Thursday, May 19, 2016

Offseason Overview Part II: Roster Evaluation, Free Agent Planning

In Part I, I detailed how the Hawks have failed to address the gaping hole at small forward. In this installment, we'll evaluate the current roster and discuss plans for free agency.

Prior to the playoffs, I wrote for BBall Breakdown that the Hawks this season did things backwards compared to last season. During an historic 2014-15 -- in which the Hawks won a franchise-record 60 games -- Atlanta's top five in net rating through Jan. 15 saw a decline in the second half. I created an Infogram to show these changes and how the players performed in the postseason. I added a second tab to show the same in-season change for the current season. By contrast, most of Atlanta's roster improved in net rating in the second half of the current season. The Hawks appeared to be getting hot at the right time as the playoffs approached.

Sadly, although the Hawks didn't peak too early this time, the playoff results were the same: a sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers. Below is a chart showing net rating for Hawks rotation players for the regular season, each playoff series and overall for the playoffs. It also shows the change in net rating from the regular season to the playoffs.



I've been shouted down on Twitter for making too much out of the limited sample of net rating from a single playoff series. However, I'll argue that those limited samples have more value than a full, regular season sample. As I showed with my graph on BBall Breakdown, it didn't matter if the Hawks finished the regular season hot or cold. The result in both cases was a four-game sweep by the Cavaliers. The regular season is a meaningless exercise in revenue generation. The playoffs are the only season that matters, and each successive series is vastly more relevant than the last.



Something I've noticed is that player performance can vary widely from one series to another, presumably based on match-ups. For example, Dennis Schroder was competent in the Wizards series last year but unplayable in the Eastern Conference Finals. Since Atlanta's season ended with identical four-game sweeps by the Cavaliers the last two seasons, we have two similar sets of data to compare year-over-year. Below I evaluate each player with an emphasis on how they performed in the games that mattered most.

Jeff Teague

Last year Teague was Atlanta's best player in the Cavs series. His -4.7 net rating was the best of any Hawk with at least 30 minutes. He averaged 21.5 points in four losses and was the only one of four Hawks All-Stars to really show up. This year Teague appeared to sleep walk through the first half of the season with a -2.9 net rating through Jan. 15. From that point on, Teague was +5.4, meaning he made better than an eight points per 100 possessions improvement in the second half. Against the Celtics, it looked like Teague was back in form. His +10.5 net in 176 minutes for that series was better than every Hawk except Kyle Korver (+11.7).

But then the Cavs series happened. Teague looked as bad against the Cavs this year as Schroder did last year. His -24.4 was worse than every Hawk except Al Horford and Kent Bazemore. The Hawks were almost 30 points per 100 possessions better with Schroder on court and Teague on the bench in the Cleveland series.

So what happened? Teague went into the offseason with knee and ankle issues that were "more than just normal wear and tear" according to NBA.com's K.L. Chouinard. The issues are not expected to require surgery. Additionally, Teague had to face Kyrie Irving who was injured during last season's playoffs. I expect Teague's five point, two assist, three turnover performance in Game 4 against the Cavs to be his last in a Hawks' uniform. Schroder has emerged as clearly the better player. The Hawks could use Teague as trade bait to try to fill one of the numerous holes in the roster.

Contract status: Signed through next summer on an $8 million expiring deal. The Hawks would hold his full Bird rights if he stays through the end of his current deal, allowing the team to exceed the salary cap to retain him.

Al Horford

Bismack Biyombo scored 17 points with 16 rebounds to help the Raptors win Game 7 against the Heat and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Al Horford had 14 rebounds for THE ENTIRE CLEVELAND SERIES. Only Bazemore was worse than Horford's -25.9 net.

Horford entered the second round as the worst mid-range shooter in the playoffs. Atlanta's center is among the most accurate mid-range shooting big men in NBA history. The sudden disappearance of his mid-range game could stem from his effort to stretch his range out to the three-point line. Maybe shooting from longer distances has negatively impacted his mid-range accuracy.

