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January 22, 2023

How much money the Hawks will have to spend on free agency next month won’t be determined until the organization makes its decision on Danilo Gallinari. Atlanta has until June 29 to waive Gallinari and pay him his $5 million contract bond. If he remains on the roster after that date, the team will owe him an additional $16.5 million.

If the Hawks waive Gallinari, they would have the mid-level nontaxpayer exception ($10.3 million) to use and the $4.1 million semi-annual exception. If Gallinari is on the list after June 29, the $10.3 million exception would decrease for the taxpayer by $6.4 million. As I’ve said since the Hawks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, I don’t expect Gallinari to make the roster next season. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Hawks will have that non-taxpayer exception to use, because they could make a big trade that would push them into tax regardless of Gallinari’s status.

Besides Gallinari, the Hawks have seven other free agents: Sharife Cooper, Gorgui Dieng, Kevin Knox, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, Skylar Mays, Lou Williams and Delon Wright. I expect Cooper to go back on another two-way deal. Because Atlanta converted Mays’ two-way contract to a fully guaranteed deal at the end of the season, they will have to offer him a minimum contract to have his rights restricted. I wouldn’t imagine Mays getting anything more than a minimum contract anywhere else, so I suspect he’ll be back as well. The Hawks have the rights to Wright’s Bird, which means they won’t have to create cap space to re-sign him. He showed how valuable he was to the roster in the second half of the season and in the playoffs; he should come back.

Because the Hawks don’t have cap space, they won’t be able to sign any big-name free agents that may become available, such as Zach LaVine, Deandre Ayton or Jalen Brunson. The only way to acquire any of these three would be to execute a sign and trade. Signings and trades are always difficult to predict because one side of the deal is usually lopsided and not at all what you think it would take for the move to be made.

The Hawks’ needs are clear: defense, defense and more defense. They could also use more balls and secondary creators alongside Trae Young. Did I mention they need more defense? The Hawks were so abysmal at this end of the field, and their roster needs to become more balanced to get them closer to their goals.

The following players are more defense oriented. The Hawks don’t get a star with their exceptions, so I’d use the $10.5-14.4 million to get quality role players who defend well to round out their roster.

Let’s move on to the free agents (listed alphabetically) who could make the Hawks better than they were this season.

Kyle Anderson, forward (unrestricted)

Anderson would fill two key areas of need for the Hawks: ball handling and perimeter defense. He’s such a capable ball handler that he could act as a de facto playmaker with Young on the ground. The creation up front is a glaring hole for the Hawks. Both John Collins and De’Andre Hunter are below par with the ball in hand. Jalen Johnson has shown his ability to handle the ball at G League level, and the hope is that he can become a frontcourt playmaker.

Mo Bamba, center (restricted)

It would be surprising if the Magic brought Bamba back, especially after winning the toss. I imagine Orlando will be looking to add Jabari Smith or Chet Holmgren, both front row players, with the No. 1 pick.

Bamba could become a restricted free agent if the Magic offered him their qualifying offer, which would be unexpected. He will be an unrestricted free agent if they don’t retain his rights. If the Hawks wanted to add him before free agency, they could also just trade for him and avoid battles with other teams.

A potential Bamba addition would only really make sense if the Hawks traded Clint Capela or Onyeka Okongwu (or both) this offseason; otherwise, I can’t imagine him wanting to sign somewhere and be the third center. Bamba is coming off the most productive season of his career, shooting 38% on 3 on four attempts per game (for reference, he shot more 3 per game than Hunter), with 1.7 blocks per game. Above all, Bamba figured out how to defend himself without getting himself into trouble; he finished with fewer than four fouls per 36 minutes for the first time in his career.

It should also be noted that Young and Kevin Huerter are good friends with Bamba.

Nicolas Batum, striker (player option)

I can’t imagine Batum landing his $3.3 million player option with the Clippers because that would be quite the cut for one of the best role players in the league. He’s now shot over 40% for 3 straight seasons and been a strong defenseman with the Clippers both years. Now, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Clippers re-sign Batum using their Early Bird rights; the Clippers obviously appreciate having as many two-way wings on their roster as possible. But if they decide to part ways, Batum makes a lot of sense for the Hawks.

