The trade winds in the NBA change swiftly. Early January was characterized by wild speculation about Atlanta’s plans to trade one or more of its assets. During this time, the Hawks and forward Paul Millsap, in particular, were linked to over a half-dozen teams in trade rumors. Confirmed facts about conversations between the Hawks and other teams were practically non-existent, leaving plenty of room for the rumors to grow.
When Atlanta traded Kyle Korver to Cleveland, it seemed to signal a teardown and rebuild (a possibility I discussed in detail here); however, the Hawks pumped the brakes and stood pat after moving the veteran sharpshooter. Atlanta ended the Paul Millsap trade rumors around January 9th, as reports surfaced saying that the Hawks front office had told other teams that Millsap is off the trade market. Afterward, Atlanta mostly fell out of trade rumors until last week when rumblings of the Hawks as trade deadline buyers began to surface.
Atlanta, feeling pressure to capitalize on Millsap and Dwight Howard’s abilities before they fully exit their primes, went into All-Star weekend looking to add one or more players and make a push back to the top of the Eastern Conference. And consider the timing: last week the Toronto Raptors traded for Serge Ibaka on the heels of the announcement that Cleveland’s Kevin Love will be out for approximately six weeks. There is speculation that Love may be out longer than the six-week estimate, and the Raptors are acting on this opportunity. If Toronto is correct, and the Cavaliers’ dominance over the East can be questioned, then the Hawks must also consider trading future assets and going into compete-now mode.
Armed with their modest collection of draft picks and expiring contracts, Atlanta attempted to do just that. Here is a look at what went down leading up to yesterday’s trade deadline.
The Hawks acquire Ersan Ilyasova
The trade deadline excitement got started Wednesday as news that Atlanta and the Philadelphia 76ers were closing on a deal to bring 29-year-old forward Ersan Ilyasova to the ATL. When the final agreement was announced, Hawks fans were pleased to find out that Atlanta gained a useful rotation player while not giving up prime assets. For trading Ilyasova, the 76ers received Brazilian forward/center Tiago Splitter, a 2017 second round pick via the Miami Heat (protected 31-40), and the right to swap the lowest of their 2017 second round draft picks with Atlanta’s 2017 second round draft pick.
When Splitter was first traded to the Hawks from San Antonio, I was optimistic. He was a significant contributor for the Spurs where he and Coach Budenholzer previously worked together but had limited playing time behind future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. But various lower body ailments have kept Splitter from seeing a single minute of action in the 2016-2017 season and prevented him from appearing in more than half the Hawks’ games last season. As such, I consider Splitter to be a sunk cost and view trading him away for any healthy rotation player as a major win; that the Hawks were able to use only second round picks to make the deal happen is good news for the team now and in the future.
Ilyasova is valuable coming off the bench as a power forward with three-point range. He is an average defender but should work well enough inside the Hawks defensive scheme. It should be noted that Ilyasova has some weaknesses when defending the pick-and-roll (per Synergy Sports), but I want to see what his defense looks like with the team before worrying about that. Think of it this way: worst case scenario for Ilyasova as a defender on the Hawks is a younger, taller Kyle Korver and he will likely be matched up against bench or mixed units.
He is on an expiring contract, but I see it as a low cost opportunity to see what he can contribute this season before deciding whether or not to re-sign him. For the price paid to get Ilyasova, this was a good move by the Hawks.
Mike Scott traded to the Phoenix Suns
The Mike Scott trade appears to have brought nothing back to the Hawks. Initially reported in the final minutes before the deadline as Mike Scott to the Suns for cash considerations and no draft picks, the trade ended up being a very one-sided move that is curious. The Hawks official press release on the trade confirms the Suns received Mike Scott, the draft rights to Turkish player Cenk Akyol (drafted in 2005), and cash considerations from Atlanta for a 2017 second round pick that is so heavily protected (top-55) that it will not convey.
Scott, who missed the start of the season with a knee injury, barely cracked the rotation this year and averaged only 10.8 minutes of playing time in 18 games with the Hawks. Scott also has some unresolved legal issues stemming from an arrest in 2015. Added together, this trade was a means to clear a roster slot, save a little on salary, and, perhaps, to serve as a team culture statement.
Paul George: The trade that didn’t happen
The Hawks went out and took a big swing that ultimately missed. While ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that the Hawks were pursuing deals for Chicago Bull Jimmy Butler and Indiana Pacer Paul George, Chris Vivlamore’s sources indicated that the Hawks were only pursuing Paul George. And for those of us wondering just how big the Hawks we willing to go for Paul George? Core players were not included (assume starters), but per Marc Stein “more than three” first round draft picks were offered as part of the proposed deal.
Boston probably had a better overall offer and may have been closer to a deal for George. But still. Consider how bold it was for Atlanta to put up four (or more?) first round picks for an incredibly talented player who potentially could to sign elsewhere in the summer of 2018. It says the Hawks are not interested in tanking. It shows commitment to bringing in talent around Millsap to encourage him to re-sign this summer.
Perhaps this is for the best. Personally, I favor holding those draft picks, particularly the first round picks, in order to build for the future. Doubly so when I consider how difficult it is to attract all-star caliber players to Atlanta and how easily a Paul George could leave in free agency.
But the Hawks are showing that they want to stay among the top of the Eastern Conference teams, and some of those picks will certainly be used to bring in players to help them compete. The trade deadline has passed, and Atlanta will now set its eyes on the playoffs. Remember, though, over the past few seasons, Atlanta has been very active around the NBA draft, so it won’t be too long before we see what else the Hawks have planned.