The winds of change continue to swirl in Atlanta, as general manager Danny Ferry puts into motion the latest phase of his rebuild plan for the Hawks’ roster.
In the summer of 2012, Ferry unloaded all-star guard Joe Johnson and his mammoth contract (signed in 2010 for six years and more than $120 million) to the Brooklyn Nets in a move that indicated that the Hawks could be ready to head in a different direction. If that wasn’t enough to convince fans, then letting athletic forward Josh Smith walk in free agency this off-season certainly is.
The Hawks will also have a different philosophical approach on the court, with new head coach Mike Budenholzer replacing the offensive-minded Larry Drew. The former San Antonio Spurs assistant has vowed to develop a better defensive mentality in Atlanta and will be looking to improve on a Hawks unit that was mediocre at best last season when it came to preventing their opposition from scoring the basketball.
Additions: Pero Antic, Gustavo Ayon, Elton Brand, DeMarre Carroll, Jared Cunningham, Royal Ivey, Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder (Rookie, No. 17 overall)
Departures: Devin Harris, Ivan Johnson, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Morrow, Zaza Pachulia, Jannero Pargo, Johan Petro, Josh Smith, DeShawn Stevenson, Jeremy Tyler
The Hawks brought in veteran Elton Brand to solidify the frontcourt and the team hopes that small forward DeMarre Carroll can shore up the perimeter defence. Retaining the services of three-point specialist Kyle Korver and a healthy return season for combo guard Lou Williams, who tore his ACL in January, should space out the floor and help Al Horford and Paul Millsap, the summer’s biggest addition, set up in the paint.
- New No.1 option in Hotlanta. With J-Smoove bolting to Motown, there is no doubt that this is now Al Horford’s team. The 27-year-old Florida alumni is in his prime and will look to build on a career season in which he averaged 17.4 points per game on over 53 percent shooting from the field to go along with 10.2 boards. His low-post game and power moves are among the nastiest in the Association, and he isn’t afraid to use his mid-range jumper to keep defences honest. Check the tale of the highlight tape to see what makes Horford a perennial all-star in the Eastern Conference.
- Cha-cha-cha-changes. How the Hawks respond to Budenholzer’s voice will depend on a starting lineup built around the power games of Horford and free agent acquisition Millsap, along with fifth year point guard Jeff Teague, as well as how quickly the new faces can gel together with the returning players. The 28-year-old Millsap, AKA “The Paperboy,” will be counted on as a secondary scoring option behind Horford. Widely considered as one of the most underrated performers in the league, Millsap averaged 17.3, 16.6 and 14.6 PPG in his last three seasons, respectively, and ripped down almost nine rebounds per game during his 2011-12 campaign.
Breakout Player: Jeff Teague. If the Hawks want to make some noise in the East they will need Teague to take his game to another level. The 25-year-old guard has shown improvement every season since he entered the league and will look to build off a solid 2012-13 campaign in which he averaged 14.6 PPG, 7.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game. With his lightning-quick mobility, Teague could make a leap defensively under Budenholzer and become a go-to player on both sides of the ball. Don’t be surprised if Teague puts up numbers that make him an all-star candidate.
Scale of Decency: Half-decent. The Hawks will once again find themselves battling for one of the last three playoff spots in the East and will most likely finish with a win total close to the 44 that they accumulated last season. Atlanta is built to get into the post-season but they don’t have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets or even the New York Knicks. Within the Southeast Division the Hawks should lock up the second spot, however the up-and-coming Washington Wizards will be nipping at their heels.