With the Atlanta Hawks trading the behemoth known as Joe Johnson’s contract and Marvin Williams’ bloated contract last summer and with Josh Smith’s contract up at the end of the year, the Hawks will have a massive amount of cap space in the off-season. With up and coming point guard, Jeff Teague also a free agent this off-season, the only players signed on past 2013-14 is All-Star center Al Horford and elite sixth man scorer, Lou Williams, so they have a lot of cap space to spend and a lot of roster spots to fill up. With cap space comes possibilities and options and the Hawks will have many options this summer and beyond if they choose to save their money this year. With Johnson, they had reached their ceiling as a second round playoff team, but the team wisely realized that they could never contend with the roster of years past and blew the team up. This off-season, they will have the chance to use the cap space gained last summer to try and see if they can finally build a contender. They have almost countless options, but it basically comes down to three general states of mind. 1. Stay the Course… 2. Keep Core, But Add A Big Piece… 3. Go For It All…
Option 1: Stay The Course
1. Resign Josh Smith Long Term (4 years, 60 million)
2. Resign Jeff Teague Long Term (4 years, 30 million)
3. Find Solid Role Players
4. Keep Open Cap Space For Later Trades or Signings
Foundation: Al Horford, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague and lots of future cap space
– With Josh Smith and starting point guard Jeff Teague both free agents this summer, two of their three best players will be on the market. In this scenario, the Hawks are very cautious and decide to stay the course. Resigning Smith and Teague, while still having All-Star center Al Horford in town, would create a very solid three-man foundation to build around. In this scenario, they decide to preserve the cap space for future trades or signings. This would keep their massive cap space in town, while keeping their option open in the years to come. This is not the splash Hawks fans are hoping for, but the Hawks may have their sights further down the road. Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are the only two superstar players eligible for free agency this year and if they feel they would be better off waiting for a star next year, they could keep the core intact, while waiting for a big fish. They would also be wise to use a small portion of their cap space to improve their depth, in order to improve short-term, but their future would still be bright and full of potential with the cap space to add significant pieces, to get better at a later date.
Option 2: Keep Core, But Add A Substantial Piece
1. Resign Josh Smith Long term (4 years, 60 million)
2. Resign Jeff Teague Long Term (4 years, 30 million)
3. Sign All-Star Caliber Player (OJ Mayo) (3 years, 27 million)
4. Fill Out Roster With Solid Role Players
5. Preserve Some Cap Space
Foundation: Al Horford, Josh Smith, OJ Mayo, Jeff Teague and some cap space
– This scenario also sees them keeping Josh Smith and Jeff Teague, but using part of their cap space to sign an All-Star caliber player, who fills a need. The Hawks desperately need a go-to player on the perimeter and a go-to scorer at big moments and OJ Mayo has proven in Dallas that he has what it takes to be player for them. With Dallas’ sights on bigger prizes, they may let Mayo go to preserve cap space and he would be perfect on the Hawks. Josh Smith and Al Horford are both All-Star caliber players, but neither is the pure scorer that Mayo is. Without Johnson, they do not have a go-to scorer and shooter on the wing, who can carry the team when their big men struggle and Mayo could come in and replace Johnson’s production for less than half the price. It truly is a perfect fit. With Horford, Smith and Mayo, they would have three players who could step up on any given night and carry the team. Add in Jeff Teague, who has become a very good scorer and has improved his distribution and they would have a solid four man core, signed long-term and all under the age of 27. The team would still have some cap space to work with in future seasons, if they filled the team with smaller contracts and they would be a top 4 team in the Eastern Conference for years to come and capable of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Option 3: Go For it All
1. Ship Al Horford and Lou Williams to the Los Angeles Lakers in a sign and trade for Dwight Howard (5 year, Max Contract)
2. Resign Josh Smith Long-Term (4 years, 60 million)
3. Resign Jeff Teague Long-Term (4 years, 30 million)
4. Sign All-Star Caliber Player (OJ Mayo) (3 years, 27 million)
5. Fill Out Roster With Minimum Salary Players
Foundation: Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, OJ Mayo, Jeff Teague
– Once the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard over the summer, it seemed a certainty that he would stay in Los Angeles long term, but with the Lakers’ collapse this year, it would not be surprising if he were to leave LA. If he were to leave Los Angeles, going to Atlanta would make sense for many reasons. Dwight Howard is from Atlanta, Josh Smith is one of his best friends and the Hawks actually have a package that could entice the Lakers, so if the Hawks wanted to go for a home run, this is a possibility. Howard would give them a defensive anchor and a go-to player in the post. Smith is the perfect frontcourt pairing with Howard, as a power forward who plays outside of the paint, leaving Howard alone to dominate down low. With Howard in the post, Smith would get numerous opportunities to drive to the paint unopposed and with the double teams Howard sees, Smith would get multiple wide open jump shots a game, which he has improved on this year. They would also become the best defensive big-man duo in the NBA. If they resigned Teague, they would have their point guard and with Mayo, who once again is a perfect fit in Atlanta, they would have their go-to perimeter player and an incredible four-man foundation, in which to move forward with long-term. This would take up almost all of their cap space and they would have to fill the rest of the roster with lower salary players, but they would become a top 2-3 team in the Eastern Conference and a finals contender. This is a long-shot, but it is a possibility and they have the pieces to make it happen and so it must be mentioned. This is the ideal scenario for which the Hawks to improve.