One could make a similar theory about Horford's rebounding, which has decreased on a per 36 minute basis in each of the last three seasons. Perhaps Horford's newfound fascination with the three point shot has pulled him away from the basket. Harrison Barnes, for whom the Hawks could conceivably sign-and-trade Horford, had a 12 rebound game in Golden State's series against Portland.

Another possibility is that Horford has been preoccupied with avoiding injury ahead of his presumptive max payday this summer. I can't say that I wouldn't avoid contact if $145 million was on the line. However, the Hawks must now contemplate what sort of player they'd be getting for the money. Maybe Horford comes back better than ever once his new contract is signed. Or maybe what we saw against Cleveland is what Horford is at this point.

In my opinion, Joe Johnson held more value as a player when the Hawks traded him than Horford does now. If the Hawks sign Horford to a max contract, Atlanta will be in the same position it was in when Ferry was hired: in need of a regime change to bring in a miracle worker to trade away the mistakes of the last regime.

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent. There is an $18 million cap hold that counts against Atlanta's salary cap this summer until he signs a new contract or the Hawks renounce his rights. Hawks hold full Bird rights so they can exceed the salary cap to sign him to what could be the largest contract in NBA history. Hawks can also offer a fifth contract year no other team can offer, something Horford has said is important to him.

Paul Millsap

This will be the lone bright spot among Atlanta's incumbent starters. Millsap's 21.3 Player Efficiency Rating was the second best of his career. He was 11th in the NBA in Real Plus Minus and fourth among Eastern Conference players. Millsap had a phenomenal career year and the Hawks are fortunate to have him under contract for one more season before a player option in 2017. He'll almost certainly opt out to sign a long term deal after next season, which makes Atlanta's moves this summer critical if the franchise hopes to keep him long term.

Contract status: Under contract through next summer for $20,072,033. Player option next summer for $21,472,407 which he will almost certainly decline to become an unrestricted free agent and sign a long-term deal. The Hawks will hold his full Bird rights whenever he becomes a free agent.

Kyle Korver

When Kyle Korver signed his current contract, which expires after next season, many Hawks fans groaned about the fourth guaranteed year. Korver will be 36 when the contract concludes and it's reasonable to wonder how a player not known for his athleticism will age. I was among the doubters, and I'm not ashamed to admit I was wrong. Korver has vastly outperformed his contract. He was second only to Schroder in net rating among Hawks to play at least 600 minutes this season. That's remarkable for a player coming off two offseason surgeries.

Early this season I told BBall Breakdown's Kacy Sager that the biggest roster issue facing the Hawks was the lack of a starting small forward. I suggested that the Hawks start Thabo Sefolosha at small forward to allow Kent Bazemore to play his natural position of shooting guard. Some believe that Korver performs best as a starter since the other starters are more familiar with the sequences used to get Korver open. I argued that, with Korver losing some speed due to surgery, he would probably have more success getting open against bench players.

It took until Game 3 of the Cavs series for Budenholzer to try this lineup. In Games 1 and 2, the Hawks were annihilated by 35.7 points per 100 possessions in Korver's 56 minutes, a team-worst. Bud finally cracked and brought Korver off the bench for Games 3 & 4, during which the Hawks outscored the Cavaliers by 7.1 points per 100 possessions in Korver's 57 minutes, best of any Hawk with double-digit minutes except Schroder and Kris Humphries. That's nearly a 43 point improvement in nearly identical minutes. In a series in which the Hawks held fourth-quarter leads in three of four games, adjustments like these matter. Unfortunately, Budenholzer waited until it was too late.

Contract status: Signed through next summer on an expiring deal at $5,239,437. Hawks hold full Bird rights at expiration.

Kent Bazemore

In the preseason I wrote that Bazemore has the "it" factor and he was ready to seize the opportunity as a starter. He responded with a career year and averaged 11.6 points (almost double his previous career high), 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals. Bazemore is, hands down, one of the best interviews in the NBA. At Media Day he talked about how it was his mission in life to make people smile. The way he carries himself proves it.

