Atlanta Hawks

What’s Next For The Atlanta Hawks?

The Atlanta Hawks have an interesting summer ahead of them. How different will the team look in 2017-18?

All good things must come to an end. That cliched, yet somewhat accurate, statement will be repeated until the end of time. Bad things also come to an end. Mediocre things come to an end. Everything comes to an end.

The 2016-17 NBA season has come to an end for the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks met their fate last Friday night against the Washington Wizards. Atlanta had a chance to force a winner take all Game 7 with a win, but there was too much John Wall in Game 6.

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The Wizards came away with a 115-99 win, officially ending Atlanta’s up and down season. It was strange season for the Hawks. They managed to match preseason expectations, but the way they did it made for a nerve-wracking experience for Hawks fans.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take the time to look backwards at what went right and wrong during Atlanta’s season. For now, let’s turn our attention to the summer. Will this be the summer of our discontent?

The Hawks have several roster decisions to make during the offseason. This team could look drastically different in 2017-18. The team has seven pending free agents. Paul Millsap, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike Muscala, Jose Calderon, Kris Humphries, Ersan Ilyasova, and Thabo Sefolosha will all be free agents this summer.

Paul Millsap has finally admitted that he will opt out of his current contract and test the market, though, he would like to remain a Hawk. Here’s what Millsap said to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on exit interview day when he was asked about opting out.

“I think we all know the answer to do that,” Millsap said when asked directly about his intention. He later added, “Eventually I probably will opt out, yes. But I want to be here. I think talks have been pretty good, so we’ll see what happens.”

Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler recently said to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Hawks would make “every effort imaginable” to bring Millsap back to Atlanta long-term. Does that mean they plan to offer him a max contract? Stay tuned.

As far as the other six free agents, Tim Hardaway Jr. is restricted while the rest are unrestricted. Given their lack of shooting, Atlanta will likely look to match any offer for Hardaway. They may have to overpay him, but they don’t really have a choice if they still want to contend next season. Hardaway’s scoring became a huge part of Atlanta’s offense by the end of the season.

Mike Muscala could be back, but it’s also easy to imagine him looking elsewhere for a bigger payday. Our friends over at Nothin’ But Nets think he would be a good fit as Brook Lopez‘s backup in Brooklyn. That would be an excellent fit for Muscala, reuniting him with Kenny Atkinson.

Ersan Ilyasova sticking around would be a positive for Atlanta. Despite his playoff struggles, Ilyasova proved to be an excellent mid-season acquisition. In 26 games as a Hawk, Ilyasova averaged 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game on 41.2 percent shooting and 34.8 percent from deep. He could thrive in a 25 minute per night role as Paul Millsap’s backup. Nobody draws a charge like Ersan.

We’ll learn where all the dominoes will fall in due time. One thing seems clear; Paul Millsap will be back in Atlanta next season. Unless something crazy happens. They didn’t keep him at the Trade Deadline just to lose him for nothing this July. They won’t let that happen again.

Barring a trade, Dwight Howard will be back in Atlanta next season. He’s under contract for at least two more seasons. After a season that, on the surface, appeared to be free of drama, drama finally appears to have found Howard and the Hawks.

As you’ll likely remember, Howard was often benched during Atlanta’s postseason series against the Washington Wizards. Mike Budenholzer opted for smaller lineups during crunch-time to improve Atlanta’s spacing. As one might expect, Howard is now expressing his displeasure with that decision.

Quotes from Jeff Schultz’s piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

“It was very difficult,” Howard said Saturday. “I want to play. I want to be out on the floor. I want to make a difference. I want to make an impact, and I can’t do that on the bench.”

“It hurts,” Howard said. “I’m sure if you wrote the best stories in the world and nobody read your stories and they told you to stop writing and you saw somebody else’s story that wasn’t as good as yours, I’m pretty sure you’d be pissed, too. That’s how it is in basketball.”

To be fair, Howard didn’t say anything inflammatory. He’s one of the best centers of the last 20 years, why shouldn’t he want to be playing in crunch-time? He may not be the player he was during his prime, but he had a solid regular season and had done everything the team had asked him to do up to that point. He has a right to be frustrated.

That’s something that needs to be sorted out before next season. I expect it will be. The Hawks need Howard happy and productive if they’re going to improve upon the 43-39 record they accumulated this season.

There is reason to have hope for the future beyond re-signing Paul Millsap. Against Washington, Dennis Schroder and Taurean Prince showed why they are the building blocks for the future. Schroder finished his six-game playoff stint with averages of 24.7 points and 7.7 assists per game on 45.5 percent shooting and 42.5 percent from three.

Prince finished the playoffs averaging 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game on 55.8 percent shooting. His ability to defend and finish in transition has Hawks fans salivating for the variety of highlight reel plays he’ll make during his Hawks career.

DeAndre’ Bembry should also factor into the rotation next season. Bembry was shuffled in and out of the rotation this season, but he showed a high basketball IQ and advanced defensive ability in his 38 game sample.

The Hawks have decisions to make regarding the short-term and long-term composition of their roster. They also have a core of young players that give them reason for optimism. Stay tuned for what’s sure to be a busy offseason.


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