ESPN Analyst Labels Atlanta As A Franchise That is "Stuck In Neutral"

How can the Hawks become a contender in the NBA?
Apr 10, 2024; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) controls the ball against the Charlotte Hornets during the first half at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 10, 2024; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) controls the ball against the Charlotte Hornets during the first half at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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The Atlanta Hawks are one of the most interesting teams of this NBA offseason. The 2024 NBA Draft is less than a week away and Atlanta has been on the clock after winning the Draft Lottery. Not only that, Atlanta has to figure out what to do with the Trae Young/Dejounte Murray backcourt, as well as other veteran players such as Clint Capela and De'Andre Hunter. The Hawks have a lot of maneuvering to do if they want to get back to the NBA playoffs.

Because the Hawks have so many decisions to make, it is tough to project them for this upcoming season. In a new article for ESPN. NBA analyst Tim Bontemps was putting each NBA team into tiers and the Hawks landed in the "stuck in neutral" tier:

Total players under contract: 12
Projected salary cap space: None
Total tradeable first-round picks: Three picks, four swaps

What's next: "Atlanta beat the odds to leapfrog to the top of this year's draft, which, even in an underwhelming lottery, is still a boon for a Hawks team that hoped to be firmly in the playoffs before falling in the play-in. But beyond deciding whom to take at the top of the draft, the other obvious question looming over the Hawks is whether to move on Dejounte Murray or Trae Young after the blockbuster trade to acquire Murray from the Spurs has delivered two early postseason exits."

As of right now, it is tough to argue with that, but landing the No. 1 pick, even in a down draft like this one, does help and Atlanta. Assuming they select either Zaccharie Risacher or Donovan Clingan, those are both players that fit in with Trae Young and Jalen Johnson. Trading Dejounte Murray and Clint Capela could also give them more assets to put around those players. While I don't know if there are moves that the Hawks can make to put them in title contention next season, I think there are ways for the Hawks to be a much better team and have a better outlook for the future.

Every team in the Eastern Conference besides the Celtics has questions over whether they are legit contenders, leaving the door open for a team like Atlanta to surprise. The Pacers had a good run to the conference finals this season, but it would be remiss not to mention that they beat the Bucks without Giannis for the whole series and Damian Lillard missed a pair of games. When they beat the Knicks in seven games, New York was without Julius Randle, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Mitchell Robinson. OG Anunoby missed time in the series as well. No run to the Conference Finals should be looked down upon, but the Pacers had everything break their way. They might not be so fortunate next year.

The Knicks seem like the team that could return the most to compete with Boston, but what if Anunoby looks elsewhere in free agency? If Isaiah Hartenstein leaves in free agency, will the Knicks have a replacement? New York could certainly be the biggest threat to Boston, but there are some questions.

Milwaukee has the best player in the East, but their team is aging and does not have a lot of avenues to improve. Milwaukee also was never an elite team this season. Should they be trusted to be the No. 2 team?

Cleveland could look like a much different team when October comes around and it is tough to say where they will land due to the uncertainty around the roster. They could be right up there in the standings if Donovan Mitchell re-signs and they make the right roster moves. Cleveland is in a similar spot as Atlanta is this offseason but with better recent history.

Philadelphia has potential, but their roster is going to look brand new around Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. They also don't deserve the benefit of the doubt, as they have disappointed time and again. Could they land Paul George to pair with Embiid and Maxey? Recent reporting suggests that is unlikely. What if they strike out on all of their top targets?

Miami seems to be in a tough spot going into next season. That does not mean that Pat Riley can't find a way out of it, but their roster is getting older and they were not very good this past season.

Unless some big move happens, it is tough to see Brooklyn, Toronto, Charlotte, Detroit, and Washington being near the playoff conversation in 2024-2025. Brooklyn is the most likely to make a move out of the group and could be a threat if things break the right way for them.

Which brings us back to Atlanta. The Hawks have big questions of their own heading into next year. What happens with the backcourt of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray? Who will the Hawks take with the No. 1 pick? Will other veteran players like Clint Capela, De'Andre Hunter or Bogdan Bogdanovic be on the move as well?

While there are tons of questions, this team could be much better, but it depends on the decisions the front office makes. I think the Hawks highest ceiling would be with Young leading the way, but they have done a poor job of constructing a roster around him. That could change this offseason.

Atlanta has a chance to get pieces back in trades involving Murray and Capela, the two players that seem the most likely to be dealt this offseason, they have the top pick in the draft after having luck with the way the lottery went. That is a chance to surround Young with better pieces around him, much like the Dallas Mavericks did last offseason and at the trade deadline this year. Those moves resulted in a trip to the NBA Finals. I don't think there are enough moves Atlanta can make to get to that level, but to get to the upper half of the Eastern Conference is not out of the question.

Without knowing the specific moves they make and what other teams around the East do, it is tough to make a firm prediction over where Atlanta could be next year. It is not crazy to say that there is a big gap behind the Boston Celtics in the East and every team behind them has some questions to answer this season in terms of roster construction. With the right moves, Atlanta could make a surprising return to the top half of the Eastern Conference next season.

It is on the Hawks decision makers to get them in that position this offseason.

Jackson Caudell


Jackson Caudell covers the Atlanta Hawks and Georgia Tech Athletics for FanNation