2013-14 outlook: Atlanta Hawks
What's in store for the Atlanta Hawks? Our panel of five looks back at the offseason moves (and nonmoves) and forward to what lies ahead in the 2013-14 NBA season.
1. What grade would you give the Hawks' offseason?
Bo Churney, HawksHoop: B+. Sure, the Hawks missed out on Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, but they still made a series of good moves. Paul Millsap will be a welcome replacement for poor Josh Smith's shooting habits, and Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver were brought back on manageable contracts. The Hawks didn't really get any better, but they didn't get worse, and they have much more cap flexibility than in the past.
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: C+. The Hawks had a solid offseason: They drafted well, avoided overpaying Smith, matched a reasonable offer sheet on Teague and picked up Millsap, Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon on short-term, low-risk deals. I thought they overpaid for Korver, but they could afford to do that with the rest of their finances in order.
Buddy Grizzard, HawksHoop: B-. Hawks GM Danny Ferry gets an A for signing Millsap to an instantly movable contract, but Al Horford's dissatisfaction with the state of the roster is alarming. With DeMarcus Cousins signing for a reported $62 million, and with Ferry shipping out Smith and Joe Johnson without returning equal talent, Horford must be wondering why he gave the Hawks a discount.
Andrew Han, ClipperBlog: A-. The Hawks were never serious contenders to land a premier free agent this past offseason, but they did maximize everything that was in their control. Atlanta retained Teague and Korver, drafted incredibly intriguing prospects in Dennis Schroder and Lucas Nogueira and signed Millsap to one of the best value contracts in the league.
Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: B+. Ferry avoided overpaying for Smith, got great value by bringing in an undervalued Millsap on a cheap deal, and maintained his long-term flexibility by signing key role players to reasonable contracts. Throw in a respected hire from the Gregg Popovich coaching tree, and there's little not to like about Atlanta's offseason.
2. What's the biggest question facing the Hawks in 2013-14?
Churney: When will Lou Williams come back from his ACL surgery and how effective will he be? The Hawks need someone that can go out by himself and get buckets. At full strength, Williams is definitely a guy that comes in looking to score, but if his injury holds him back too much the Hawks could find themselves in a bind when their pass-heavy offense is having trouble putting points on the board.
Elhassan: "What's really changed?" The Hawks had a solid offseason, but in the grand scheme of things, they are pretty much in the same position they were in before: a middling team for the foreseeable future.
Grizzard: Who is going to guard LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony? DeMarre Carroll looks like a value add, but he's the only small forward Ferry has signed (aside from camp invites) during his tenure. What happens when he's in foul trouble? Korver showed his inadequacy to guard elite wings against Paul George in last season's first-round series against the Pacers.
Han: Quo vadimus? Where are the Hawks going? Are they maintaining a smart roster for a lower seed in the East, collect their late teens draft slot and build methodically, or will they trade in their talent for prospects and accrue assets? This is one of the few teams that can go either way; just a matter of preference.
Robb: How will they fare without Smith? After letting the lifelong Hawk jump ship to the Pistons, I'm curious to see the effect his departure will have on Atlanta this season. His defensive prowess will be missed undoubtedly, but the Hawks losing his questionable shot selection from their offensive repertoire could produce a net positive for the team overall.
3. Who's the Hawks' most intriguing player?
Churney: Schroder. The young German provides the Hawks with an intense type of defense that can completely change the pace of a game. Depending on how well the rookie can adapt to the NBA, we could see Teague on the trading block as early as this coming spring.
Elhassan: Horford. He's a high IQ, skilled big who can score inside and out, a legitimate double-double threat every night out and on a steal of a contract. Horford might be the most underrated player in the NBA, but he's stuck on a very average team in Atlanta, and one has to wonder how many more years of "average" he can take before wanting out.
Grizzard: Ayon, from a talent standpoint, is a starting-caliber NBA center. The issue for Ayon, as with Zaza Pachulia before him, is durability. Horford wants a center to play next to. Ayon has a refined post game and handles the ball like a guard. Unfortunately, he's not stout enough to make a defensive impact against the league's most bruising post players.
Han: Millsap. A contender-level complementary player on a friendly contract, Millsap's performance could influence the building course of the franchise. If another team feels it is one piece away from competing for a title, it might be in the Hawks' best interests to get future value from Millsap rather than his current production.
Robb: Millsap. After battling a crowded Utah frontcourt for both minutes and touches on the offensive end, Millsap should get more of a leading role in his new home. Is he capable of carrying Atlanta's offense with a nice set of complementary scoring weapons surrounding him? I'm eager to find out.
4. What's one bold prediction about the Hawks?
Churney: They will finish above the Knicks in the East, which might say more about how I feel about New York than Atlanta. Carmelo is definitely the best player between these two squads, but it really seems that the pieces the Hawks have fit better than what the Knicks are putting out there.
Elhassan: They'll be in the mix for the fourth seed until late in the season. That's as bold as it gets for this team this season!
Grizzard: Schroder will be in the Rookie of the Year conversation. The GM who found Danny Green in the second round and the coach who pushed for the Kawhi Leonard trade have done it again. Teague will help Schroder develop without pressure, which will allow him to produce immediate results. The Hawks are desperate for the perimeter defense he provides.
Han: Teague, Horford or Millsap will be traded during the season for an abundance of assets. Ferry's been deconstructing Atlanta's "Treadmill of Mediocrity" ever since his arrival last offseason and letting Smith leave without a fight is just another indicator that business is not as usual.
Robb: Schroder will be one of the top rookies in the league. The 20-year-old guard enters the NBA with plenty of potential, but he should also get lots of opportunity right out of the gate with Lou Williams still recovering from a torn ACL. Look for him to provide a spark, especially on the defensive end, off Atlanta's bench every night.
5. Prediction time: How far will the Hawks go this season?
Churney: They'll make the playoffs, but that's about it. The top four teams in the East (Miami, Brooklyn, Chicago and Indiana) are all significantly better than Atlanta, meaning it will be one-and-done for the Hawks.
Elhassan: They'll put up the good fight before succumbing in six games in the first round.
Grizzard: The Hawks are tough to predict with a new coach, new system and major roster turnover. If Horford has another All-Star season, the Hawks could be the sixth seed and a tough out in the first round. Williams' uncertain health makes it more likely the Hawks will win 43 games and be fodder for second-seeded Chicago in the first round.
Han: Atlanta will strategically bottom out, missing the playoffs for the first time since drafting Horford. And with a combination of the pieces they retain along with the assets they acquire, the Hawks will be ready to roll the following season.
Robb: A first-round exit in the postseason. The Hawks will be one of the better teams in the middle tier of the Eastern Conference, but they will fall short against the elite squads of the East. With a young talented core and cap flexibility in place, Atlanta's long-term future is brighter than ever though.