Bazemore is a big part of Hawks culture. If he departs, he's irreplaceable. There's nobody the Hawks can find with his combination of hustle, athleticism, productivity and positivity. Baze undoubtedly has additional upside as a full-time shooting guard after shooting over 35% from three and scoring in double figures in six of ten playoff games. However, the Cleveland series showed that he has a long way to go.

Against the Cavs, Atlanta was outscored by a series-worst 27.8 points per 100 possessions in Bazemore's 133 minutes. Given his potential, Bazemore is a prime candidate to receive an absurd contract this summer. As such, I believe we have also seen the last of Bazemore in a Hawks uniform. If Atlanta keeps Horford, it would take the remaining cap space to offer Bazemore a contract similar to what DeMarre Carroll received last summer from the Raptors. Even if he signs for half that, the Hawks are left with something like $8 million to address the team's rebounding woes and lack of a starting-caliber small forward.

Since Ferry was hired as GM, the Hawks have signed Carroll as a free agent and traded for Sefolosha. Those are the only significant small forwards the Hawks have acquired in that time, and Carroll is already gone for the same reason Bazemore is likely gone: Ferry failed to get a team option on a third season which would have granted full Bird rights at the deal's conclusion. Bazemore has been great for the Hawks, but this is the biggest lesson they need to take from his impending departure: the Hawks MUST stop giving two-year contracts to development projects. Otherwise the Hawks will essentially be a farm system, developing players while other teams reap the benefits during their prime.

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent. Since he has not played three seasons with the Hawks, Atlanta only holds "early" Bird rights, meaning it can only sign him for 175% of his previous salary or the league average, whichever is greater (via Larry Coon's CBA FAQ). The league average for 2015-16 is $5.7 million. The Hawks would have to use cap space to sign him for a greater amount. Bazemore has a $2,600,000 cap hold.

Dennis Schroder

If the Hawks trade Dennis Schroder, it will be like the Falcons trading Brett Favre, already knowing how good he would become. At 22, he's clearly better than Teague. Yes, he's erratic at times and forces too much isolation. Yes, he needs to become a better floor general. But this is the only player on Atlanta's roster with superstar potential. Trading him would be franchise suicide. It would be like trading Pau Gasol for Shareef Abdur-Rahim or Bill Russell for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan.

Mike Budenholzer needs to figure that out and get over it. Is Schroder a stubborn, willful millenial with his own ideas about what it takes to win? Yes. Do the Hawks have a better chance to win with Teague? One glance at net rating for the Cleveland series should make the answer obvious.

This leads to the single biggest question about Atlanta's 2015-16 season: What was Budenholzer thinking playing Teague all those minutes when he was so clearly ineffective? In Game 1, Schroder scored 27 points with six assists. His plus-minus was better than every Hawk except Mike Scott. The next two games, Bud played him 14 and 12 minutes. Hello? McFly?

In Game 4, Teague was a joke. He finished his season with a five point, two assist, three turnover performance in 22 minutes. His -11 was worse than every Hawk except Bazemore. Schroder scored 21 points with six assists, three rebounds, two steals, a block and a +11 that was second only to Korver. The Hawks lost by a single point. If Teague played 20 minutes instead of 22, the Hawks possibly win the game. The Hawks were almost 29 points per 100 possessions better with Schroder on court and Teague on the bench in the series.

Dennis Schroder is the future of the Atlanta Hawks.

Contract status: Signed for $2,708,582 next season after which the Hawks must tender a $3,824,518 qualifying offer for 2017-18. Schroder is eligible to negotiate an extension but more likely to enter restricted free agency next summer.

