Setting Goals: Atlanta Hawks and the Trade Deadline

The rebuilding Atlanta Hawks are understandably out of the national spotlight this season. But that doesn't mean they are incapable of turning a few heads before the trade deadline.

The Atlanta Hawks are not likely to pry much national attention away from the Anthony Davis-Pelicans-Lakers drama that figures to dominate the headlines leading up to the February 7th trade deadline. They’re just not in a position to make any moves capable of drawing more than a quick glance before the NBA world turns back to the main event. But even if Atlanta’s activity in the coming week remains under-the-radar, it could be more significant than you might expect.

The Hawks currently sit 17-35 on the season (12th in the Eastern Conference, the 5th worst record in the league), and as a team in the second year of a significant rebuild, they are more interested in developing their young talent and positioning for next year’s draft than this year’s playoffs. Rebuilding teams like the Hawks typically try to follow a few general guidelines as they approach the trade deadline; they go something like this:

  • Identify the young talent you want to keep and hold onto those players
  • Flip veterans with value for more young talent or draft compensation
  • Shed payroll if possible, and
  • Avoid taking back bad long-term deals, unless you can get valuable assets for doing so.

These are not hard-and-fast rules. Rebuilding teams tend to prioritize some and gloss over others with varying results. 

If last season’s lack of activity on the part of the Hawks is any indication (buying out Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli, no trades), it seems that general manager Travis Schlenk will also hold a hard line this season when it comes to maintaining financial flexibility for the future. In an interview with The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner posted on January 10 (subscription required), Schlenk summarized his strategy heading into the trade deadline:

“We’re looking for future assets. We already have five picks in this draft and more than likely, two firsts and three seconds. Any of the deals we do will be future assets or a deal that maybe will increase our (cap) flexibility moving forward… We’re certainly listening to a lot of stuff, but we’re not going to do a bad deal or do a deal that will hamper our objectives.”

This strategy leaves the potential for moves before the deadline, even if it could limit Schlenk's options.

Believe it or not, Atlanta does have assets to offer that could be attractive for playoff-bound teams this season. In fact, they should have enough to fetch important assets in return to take Atlanta’s rebuild to the next level. Let’s take a look at a few of these players. I will begin with what I consider “the usual suspects” (veteran players who are either the most likely to be dealt or who the Hawks would like to deal the most) and then look at a surprise wildcard player who could be on the move as well.

The Usual Suspects

Dewayne Dedmon

2018-19 Stats: 10.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1 block, 48.1 FG%, 

38 3PT% in 24.8 minutes per game

Contract: One year, $7.2 million (Expiring)

Dedmon is arguably the most attractive of the Hawks veterans who could be moved before the trade deadline. Known primarily for his contributions as a stable defender and rebounder, Dedmon has developed into a reliable three-point shooting threat and floor spacer -- skills that many teams covet in their bigs these days. Before joining the Hawks in 2017-18 free agency, Dedmon had only attempted one three-point shot in his four-year career. Now, in just over a season and a half with Atlanta, he’s taken a grand total of 278, averaging 35.5% on 2.3 attempts per game in 2017-18 and 38% on 3.3 attempts this season. Add in his reasonable one-year, $7.2 million expiring contract, and it becomes clear why teams in the playoff mix could be interested in acquiring Dedmon.

Something to keep an eye on regarding Dedmon:

According to a January 30th piece by ESPN’s Tim Bontemps (link here), the Philadelphia 76ers are considering adding Dedmon before the trade deadline. But, as Bontemps notes, a deal for Dedmon could require sending back former first-overall pick Markelle Fultz to make the money work.

Fultz is an intriguing piece, so this is a situation worth monitoring. Whether this deal actually happens will depend more on how eager Philadelphia is to move their former top pick.

Jeremy Lin

2018-19 Stats: 10.8 points, 3.6 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 2 turnovers, 46.9 FG%, 33.9 3P% in 19.6 minutes per game

Contract: One year, $13.7 million (Expiring)

After suffering a devastating, season-ending injury in the first game of the 2017-18 campaign as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, Jeremy Lin is having a productive bounce-back season with the Hawks this year as a backup and mentor to rookie Trae Young. Lin’s best days are likely behind him and he is unlikely to find any more opportunities as a regular starter, but he is still capable of running an offense and scoring — he is currently on track to set a career high in field goal percentage. If another team is looking to upgrade their point guard depth before the playoffs, Lin is a low-risk option on an expiring deal.

Kent Bazemore

2018-19 Stats: 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.7 steals, 44.1 FG%, 

32.6 3PT% in 26.6 minutes per game

Contract: Two years, $37.3 million ($18.1 million this season, player option for $19.2 million in 2019-20)

The Hawks have been looking to move Bazemore for what feels like a long time. In fact, Atlanta’s desire to get out from under the final two years of his contract nearly submarined their draft-defining trade with the Dallas Mavericks in June — the trade that sent Luka Doncic to Dallas for Trae Young and a future first-round pick. Bazemore is likely still available heading into the trade deadline.

Even if he is overpaid, Bazemore is still a productive two-way player. He plays with tremendous energy on both sides of the ball and is a tenacious defender with active hands. In only 38 games this season, Bazemore has registered 63 steals, 32 blocks, and a whopping 104 deflections. His shooting has taken a step back from last season (shooting 32.6% on this three-pointers), but he is still capable of spotting up and hitting shots (36.8% on spot-up threes).

