With the trade deadline looming and December 15 (the date when recently-signed players became trade-eligible) in the rearview mirror, the NBA trade market and rumor will begin to heat up in the coming weeks. While it might not bring a blockbuster swap like this summer's trades that sent Paul George to the Clippers and Russell Westbrook to the Rockets, trade season could be an opportunity for team to solidify rosters and clarify identities.
The Hawks will likely be an aggressive team before and around the deadline, even if they don't add a franchise-altering player to their young core. While Atlanta should be primarily focused on the future, it should think hard about upgrading at center and backup point guard to better complement Trae Young, who does the bulk of the heavy lifting in the team's offense.
The Thunder are reportedly open to trading Steven Adams, and according to Chris Kirschner of The Athletic, the Hawks could be among the teams pursuing Oklahoma City's big man.
"The Thunder’s Steven Adams is one of those players who could be dealt before the deadline, and he is someone who has been discussed by the Hawks, according to a source inside the organization," Kirschner wrote. "Adams will make $27 million next season before becoming a free agent in 2021, which is the year Giannis Antetokounmpo could explore free agency, so acquiring Adams would not impact the Hawks during what could be a loaded free agency class."
The Hawks have been starting rookie Bruno Fernando at center recently and figure to use John Collins at that position a fair amount now that his 25-game suspension has ended. That is not a tenable approach if Atlanta plans on improving its defense this season. Adams, an outstanding rim-runner and interior defender, would be as close to an idea fit in Atlanta as any realistically available center. He is slightly overpaid in a vacuum, but would patch enough holes for the Hawks to be worth his contract.
With legitimate center size and above-average athleticism, Adams puts a significant amount of pressure on defenses in the pick-and-roll. He has great timing and feel as a screener, with a sense of when to ram defenders and when to slip free to the basket:
His picks are as punishing as any in the NBA:
That would make him a near-perfect partner for Young, who is already one of the league's preeminent lob passers. Adams has shot at least 63 percent at the rim in each of the last five seasons (including 73 percent this season), and his roll gravity is such that simply by diving hard to the rim he collapses defenses and creates openings on the weak side:
Defensively, he seldom gets caught out of position and uses his physicality to wall off the rim and contest shots. He's nimble enough to momentarily corral most guards on the perimeter, and perhaps most importantly, would help shore up Atlanta's massive rebounding issues.
Structuring a deal for Adams is tricky from the Hawks' perspective. Any trade would have to include Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, or Chandler Parsons, all of whom make at least $18.5 million this year. The Hawks currently have almost $5 million in cap space, which would allow them to take back more salary in a trade than they send out, but Atlanta only has two tradable players on mid-sized deals.
Jabari Parker's $6.5 million or Alex Len's $4.2 million could be used as salary ballast, though it's unclear whether the Thunder would be interested in Parker, who wouldn't align with the team's trajectory if it dealt Adams. Parsons makes almost exactly as much money as Adams and approximately zero percent of the value. Crabbe and Turner have overwhelmingly negative value on their contracts as well.
It feels exceedingly unlikely that Atlanta will trade any of its young perimeter players at this point, and given where the Hawks project to finish in the standings, they should be wary of surrendering their own first-round picks. The Thunder could likely extract a modestly promising young player for Adams from another team. Would the Hawks protect outgoing draft picks lightly enough for the Thunder to bite?
Something like Len, Crabbe or Turner, and the Nets' lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick (acquired in the Taurean Prince trade) might intrigue the pick-hoarding Thunder. That would keep open Atlanta's paths toward giving Collins and Fernando opportunity at center and give Oklahoma City an immediate replacement in the center rotation without any long-term commitment. The Hawks also own the Thunder's 2022 lottery-protected first-rounder from the Dennis Schröder trade.
If the Thunder are resigned to keeping Chris Paul through the season, trading Adams alone wouldn't necessarily bump them out of playoff contention, and Adams is just young enough for the Hawks to consider re-signing him once his contract expires. Adams' backup, Nerlens Noel, would also be worth pursuing at a lower cost but has a no-trade clause.
As with any trade he makes this season, Travis Schlenk will ultimately have to decide how much of the future he’s willing to mortgage and whether the ensuing short-term results are worth the sacrifice. By neglecting to sign a backup point guard or fortify the center rotation over the summer, Schlenk did not build a team ready to compete this season. He told Kirschner earlier this month that the team’s internal projections pegged the Hawks for roughly 30 wins this year. But Young exploded into stardom faster than most could have expected, which cast the roster’s deficiencies into stark relief. Atlanta must now decide how much – and how quickly, they’re willing to pay for those shortcomings.