Thabo Sefolosha

Sefolosha's net rating in the Cavs series was better than any Hawk except Schroder (minimum 50 minutes). One of the biggest factors in Atlanta's historic 60-win season was the performance of Sefolosha and Pero Antic off the bench in the first half of the season. Sefolosha could have helped more against Cleveland if Budenholzer had gone to him sooner. As with last season when he backed up Carroll, his greatest value would be as a backup to a legitimate starting small forward next season.

Contract status: Signed for $3,850,000 on an expiring deal. The Hawks would hold full Bird rights for Sefolosha if he remains with the team through next summer.

Tim Hardaway Jr.

In March I did this interview with Hardaway to ask him about the discrepancy between his defensive reputation and the phenomenal defensive numbers he put up this season. According to optical tracking data on NBA.com, opponents shot 7.4% below their season average when guarded by Hardaway this season. That represented a significant drop-off from the number I quoted Hardaway in March, but it's still outstanding. This compares favorably to Sefolosha, who has a much better defensive reputation and held opponents 5.1% below their season average.

Unfortunately this didn't translate to the playoffs, where opponents shot 9.6% above average while guarded by Hardaway. Against the Celtics, Atlanta was outscored by 13.8 points per 100 possessions with Hardaway on court, the worst net rating of any Hawk with double-digit minutes. Strangely, he flipped that stat on its head in the Cleveland series, where the Hawks outscored the Cavs by 25.6 per 100 with Hardaway on court, the team's best net rating (minimum 20 minutes). Sadly, this was just a 28-minute sample, too little to draw conclusions. Nevertheless we're left to wonder, as with Schroder, what might have happened if Budenholzer had played Hardaway more.

Overall it was an up-and-down season for Hardaway. An offseason wrist injury resulted in his worst shooting season from three-point range. Nonetheless, his 54% shooting on two-pointers was easily a career best as was his phenomenal 89% free throw shooting. Those numbers speak well of his potential to have a bounce-back season from deep in 2016-17.

The biggest question is, will Hardaway supplant Korver as Atlanta's starting shooting guard next season? The Hawks can't afford to pursue a small forward in free agency if they spend that money on Bazemore, who plays the same position as Hardaway. Budenholzer passed on Kelly Oubre and Justin Anderson in the draft to make Hardaway his shooting guard of the future. It's time to put that plan into action.

Contract status: Hardaway is part of the same rookie class as Schroder. He's signed for $2,281,605 for next season, after which the Hawks would need to tender a $3,335,707 qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent.

Tiago Splitter

What have the Spurs done without him (or without him healthy) in the playoffs the last two seasons? When BBall Breakdown editor Jesse Blanchard mentioned the value of Splitter's dives to the basket for the Spurs, here was ESPN's Zach Lowe's response:

When you listen to Hawks fans talk about Tiago Splitter, they generally think Bud traded for him solely as a favor to Gregg Popovich -- to help the Spurs open up cap space to sign LaMarcus Aldridge. Above is what some of the best minds in basketball media think about Splitter's value.

Contract status: Signed for $8,550,000 on a deal that expires next summer. The Hawks inherited his full Bird rights when they acquired him from the Spurs.

Kris Humphries

The Hawks have to find a way to keep this dude. Atlanta outscored the Cavaliers by 20.5 points per 100 possessions in the series with Humphries on court. As mentioned, the Hawks had a fourth quarter lead in three of the four games. Humphries played only 47 minutes for the series. If he had played more, it could have made a difference. For the last three postseasons, the Hawks have used Mike Scott at times as the first big man off the bench. In the Boston series, he showed his value, shooting 8-for-16 from three including a 17 point performance in Game 5. Against the Cavaliers, Scott attempted only one three and Atlanta was outscored by 19.3 points per 100 in his 43 minutes. Imagine if Bud had given those minutes to Humphries.

Next season, Horford and Scott could be gone. Splitter will hopefully make a full recovery and give the Hawks a big man who can attack the basket and provide crafty interior passes. However, Splitter does not stretch the floor. Antic taught us the value of that last season and it looked like Humphries provided some of that against Cleveland. Humphries is under the radar and the Hawks might be able to sign him at a reasonable price. It would take some of the sting away from losing Horford.

