Paul Flannery and Tom Ziller are previewing all 30 teams via conversation. Next up: the Atlanta Hawks. Find all of the Flanns and Zillz previews here.
ZILLER: The Hawks slipped considerably in the standings last season, ending up in that four-team tie for third place. What followed was another playoff skunking at the hands of the Cavaliers.
Given that, I understand the reset Atlanta pursued in the offseason. They didn't throw everything at Al Horford — he ended up joining a rival the Hawks had beaten in the first round — but signed Dwight Howard and flipped Jeff Teague for the pick that became Taurean Prince.
Those two decisions — Howard in lieu of Horford, and Teague for a rookie — combined with retaining Kent Bazemore at a huge salary ... that's a weird offseason, right? Is the mystique of the Mike Budenholzer Hawks gone?
FLANNERY: The pace-and-space Hawks are dead. It was fun, but ultimately doomed. I get breaking up a core that topped out at 60 wins and zero against the Cavs in two playoff appearances. I get the Teague move. They had a decision to make and they went with Dennis Schroder. Getting a first-round pick for JT is fine, even if it doesn't translate well this season or even next.
What I don't get is the Howard move. In a vacuum, I still think Howard can contribute to a good team, but swapping Horford for Howard made sense in, like, 2011. It's hard to call this an upgrade, especially in the locker room. You're taking away one of the most respected veteran leaders for Dwight's candy store.
Bud is a terrific coach, but I don't see this working.
ZILLER: I can't imagine this was the plan: choose the younger, less polished point guard, but swap out the steady defensive mastermind center for a high-risk, high-reward eccentric version. If you choose Schroder and invest heavily in Bazemore, I feel like you balance that by making sure you keep your veteran leadership in place. By signing Dwight and losing Horford, you're putting a lot on Paul Millsap's shoulders.
Still, Schroder is exciting and Jarrett Jack will back him up. Millsap's maybe the most underrated player (by fans) in the league. Bazemore is improving every year.
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And Howard, for all of his faults, still impacts the game in key areas. It was a little over a year ago that he -- not James Harden, but Howard -- was at the center of an epic comeback over the elite Clippers. Last year didn't go well from the beginning, and Howard owns some portion of the blame as a veteran who ought to be able to lead. But he was excellent when healthy in 2014-15 for a good Houston team. It wasn't that long ago.
All these factors make me think Atlanta is still a playoff team in the East. Where are you at in that respect?
FLANNERY: And they tried to trade Millsap!
Yeah, I think they'll make it and I totally understand why they decided to shake things up. They were never beating the Cavs with that roster. OK, fine. Lots of teams are in that position. We owe them a year or two to figure things out. But this team isn't any closer and I don't think it will be as good as the one we've seen the last two years.
So, a philosophical question: Is it better to get out a year too soon, or ride something out to the bitter end, knowing it will be better than your present situation?
ZILLER: I can't fault them for bailing a year too early, especially since the last edition (starring Joe Johnson and Josh Smith) probably stayed together a year too long. If you need a shake-up, shake it up. But the individual moves do matter, and I'm just not sure they were good moves for this team. Maybe Schroder unleashed will prove us wrong.
If things go real poorly, Millsap has to be the most attractive trade target in the league, excepting perhaps Russell Westbrook or DeMarcus Cousins if their situations go sideways.
FLANNERY: I would trade so many assets for Millsap. A dude like that could mean legitimately swing a playoff series or two. I don't care that he can get out of his deal after this season. If I'm a contender and I feel like my team is close enough, I take a mighty big swing on Sap.
So yeah, this is a transition year for the Hawks, but at this point I'm not sure where they're going or how they're going to get there. They have smart people in place, so maybe we give them the benefit of the doubt. For now.