The Atlanta Hawks added yet another big man to their growing stable of frontcourt players on Sunday, claiming Gustavo Ayon off waivers. The 28-year-old Ayon has shown to be a solid rotational big in the past, but the question is what type of minutes he will get on a roster that's getting quite crowded down low.
The Hawks entered the offseason knowing that Josh Smith likely wouldn't be back, and sure enough, Smith wound up signing a big deal with the Detroit Pistons. Zaza Pachulia also got a rather hefty contract in free agency, joining the Milwaukee Bucks on a three-year deal.
With the knowledge that those two would likely be out of the picture, the Hawks went to work on replacing those frontcourt minutes. Atlanta got two big men on draft night, acquiring Brazilian big man Lucas Nogueira and Mike Muscala in a trade.
Atlanta did an excellent job replacing Smith by signing Paul Millsap to an affordable two-year deal worth $19 million. Elton Brand was then brought in on a one-year, $4 million deal. And before claiming Ayon, the Hawks signed veteran European big man Pero Antic to a two-year contract.
Add in Mike Scott, who got some minutes last season, and that's quite a lot a depth in the frontcourt. It should be noted, however, that Scott has a non-guaranteed deal for the 2013-14 season. Scott's contract becomes $100,000 guaranteed if not waived by Aug. 15.
Ivan Johnson is also still available to be brought back, but that's unexpected after the Hawks didn't extend the forward a qualifying offer.
It would seem like the Hawks are set in the frontcourt, but crazily enough, they're still in the hunt for oft-injured big man Greg Oden. Atlanta is one of six teams in on Oden, who reportedly impressed in workouts last week. However, the Miami Heat and New Orleans Pelicans appear to be in the lead for Oden's services.
If Oden goes elsewhere and the Hawks are done adding bigs, it will be interesting to see how minutes are doled out. Horford and Millsap will obviously get the bulk of the playing time, with Brand and Ayon likely next in line off the bench.
So where does that leave the rookies?
Both Nogueira and Muscala remain unsigned, and it's unclear what Atlanta's plan is for them. Kris Willis at Peachtree Hoops speculates that the claiming of Ayon could further signal that Nogueira remains in Europe for the year in order to gain some seasoning, although there have been reports that the youngster's deal with Asefa Estudiantes of the ACB League is close to being bought out. But even if Nogueira does come over to the U.S., he's probably a bit too raw to receive any meaningful playing time.
As for Muscala, he could always be let go considering he's not guaranteed any money. However, he did play pretty well in Summer League, and the Hawks would surely like to keep him around. The D-League is an option, but the Hawks don't have their own affiliate. Atlanta shares the Bakersfield Jam with four other teams, and there are no guarantees Muscala would get the necessary playing time to develop. Muscala could also be sent overseas, which is a common occurrence for second-round picks.
Whatever happens, the Hawks will have one of the deeper frontcourts in the NBA, and you can never have enough quality big men. If there are any injury problems, there will be adequate replacements ready and able to fill in.