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How Much Longer Can the Hawks Stay Young?

A young team on the rise faces several key offseason questions as it aims for a playoff appearance in 2021.

At this point, it's well-publicized that the Hawks have lofty ambitions for the 2021 season, which include returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. In order to do so, they'll need to improve their roster beyond counting on internal growth from a promising young core. That will likely happen via free agency -- whenever that happens -- by adding established yet unfinished players capable of providing immediate help and growing with that core. 

On Monday, SI's Rohan Nadkarni joined Madelyn Burke to discuss how much longer the Hawks can afford to stay young and what steps the team might take this offseason. 

"They're at that weird point for a young team right now where Trae Young was an All Star this year, they have a nice prospect in John Collins, but the losing has continued," Nadkarni says. "And part of the thing with building a team in the NBA is you can only be young for so long. At some point you have to take that next step, you have to mature into a playoff contender. And I think for the Hawks that means bringing in some veterans."  

Save for the teams lucky enough to draft a generational star or land one in free agency, this is the kind of next step all teams must take in order to climb up the NBA hierarchy. Progress happens slowly, a piece or two at a time, and Atlanta is at the point in its trajectory where it makes sense to take bigger swings in free agency. 

"What we’d like to do, ideally, is add guys to our core that we feel like are still growing,” Schlenk said. “Maybe not 20-year-olds, 21-year-olds like we have, but maybe guys in their mid-20s who still have room to improve and are maybe coming off their first contract, or that we feel like would be good additions to our group, and try to increase our depth a little bit."

Chief among Atlanta's needs are shooting, playmaking on the second unit, and defensive versatility at forward. Lloyd Pierce has expressed his want for vocal and professional veterans who can guide the younger players with their words and actions alike. 

The Hawks currently project to have over $49 million in cap space this summer -- the most in the NBA -- which should allow them to be major players in free agency. 

"We were projecting that to be around ($50 million). It could be around that much, it could be substantially less, depending on what happens with the rest of the season and playoffs,” Schlenk said. “But at the end of the day, we’ll have the most space."