The Atlanta Hawks are considering trading veteran big man Al Horford before Thursday's trade deadline. The organization has had serious internal discussions about the future of its core group of players, including Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, according to Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.
At 31-24, the Hawks are currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings. A year after winning a franchise-record 60 games, the Hawks have failed to find the magic that led them to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Hawks have decided that if the mojo from last season's run can't be duplicated soon, then changes are necessary, according to ESPN. A few teams looking for veteran difference makers could be the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic.
So far, however, the Hawks are struggling to find suitors. One reason may be that the Hawks are asking for a lot in return. Chris Mannix of Yahoo! Sports said the Hawks' asking price from the Celtics for Horford and Teague was "borderline ridiculous."
On top of that, Horford, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, seems happy in Atlanta. He hasn't informed the team that he won't be resigning next year, according to Sporting News, and he told USA Today Sports that he's "very happy in Atlanta."
Even with Horford interested in staying in Atlanta and the Celtics balking at original talks, it appears the Hawks are still searching for trade options.
Why trading Horford makes sense for the Hawks
A year after rollicking through the regular season, the Hawks cannot find a groove this year. It's not that Horford is having a bad season. He is averaging 15.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. His production is down slightly compared to last year, though, when he averaged 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He's playing 31.6 minutes per game compared to 30.5 last season, but the Hawks are nowhere near what they were last season.
His play is slightly declining, plus Horford is not guaranteed to come back next season even if he says he's happy in Atlanta. He'll be an unrestricted free agent this summer and is likely to cash in under the new salary cap. A max contract with the Hawks would equal $144.5 million over five years. That's a lot of money and time for a player who turns 30 this year. Should the Hawks continue to struggle this season and decide Horford isn't worth the money, they'll get nothing in return for one of the NBA's premier big men.
The Hawks' path to the NBA Finals isn't easy. If they couldn't get past the Cavaliers after winning 60 games last season, how are they going to jump past them when they've failed to reach that level of play? Trading Horford would signal a new start, but it wouldn't necessarily mean a complete rebuild if they picked up some key parts in the deal.
Why trading Horford doesn't make sense for the Hawks
Horford is still one of the best big men in the league. He's a veteran who's capable of putting a team over the hump, and that team could be the Hawks. The Hawks haven't found the magic that led them to the top seed in the East in 2015, but they're still capable of making a run. Aside from the Cavaliers, no team seems unbeatable. With Horford on board, it's very possible the Hawks could return to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row. There -- even if it seems impossible -- they're an injury or a seven-game hot streak away from making the NBA Finals.
Plus, Horford might stick around this summer even though he is an unrestricted free agent.
"I've said it repeatedly," Horford told USA Today Sports when asked about the possibility of being traded. "I love the city. My family, we all live in Atlanta, we stay there in the offseason, so my focus is just to keep playing and taking it day by day and, right now, it's to enjoy this weekend. ... Just taking it day by day. That's the only thing I can do. We really can't worry about three or four months from now."
Sure, he'll be 35 years old and taking in a huge salary by the end of his next contract should he stay with the Hawks, but Horford has some good years left in him. Horford has been a cornerstone for the franchise for nine years. Are they going to turn away from him now?
Likelihood of Horford being traded (4/10)
Any team hoping to nab Horford for the rest of the season knows he may only be a rental. Horford has reportedly been on the trading block for a while now, but are teams willing to give up assets in order to bring on Horford for the second half of the season? Horford could help a team like the Celtics turn into a real contender, but would he stick around next year, too? As Steve Kyler of Basketball Insider notes, Boston doesn't want to give up too many assets for a rental and the Boston Globe reported that the Celtics were "unlikely' to trade for Horford before Thursday's deadline. It's not unimaginable that he would sign with whichever team he is traded to, but it is a big risk for any team to take.
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