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent. Since he has played less than two full seasons for the Hawks and he was not acquired via trade, the Hawks hold no Bird rights. Atlanta would have to use cap space to sign him.

Mike Muscala

I thought Muscala failed to live up to the promise he showed in last season's Wizards series. Like Humphries, Hardaway and Kirk Hinrich, Muscala oddly showed poorly in the Celtics series but played well against the Cavaliers in limited minutes. Next season is the last of Muscala's contract. It will be his chance to put it all together and show that he deserves to be a part of the long term future.

Contract status: The Hawks hold a team option for $1,015,696 they will almost certainly exercise. There could be a scenario where the Hawks decline this option to open cap space, but if they fall below 12 players, a roster charge would deduct about half the space. If he stays with Atlanta, the Hawks will have his full Bird rights next summer.

Mike Scott

I felt like Scott was having a breakout season until he fell flat against the Cavaliers. There's no shame in that. Cleveland hasn't lost a game in the playoffs, so plenty of players have failed to make a dent in them. Scott lit it up for a career-high 39.2% shooting from three this season. This made him a bright spot in what was otherwise a down shooting year for Atlanta. After ranking second in the NBA in three-point percentage last season (38%), the Hawks plunged to 15th on 35% shooting. Atlanta has failed to shoot well from distance in the playoffs the last two years, ranking 11th of 16 playoff teams on 32% shooting in 2015 and ninth on 33% this year.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers are shooting an absurd 45.5% from three in these playoffs. Nothing is more valuable in the NBA right now than shooting. Thus, a player like Scott has value and will have a job as long as his legal issues don't derail it. Scott was arrested July 30 and charged with felony drug possession. He could face up to 25 years in jail.

Contract status: Scott's $3,333,334 contract for next season is non-guaranteed, meaning the Hawks can waive him and open an equal amount of cap space. Due to the value of outside shooting, I could see the Hawks picking up his option and letting the NBA void his contract if he's unable to play in the future due to a conviction. The Hawks have until July 10th, the guarantee date for Scott's contract, to make a decision. Atlanta holds full Bird rights.

Kirk Hinrich

I thought the signings of Humphries and Hinrich at the trade deadline were two of the best moves Wes Wilcox has made as GM of the Hawks. While former Hawk Shelvin Mack was dead last in net rating for Atlanta this season, Hinrich was seventh among rotation players for the Bulls and significantly better than Derrick Rose. Although he played well in the Cavs series, he did not play enough minutes -- regular season or playoffs -- to know how much he has left in the tank.

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent. The Hawks inherited Hinrich's full Bird rights when they acquired him in trade from the Bulls. His cap hold is not listed on Basketball Insiders.

Edy Tavares

Spent most of the season in the NBA Development League. Has some potential as a rim protector, a decent shooting touch and handles the ball fairly well. It remains to be seen if he has the foot speed to be a factor at the NBA level. Tavares remains an interesting development project and he's expected to play in the Summer League again, when we'll get a much better idea of how he has progressed.

Contract status: Signed for next season for a fully-guaranteed $1 million. His $1,014,746 for 2017-18 is fully non-guaranteed and the Hawks could make him a restricted free agent the following summer. Atlanta would hold full Bird rights in the summer of 2018.

Lamar Patterson

Patterson led Atlanta's Summer League squad in scoring and assists. Unfortunately he shot just 35% from the field and 24.5% from three in 395 minutes this season. He averages 3.6 assists and just 2.1 turnovers per 36 minutes, which shows that he's a playmaking two with a tight handle. This allowed him to see minutes at the NBA level despite the fact that his outside shot never made an appearance. He also averages 4.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, so if he starts hitting from outside, he has value as a facilitator in Atlanta's system.

