The Spurs are one of the most well-run organizations in all of basketball, and Travis Schlenk has the Atlanta Hawks on pace to follow suit, Eastern Conference Edition. Former assistant general manager at Golden State, Schlenk knows what it takes to build a successful franchise without tanking or settling for poor seasons riddled with bad contracts. Schlenk has repeatedly told media outlets that he doesn’t like the word ‘rebuild’ and that’s not what the culture in Atlanta is going to be about with him at the helm. Come July 1, the general managers of the NBA will work their magic to attract free agents to their teams and trade for favorable cap space. The Hawks can be confident that Schlenk will makes the wisest decisions after what was a fruitful draft on June 22.
Step #1: Establish the young guys.
John Collins wasn’t a lottery pick and Tyler Dorsey and Alpha Kaba didn’t even make the first round. But it’s not what you come into the NBA as, it’s what you make of it. Spurs equivalents: Kawhi Leonard and Jonathan Simmons. Leonard was selected 15th overall in the 2011 draft and now is a two-time All-Star, NBA champion, NBA Finals MVP, and one of the most elite two-way players in the league, all at 26 years-old. Simmons went undrafted in 2012 and spent two years in the D-league, now the G-league, before being called up by the Spurs in the 2015-16 season and subsequently blossoming into a dream for Coach Popovich in 2016-17.
Schlenk and company want to build a winning culture, and it’ll mostly come from the draft. Yes, trades are an integral part of the game and will always be necessary. Moving parts are a part of every team and the fluidity needs to be there to support the main core of players. And on occasion it might be necessary to draft an important piece to the process, but overall the culture should be homegrown. Collins has an opportunity to fully establish himself in the rotation and take it all in stride. The Hawks’ motto is True to Atlanta, let’s see if Schlenk can stick to it.
Step #2: Manage and assess the value of current assets.
Think about how the Spurs and the Warriors have built a solid core of players that has led them to multiple championships by following the blueprint that the coach and the front office had set out for the franchise. Manu Ginóbili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan were the dominant force in the 2000s, and now Curry, Thompson, Green, and newly acquired Durant rule the NBA throne. The Hawks can follow the path with the opportunity to start sooner rather than later. With Horford, Howard, and now most-likely Millsap out of the picture, Atlanta has a solid group in Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore, and Tim Hardaway Jr. These guys will hopefully dominate the backcourt in coming seasons, and the frontcourt will be sought to be filled with young talents Collins, Taurean Prince, and Alpha Kaba.
Schlenk has expressed many times that the best way to essentially rebuild (without it being a rebuild) is by allowing for fluidity within the roster and managing cap space with trades and free agency offers in mind. The Dwight Howard deal was a principal example of this. Howard had a massive contract promising him a little over $47 million over the next two years. Schlenk took care of the 31-year-old center’s contract issue rather well by splitting it up for the rights to Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli, a trade exception of roughly $4.3 million, and the pick to snatch Tyler Dorsey at 41 during the second round of the draft. We’ll see if Schlenk can build a playoff contending roster with cap space still available at the start of the season, which would be the ideal situation for Hawks fans.
Step #3: Take advantage of available free agents.
With a youthful core already in the works and cap space to be made available by waiving players and trading away bad contracts, Schlenk now needs to use the start of July to sit down across some veterans that might bring in a stabilizing hand to this group. With Millsap unlikely to stay in the ATL, there are several tenured options that can be brought in. A name that has drawn many eyes in Andre Iguodala, while some lesser-coveted pieces are Luc Mbah a Moute, Taj Gibson, and Tony Snell.
33-year-old Iguodala has an impressive resume after jumping around several teams who had picked him to become the franchise player that never was. His roughly $11 million a year salary would push the Hawks to the limit of the cap, but he could be a much-needed voice on the bench and star behind Bazemore, much like the role he inherited with the Warriors.
Iguodala might not be a necessary addition at the present state, as the Hawks need to attend to their frontcourt; enter Luc Mbah a Moute. With the Clippers all but declaring a mass clearing after the departure of Chris Paul and free agency of Blake Griffin, Mbah a Moute has opted out of his player option and has chosen to field offers from others. The 30-year-old is the definition of versatility, able to play both the 3 and the 4, and provided a great spark both starting and off the bench in his two years in Los Angeles. The Hawks could easily accommodate his low-level salary and have a good backup for the rookie Collins in the long run.
Another more expensive veteran option might be the Thunder’s unrestricted free agent Taj Gibson. At 32 years-old Gibson was a rock for the Chicago Bulls off the bench for many years and can provide the same productivity for the Hawks behind John Collins. Throughout his career, Gibson averaged about 27.3 minutes and provided consistent double doubles near the end of his service. He is menace on the glass and provides a strong defensive hold while also sporting a reliable mid-range jumper. He would fit in perfectly with the second line and can also start games if need be, with Schröder penetrating and dishing to him in a spread court or finding him for an open shot in a pick-and-roll situation.
And lastly a great option is Milwaukee Buck’s restricted free agent Tony Snell, to whom they have extended a qualifying offer to extend his time there. Snell was traded to the Bucks from the Bulls in a deal involving Michael Carter-Williams and went from an out-of-favor draftee to a quickly maturing starting small forward with a career year. His consistency is still questionable in the long run, but his talent and three-point shooting greatly improve his stock. At 25 years old, he averaged 8.5 points per game and shot 40.6% from the three in 2016-17 and could be a shoe-in for Atlanta’s second line. He earned roughly $2.3 million last year and could easily be housed by the Hawks and would fit perfectly with what Schlenk wants to build.
Unwritten Step #4: Patience
This will all clearly not happen overnight. Although the transition of June 30 to July 1 will be one of endless phone calls and meetings between players with their agents and different franchises, it won’t be the final be-all end-all. Travis Schlenk and company will hedge their bets as the off-season gets in full swing and by following these three simple steps, the Atlanta Hawks should be well on their way to navigating towards a successful future after a short period of uncertainty.