Potential playoff teams in need of a three-and-D wing/guard may consider Bazemore, but his remaining contract and recent injury history (a bone bruise ended his season early last year; a right ankle injury cost him the past month) could make it difficult to strike a deal. 

Miles Plumlee

2018-19 Stats: 4.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.2 blocks, 66.7 FG% in 9.6 minutes per game

Contract: Two years, $25 million

Without question, Plumlee’s is the most cumbersome and undesirable contract on Atlanta’s books. The Hawks are on the hook for the remaining two-years and $25 million of a four-year, $50 million deal Plumlee signed with the Milwaukee Bucks in August of 2016 (aka the Summer of Reckless Spending), and it’s unlikely they will be able to offload him before the trade deadline, if at all. A combination of a knee injury and the Hawks adding Alex Len this offseason has pushed Plumlee down the bench, limiting him to only 4.4 minutes per game in only 18 appearances this season. Don’t look for many teams to express interest in Plumlee.

The Wildcard: Taurean Prince

The most surprising trade candidate on the Hawks is third-year wing, Taurean Prince. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Hawks “have discussed forward Taurean Prince” with other teams (link here) heading into the trade deadline. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer also referenced this on a January 11th episode of “The Ringer NBA Show,” indicating that the Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers and Portland Trailblazers have contacted the Hawks about Prince. Since trading Prince is not a foregone conclusion, I will need to address it speculatively.

A rebuilding team like the Hawks trading a young player like Prince probably seems counterintuitive. Why give up so quickly on a young developing player when your team is focusing on developing young players? 

I think there are several reasons why the Hawks should consider it.

First of all, Prince has value. He is a 24-year-old player with the potential to turn into a prototypical three-and-D wing, with upside to become more offensively. In today’s NBA, teams crave that type of player. The most consistent aspect of Prince’s game so far in his career is his shooting — specifically his three-point shooting, where he is averaging 37% for his career. Although his three-point shooting has dipped a little this season (36% overall on 5.6 attempts per game), he is still very reliable in spot-up situations, where he is shooting 39.1%. He does have a few areas where he will need to develop further to reach his full potential — more consistent defense and better passing come to mind — but given his age, his shooting and his contract situation (team control for one more year at $3.48 million), it’s easy to see why teams will be interested.

Secondly, the Hawks may consider Prince to be expendable — for the right price. The combination of Prince’s shooting, potential and contract will increase what Atlanta would get in return by trading him. For example, maybe a team could offer future draft considerations like a 2020 first-round pick, or a young, high-ceiling reclamation project to add to Atlanta’s young core of Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter. If the offer is sweet enough, Travis Schlenk may take it.

Aside from what they could get in return, the Hawks’ current roster and draft picks this summer also make Prince somewhat expendable. If the Hawks trade Prince before the deadline, they already have two players on the roster capable of replacing his production with little drop-off: Kevin Huerter and DeAndre’ Bembry. Huerter is a comparable shooter to Prince, a better playmaker than Prince and a decent defender. Bembry cannot match Prince’s shooting, but he is a better defender and playmaker. And given the success the Hawks have had with both Huerter and Bembry in the starting lineup during Prince’s recent injury absence — the five-man lineup of Huerter, Bembry, Trae Young, John Collins, and Dewayne Dedmon have posted a 114.9 Offensive Rating and a +1.9 Net Rating in 131 minutes this season — it may be worth giving them more minutes with the starters the rest of the season.

Finally, the Hawks could replace (or upgrade) Prince in this summer’s draft. Depending on how the ping-pong balls fall, Atlanta should have two picks in the lottery this year — their own and Dallas’, as long as the latter falls outside the top 5. Even if it is a weak draft, as some are projecting, there are several intriguing wing prospects (RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, Nassir Little, Jarret Culver, Kevin Porter Jr, to name a few) whom Atlanta could select to replace Prince. 

My Thoughts

Last year, I expected a lot more activity at the trade deadline from the Hawks but didn’t get it. This season should have more activity. Dedmon and Lin are the most likely of the bunch, with Dedmon at the top of the list. But Bazemore and Plumlee’s contracts should keep them in Atlanta. 

Prince remains the most intriguing option for me. Any decision on moving him will ultimately depend on the offer. Personally, I think the offer has to be too good to refuse for Schlenk to make a move. If a team like Philadelphia were to offer Markelle Fultz or Miami’s unprotected first-round pick in 2020 (which has the potential to be a very good pick), I think the Hawks would pull the trigger. But that is a big “if.”

The Hawks could also include the first-round pick they acquired from Cleveland in 2017 to give window dressing to any potential deal. The Hawks got the pick in a deal that sent Kyle Korver to the Cavs. The pick top-10 protected in 2019 and 2020. And if it does not convey as a first-round selection, it becomes two second-round picks (one is 2021 and the other in 2022). Given the current state of the Cavs, it's safe to assume it won't convey as a first. But they could still move that pick to supplement any potential deal. 

Atlanta could have a surprise or two in line for this trade deadline. The only question is will anyone take the time to notice the Hawks.

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