ATLANTA – The Hawks are not a team today. This is an ever-changing series of rumors. It’s a tweet about John Collins going here, or a blog about Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter going there, or a report from ‘said sources’ on a draft pick trade, or Tony Ressler wants changes, or everyone clears the deck for Deandre Ayton, or Rudy Gobert or… wait, give me another minute to Google.
“We’re the easy target,” Hawks president Travis Schlenk said. “Every rumor out there has the Hawks in it.”
Does it bother him?
” That does not bother me. It’s more difficult for the players than for me,” he said. “It’s hard on their families. I talk to their agents, or if they’re in town, I talk to them directly and say, “Listen, don’t pay attention to what you’re reading. I’ll let you know if anything is real. I just don’t want them to read something on Twitter before they hear it from me.
There’s only one thing we can be certain of after the Hawks followed an expected run to the Eastern Conference Finals with an equally unexpected eighth-place finish in conference and a first-place playoff exit. turn: they are going to do something. But it may not be as massive a change as some think. Assuming Schlenk and the front office are going to blow this roster would be a mistake, and it would be wrong because the Hawks aren’t bad. They just aren’t great.
“It won’t be a major overhaul,” Schlenk said. “I think some people assumed certain things based on some of my comments or Tony’s comments after the season.”
This is a pivotal time for the franchise. The Hawks were skillfully rebuilt into a playoff team. But after stepping back this season, suggesting the need for a change, Schlenk knows he has to be careful as the next big move can take the team either way. The change will not only impact the product in the field; this could influence Trae Young’s thoughts on his future.
It’s not meant to start a rumor like “TRAE YOUNG WANTS OUT!” He doesn’t. He likes it here. He makes a ton of money, loves playing in Atlanta and definitely has something every professional athlete wants: the owner’s ear. But the NBA is a player-driven league. The stars get what they want, perhaps more than in any other professional league. They get coaches hired and fired and teammates swapped and directions changed to their preferences. If they don’t get it, they or their agents manipulate the situation to force a trade.
Young wants to fight and win championships, as he should. There’s no reason it shouldn’t happen in Atlanta, which has the resources and the financial backing to make it happen. But if things go wrong, he’ll start to wonder if this is the best franchise to land him a ring. That’s just the reality of the NBA.
So, yes, this offseason is probably the most important since five years ago, when Mike Budenholzer came to the bizarre conclusion that signing Dwight Howard and letting Al Horford walk would fix everything. Kaboom.
The draft is June 23. Free agency will follow. The odds are slightly in favor of a move over the next week, until draft night. Schlenk talks to five to six teams a day. Without being specific, of course, he said “there are four or five paths we can take right now” involving different teams, players and positions.
It’s not just about deciding where the Hawks need the most help.
“It’s a matter of form,” he said. “It’s an aspect of what people don’t appreciate enough. It’s easy to (assess) talent, but they’re human beings, and they’re a tight-knit group of guys who spend a lot of time together. The right guy or the wrong guy can really affect a team.
Atlanta needs to improve its perimeter defense. He needs a second consistent scoring option after Young. He could use a strong veteran (or two) in the locker room for leadership when this still young roster struggles. But it’s a tricky situation.
“It’s a lot easier to become a good team, a playoff team, than to become a team that’s fighting for a title,” Schlenk said. “We feel we have become a competitive team, but now we have to take the next step, and those are tough decisions. If you make a mistake in the draft, you can overcome that. It’s a mistake of two years. If you make a mistake in free agency or a sign-and-trade, when you give someone a four-year, $150 million contract, it can be detrimental for a long time.
As for how Young figures into all of this, Schlenk said, “He wants to win. Our owner wants to win. Our coach wants to win. I want to win. We all want to win. He knows that we are doing everything we can to improve and fight for a championship, and he trusted us. But it’s not as easy as snapping your fingers. All teams are trying to improve.
Collins remains at the center of most rumors as he carries the most value of the players the team would deal with. Bogdanovic and Huerter are on the table. Danilo Gallinari will probably be bought or sold. De’Andre Hunter is unlikely to be traded as his potential remains high, he’s young and cheap (for another year) and the squad could be burned. But yes, as AthleticismChris Kirschner has repeatedly reported everyone but Young is in talks.
“We realize we have a special player in Trae, and we’re trying to give him the best opportunity to succeed because we all want to succeed,” Schlenk said.
Getting good was the easy part. Becoming a competitor is the challenge.
(Photo: Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)