Bruce Brown, guard/forward (unlimited)

Much like the Hawks, the Nets have been terrible defensively this season. Along with the chaos that followed them throughout the season – Kyrie Irving sat out due to refusing to get vaccinated and then became a part-time player, James Harden effectively left the team before the deadline trades and Kevin Durant missed more than 20 games – Brooklyn’s inability to defend was another reason he underperformed expectations. Brown was one of the few players on the Nets’ roster who was a trusted defenseman.

What I love about Brown is his ability to hold many positions at a high level, and he’s still young enough (he’ll be 26 next season) to grow with the rest of the core of this roster. It would be unwise for the Nets to let Brown go, given they have the same needs as Atlanta, but if he becomes available, the Hawks should jump at the chance to add him.

Jevon Carter, guard (unrestricted)

Carter isn’t good enough to be a consistent point guard option, but if the Hawks re-sign Wright and add Carter as a third guard option, he’d definitely be an upgrade over Williams. Much like Gary Payton II (which I’ll talk about soon), Carter isn’t going to offer much offensively, but you know you’re getting 100% defensive effort.

Jevon Carter (left) would make a realistic free agent goal for the Hawks this summer. (Michael McLoone / USA Today)

Gary Harris, guard (unrestricted)

Orlando is in rebuilding mode, but one of the goals should be to find useful players who can help when the organization is out of that stage. Harris is one of those players. He’s a 3-and-D guard who’s shot 38 percent from 3 this season, and he’s one of the best defenders on the ball.

Josh Okogie, Guard (Restricted)

Okogie dropped out of Minnesota’s rotation this season and it seems very unlikely that he will return to the Timberwolves because of that. He could be a restricted free agent if the team were to extend their qualifying offer, but that would be a surprise given how sparingly he played him.

Okogie is another guard who doesn’t provide much offensively but will put in maximum effort defensively, and he’s good at that end of the field. I imagine he won’t require anything more than the minimum. An added bonus is that he’s a homegrown product who played his college ball at Georgia Tech.

Victor Oladipo, guard (unrestricted)

Oladipo’s playoff run with the Heat accelerated after helping cook the Hawks in the first round when Jimmy Butler sat out with a minor knee injury. From then on, Oladipo was an integral part of Miami’s rotation and provided outstanding perimeter defense. It’s still unclear how much offensive juice he has after two quadruple surgeries, but he was once a gifted player for that purpose. I imagine a team could sign Oladipo cheaply on a proof deal.

Gary Payton II, guard (unrestricted)

Payton has become an integral part of Golden State’s run to the NBA Finals as a tenacious defender of the ball. One of the Hawks’ biggest weaknesses this season was a terrible offensive point defense; Payton would improve that immediately. He wouldn’t offer much offensively for Atlanta, but that’s okay. The Hawks need more players who want to make life hell for opposing offenses.

It would also make a great story if Nate McMillan coached Payton; Payton’s father was McMillan’s running mate with the Seattle SuperSonics.

Otto Porter Jr., Forward (Unrestricted)

It’s amazing the Warriors were able to sign Porter for the veteran minimum this season. He’s become a key part of Golden State’s rotation and one of the best role players in the league, and he’s doing it for the cheapest possible salary. There have always been injury issues with Porter, who hadn’t played more than 60 games since 2017-18; he has played 63 this year. Porter has hit 37% of his 3s this season and has provided above average defense as a combo forward. I’m a fan of trying to add teammate Andrew Wiggins through a trade if possible, but Porter wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.

Bobby Portis, striker (player option)

Portis seems to like Milwaukee, and Bucks fans seem to like Portis. He signed a (very) friendly team contract to stay with the Bucks after winning a title last season. Perhaps he will look to recoup some of that money this offseason and turn down his $4.5 million player option after showing his worth as a replacement for Brook Lopez, who missed most of the season due to injury.

Portis has been an excellent shooter the past two seasons and offers a switch possibility as an inside defender. He would also give the Hawks a much-needed edge they’ve been missing this season.

Delon Wright, guard (unrestricted)

We already touched on his importance to the Hawks in the intro, but it’s a no-brainer to bring Wright back. His tally stats aren’t going to impress anyone, but he was one of the few on the team who could defend consistently. If he’s back, the Hawks should explore other Young-Wright lineups. This duo had a net rating of 13.2 in the 93 minutes they played together against the Heat.

(Photo by Victor Oladipo: Brett Davis/USA Today)

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