Contract status: His $874,636 for next season is fully non-guaranteed, after which the Hawks could make him a restricted free agent. Patterson could be a casualty if the Hawks need to open a roster spot or clear a bit of cap space. Because he's not seen as having a lot of value around the league, the Hawks could waive him and still potentially sign him again at a later date.

Mike Budenholzer

Coach/President Bud experienced quite a drop off from the highs of a 60-win season and Coach of the Year honors. After he was promoted to top decision maker, he made a draft-day trade for Hardaway that wasn't well-received and hasn't produced much tangible benefit. Gregg Popovich credited Budenholzer with masterminding the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the Spurs. This boosted Budenholzer's profile as a talent evaluator to such a degree that new Hawks ownership tapped him to be the team's President of Basketball Operations with Wilcox reporting to him. In the future, Bud's reputation as a talent evaluator will be judged on how Hardaway performs relative to Kelly Oubre and Justin Anderson, the 3-and-D wings Bud passed on to trade for Hardaway.

Bud's rep as a high-level coach also took a beating. For the past two seasons -- regular season and playoffs -- the Hawks are 4-15 in games that were within two points at the end of regulation. This includes a current nine-game losing streak in overtime games that stretches back to Nov. 7, 2014. Elite coaching is supposed to give a team an advantage in close games but, over the last two seasons, the Hawks haven't experienced any such advantage.

Fortunately for Bud, I believe he has the intelligence and humility to absorb criticism and find a way to make this franchise better. Probably my favorite moment as a sports journalist was after Atlanta's 107-84 loss in Charlotte in January. I spoke with Bud outside the visitor's locker room after the game, and, as you can see in the video, he looked worn down. The Hawks played on three days rest, and I quoted back to Bud what he said after the previous win over the Bulls about Atlanta's lack of success after extended rest.

To a casual observer, it might seem as if Bud was being short or blowing off my question. I didn't feel that way at all. I felt like Bud had opened up a window on his soul. He told me they had tried everything to change the pattern of coming out flat on extended rest but nothing had worked. I don't think he wanted to go into detail and spend a bunch of time throwing his guys under the bus. It was a moment of pure honesty.

The media that covers the Hawks are, in general, lap dogs. Mark Zinno from 92.9 The Game is about the only person who ever grills Bud during pressers. So it's a different experience for Budenholzer than what New York coaches face. Nonetheless, from having the privilege to spend a lot of time around the team this season, I'm still convinced that Bud is the right man for the job. I think he has the strength of character to guide this team through the highs and lows and eventually get it to a better place.

Ownership

As with Bud, I continue to feel that the Hawks are in good hands with the new ownership group. I haven't had a chance to speak with principal owners Tony Ressler and Jami Gertz but Sager and I got to spend a little time with Atlanta- and New York-based owners Jesse Itzler and Sara Blakely. Both are self-made success stories that used imagination and creativity to carve out business empires. Blakely owns Spanx, which is headquartered in Buckhead, so the couple spend a lot of time in Atlanta when not at their principal residence on New York's Central Park. You see them all over Philips Arena at home games and Itzler has to be one of the most accessible NBA owners.

I believe their ethic of imagining new ways to do things rather than follow the crowd will ultimately help the Hawks reach a higher level of success than we've seen.

Moving forward

Let's say the Hawks keep Horford's $18 million cap hold so they can exceed the cap to sign him (possibly as part of a sign-and-trade). Let's further say the Hawks renounce the cap holds for Baze and Hinrich and decline team options for Mike Scott and Lamar Patterson. Including about a $1.25 million cap hold for the 21st pick, the Hawks would have just over $73 million committed to 12 players. That would leave just under $19 million in cap space. The Hawks would be a trade away from opening a lowest-tier max salary (for a player with less than seven years of experience) starting at just over $21 million.

