Hawks create cap space, target Luol Deng

Kevin C. Cox

By trading for and then waiving John Salmons, the Atlanta Hawks opened up more cap space to make a move in free agency.

The Atlanta Hawks have reworked their roster over the last two years to find value players alongside Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague, but now comes the opportunity for more spending. The Hawks seem ready to use some of their cap space to target free agent forward Luol Dengreports Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

Deng, who is 29 years old, could come with a relatively reasonable contract himself. Wojnarowski guesses he will be paid in the $10-12 million range annually, which would give Atlanta more room to make moves if general manager Danny Ferry sees an opportunity elsewhere.

The weekend trade of Lou Williams and the rights to Lucas Nogueira for John Salmon's contract cleared $4.9 million in cap space, according to Peachtree Hoops. Williams' $5.5 million expiring deal is off the books and Salmon's $7 million owed to him this season is only guaranteeing him $1 million, so the Hawks plan to waive him and free a bit more cap room.


Atlanta is expected to cut ties with John Salmons, Photo credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Picks, cap space and depth chart

Draft pick: Adreian Payne (15th), Walter Tavares (43rd)

Cap space: $15 million

Depth chart

PG: Jeff Teague, Shelvin Mack (RFA), Dennis Schroder
SG: Kyle Korver, John Jenkins
SF: DeMarre Carroll
PF: Paul Millsap, Mike Scott (RFA), Adreian Payne
C: Al Horford, Pero Antic (non-guaranteed), Mike Muscala (non-guaranteed), Gustavo Ayon (non-guaranteed)

Depth with value

The guard rotation is in a solid place. Teague's shiftiness and Kyle Korver's shooting should return in the backcourt along with youngsters Dennis Schroder and John Jenkins. The Hawks are expected to extend a qualifying offer to backup point guard Shelvin Mack to make him a restricted free agent as well, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore.

NBA free agency

Vivlamore also expects Atlanta to make forward Mike Scott a restricted free agent; the team won't extend a qualifying offer to Gustavo Ayon. Retaining Scott would add to a frontcourt of shooters that includes incoming rookie Adreian Payne and center Pero Antic, all three of whom complement the more inside-oriented duo of starters Horford and Millsap.

The Hawks expect to stash rookie big man Walter Tavares and won't have him on the roster.

Atlanta could be pushing $18 million in cap space, excluding the non-guaranteed deals of Antic and center Mike Muscala. That's enough for a max level deal for a player who is a 7-10 year NBA veteran.

Why Deng?

Between a versatile group of big men and a solid guard rotation, the Hawks could certainly address their small forward spot. There's a need for a playmaker alongside Teague more than anything. The Hawks might be a small trade away from having the cap space to sign a big-name free agent, but the reality is they have a solid shot at a player like Deng.

DeMarre Carroll went under-appreciated last season and became the sort of 3-and-D player -- he more than earned his $2.4 million annual pay grade this upcoming season. But to add a more skilled scorer like Deng will help Atlanta when plays break down and teams load up on Horford and Millsap.

Deng is a well-known defensive menace, and averaged 16 points, 2.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game in 2013-14. If he is on the more pricy end of Wojnarowski's estimation, the Hawks could still have another several million to spend to on another new player before working on re-signing their own free agents.


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