its current roster, although the Magic are playing without two key pieces, with Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz yet to play this year with knee injuries. Jalen Suggs (thumb) and Wendell Carter Jr. (hamstring) are also missing time.
Competing executives say Orlando is shopping Gary Harris and Terrence Ross, but several are curious what the Magic do with Mo Bamba. The young center is 10 starts away from reaching the criteria to lock in his qualifying offer as a restricted free agent at $10.1 million. Bamba may get at least as much as Carter, who signed a four-year, $50 million extension this past offseason.
Will Orlando commit to three bigs, with Isaac owed at least $52.2 million over the next three seasons?
As noted, the Pistons are believed to be targeting a big man with their projected cap room this summer. Deandre Ayton may be their primary target, but many around the league expect the Phoenix Suns to retain him despite failing to reach an extension with him before the season.
Perhaps the Pistons would prefer to acquire Bamba's restricted rights before the deadline instead of testing the Magic's willingness to match an offer sheet.
But the Magic may not covet Grant (who turns 28 in March) at $21.0 million next season. Grant is also believed to be expecting an extension starting at his maximum of $25.1 million for the 2023-24 season.
The solution could be a multi-team trade. Several playoff contenders have eyed Grant, including the Lakers.
Wing scorer Talen Horton-Tucker, 21, could make sense on the Magic. The Lakers would need to include Kendrick Nunn (probably to Detroit) and a minimum player like DeAndre Jordan or Kent Bazemore to match Grant's salary.
Several other teams will look closely at Grant, possibly including the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls. The Suns could offer Jalen Smith to Detroit. The Jazz don't have much to offer Detroit or Orlando outside of young players like Udoka Azubuike, Eric Paschall and Jared Butler, along with Joe Ingles for salary matching.
A Bulls offer would likely need to start with Patrick Williams, out long-term with a wrist injury. The Bulls would have to include additional salary to match Grant but could get there with at least two of Coby White, Troy Brown Jr. or Derrick Jones Jr.
Do the Bulls feel the urgency to make a title run this season? The team has exceeded many expectations. Executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas may win Executive of the Year. His first significant personnel decision as the top executive of an NBA franchise was to draft Williams in 2020 with the No. 4 pick. Karnisovas may value Williams too much, even injured.
The Lakers, Suns, Jazz and Bulls have most of their first-round picks tied up. Each has an unprotected selection that can be offered in the 2027-2028 range, although the Bulls have a heavily protected 2022 first from the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Pistons recently acquired Bol Bol in a trade with the Denver Nuggets. It’s unclear if Bol is the young center Detroit was looking for or just a prospect to audition for the remainder of the season.
If a direct two-way deal isn't feasible with Detroit for Grant, the Magic could provide a solution with Bamba.
Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.