I believe that having a max slot available at the open of free agency is going to be a prerequisite for agents. With about two thirds of the league expected to have at least $25 million in cap space, agents may de-prioritize teams that are a move or two away from getting in that conversation. You want outside-the-box thinking? Here's what Sporting News editor Adi Joseph had to say about one of my free agency ideas:

Biyombo has been among the Raptors' net rating leaders all season, including during the regular season series against the Cavaliers. He didn't show well in Game 1 and, if the Raptors don't play better than the Hawks in this series, I may cool on him. But the repulsion Joseph had at the idea of offering Biyombo a max contract is the exact repulsion I feel about giving Horford the largest contract in NBA history.

Here's the deal. Atlanta's gatekeepers of mediocrity, also known as its sports media, are falling all over each other to parrot the phrase "you can't tear it down." What does that mean, exactly? Would the experience of the Trail Blazers, which lost four starters from last year, be considered the equivalent of "tearing it down" if they had willingly gone in a different direction from those players?

What Portland did, albeit involuntarily, is build around two of the three best players on last season's roster. Oh, you didn't know C.J. McCollum was that good? The Hawks have an opportunity to do something similar by building around Millsap and Schroder. Millsap may not like it. Players tend to prefer what they're familiar with. But the key point is that you simply cannot pay Horford, who routinely gets nullified by the fourth-best player on a contending roster (aka Tristan Thompson), the salary of a first-option player.

That would put you right back where the Hawks were when they maxed Joe Johnson. It's funny because it's the same argument all over again: The Hawks won't be able to obtain equal talent if they let Horford walk. That may be true, but that's not what I'm proposing.

First, the Hawks need to figure out what they're doing with Teague. Assuming the Hawks aren't looking into their own version of the Favre trade, the Hawks should look at trade scenarios involving Teague to move up in the draft. The Hawks could revisit Teague for Alec Burks or shop him to the 76ers with an eye on Robert Covington to address Atlanta's wing depth. Any such trade should hopefully bring back less salary to help the Hawks achieve that max salary slot prior to free agency.

Next, I would engage the Warriors in trade talks centered around Horford and one of their impending restricted free agents, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli. The Warriors are facing a cap crunch with those players eligible to sign offer sheets with other teams. If the Warriors are interested in Horford (and Horford is interested in the Warriors), they might explore a sign-and-trade that swaps Barnes for Horford. The salaries won't match exactly, but Golden State may be looking to also dump the expiring contract of Andrew Bogut. There's all kinds of possibilities here, all of which are worth exploring.

Bud will naturally be more inclined to have this conversation with the Spurs, but they lack attractive assets they'd be willing to trade. The only player I can see the Spurs parting with is Danny Green, but he only makes $10 million.

And next is July 1st. The Hawks should be standing in Biyombo's driveway at the open of free agency, just like the Raptors' front office was standing in DeMarre Carrol's last summer. If you can get him for a reasonable contract, great. But you've got to be ready to negotiate as soon as free agency begins. What I'd like to see is a platoon of Splitter (the pick and roll partner), Humphries (the floor stretcher) and a rebounder/rim protector like Biyombo. I'm fine with Horford playing somewhere else if I can get something close to that power rotation for next season. I just need somebody who can get me more than 14 rebounds in a playoff series.

If a starting wing isn't available via trades or the draft, the Hawks' best bets in free agency are Jared Dudley -- who could be snatched from the Wizards while they are figuring out Bradley Beal's contract and daydreaming of Kevin Durant -- and Wesley Johnson. The latter the Hawks reportedly pursued last summer before he signed with the Lakers. He can opt out of his contract this summer. Johnson may have had enough of losing and Atlanta's starting small forward slot might hold appeal.

So, one last time. Here's net rating from Game 4 of the Cavs series. This is a win-or-go-home game. I need guys that can help the Hawks reach the next level, which means winning at least one game the next time Atlanta faces Cleveland in the playoffs. This was a one point loss. I don't want to talk about max contracts and eight figure deals with anybody who appears below Thabo Sefolosha on that list.

All salary numbers via Basketball Insiders' Hawks salary page. Thanks as always to the great Eric Pincus for maintaining these numbers so I don't have to.

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