Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Bobcats shooting guard Gerald Henderson (9) drives on New York Knicks small forward Steve Novak (16) during the second half at Time Warner Arena. Mandatory Credit: Curtis Wilson-USA TODAY Sports
After a whirlwind beginning to July’s Free Agency period, players can start signing official contracts today. As a result, the urgency has ramped up a bit, and the Hawks are in need of additional talent to fill their roster, even after the Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll acquisitions. In that vein, let’s take a look at the remaining free agents in three sections: the current targets, the should-be targets, and everyone else.
In the interest of stewardship, I won’t go on and on about these three players. First, former Lakers and Sixers center Andrew Bynum met with Hawks brass on Tuesday, and the team (along with a few other franchises) is awaiting a decision on a potential contract. Bynum is, by far, the best player available on the market in terms of talent, but there are massive question marks. First, he missed the entirety of last season with knee issues, and he’s been historically fragile throughout his career in the league, playing in only 392 games over 8 seasons. Secondly, he’s a documented head case off of the court (just take a look at his hair, etc.), and even on the court, his behavior is sometimes on the fringe (remember his clothesline of JJ Barea? How about him taking his shirt off before exiting the arena?). To be frank and honest, Bynum is one of my least favorite players in the league, but when the talent (5 straight seasons with a 20+ PER, for example) is this high, there is an argument for bringing him in if it is a short-term play to minimize risk. I would still oppose the move unless it was at a violent discount, but it is much more explainable than one of the options in the next paragraph.
Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are the other two current focuses for Atlanta, and I wrote an entire piece about the prospect of bringing Ellis to town. In short, the title was “just say no” and that says everything you need to know. He’s a one-dimensional player who doesn’t even perform that one dimension in an efficient way, and he’s also duplicated by the presence of Lou Williams. Any questions? As for Jennings, Carlos Collazo took on the Jennings/Jeff Teague comparison earlier in the day, and I would mostly echo his sentiments. I’m not 100% sold on the fact that Jennings’ can improve his efficiency, as he is a shoot-first point guard who has performed this way on every level. However, his talent exceeds Teague’s, and if reports that Teague is “almost unwanted in Atlanta” (according to Grantland’s Zach Lowe) are true, then this could be real. There are certainly fit concerns with a Jennings/Williams backcourt as well, but I would much, much rather have Jennings than Ellis, and there is real upside there. There is talk of an offer sheet from Milwaukee to Jeff Teague, and that would surely turn up the heat on all 3 players, so stay tuned on this.
In addition to the “big three” of current targets, ESPN’s Marc Stein is now reporting interest by the Hawks in guard Mo Williams. Williams is the former Cleveland, Milwaukee, Utah, and LA Clippers point guard who once starred alongside Lebron James in route to an All-Star selection (albeit misguided). He would be an interesting fit in the Hawks’ backcourt should Atlanta elect to let Teague walk without compensation, but he isn’t exactly a pure point guard, but more of a shooter. Williams has a sparkling 38.6% career 3-point percentage but despite that, he has been nothing more than an “average” NBA player if his 15.4 career PER is any indication. For me, he would be an ultra valuable 6th man candidate if Lou Williams wasn’t already employed, but I’m not wild about a Williams/Williams backcourt pairing if Mo is my starting point guard. Food for thought.
Obviously, the title of this section lends itself to players that I personally enjoy. There is one “elite” player on the market (depending on what you think about Bynum) in the form of Nikola Pekovic. While any team would love to have his services, it is widely believed that Minnesota will match any reasonable offer, and the Hawks can’t afford to break the bank (picture a max-level contract) for a big man at this point. Let’s glance at a few “other” guys that I would love to see in a Hawks uniform.
Gerald Henderson is a name that I am not seeing mentioned a lot, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. He is a restricted free agent from Charlotte (which hurts his value), but he’s a two-way player who could come on a reasonable contract at a position (shooting guard) which the league is starved for at the moment. Henderson had the best season of his career in 2012-2013, averaging over 15 points a game while shooting 45% from the field and posting a 16.48 PER. In addition, he took off in the second half of the season, averaging over 18 points a game as his shooting percentages took off. The Hawks are in need of a shooting guard with capable size, and at 6-foot-5, Henderson would be a great fit. ESPN’s Amin Elhassan has him pegged for a $3 million annual salary, and I would love to see the Hawks through an offer sheet at Henderson in the neighborhood of 3 years and $10-$12 million.
Another intriguing option would be former Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko. He would come at a higher price tag than Henderson, but if the Hawks strike out on Bynum (let’s hope), Kirilenko would likely cost less than Bynum would have, and would be a much safer option. He is an extremely skilled two-player, and while he probably isn’t the “elite” guy on the defensive end that he once was, I think he will be more than capable of changing games on that end in the coming years. Offensively, he isn’t fantastic, but he’s solid (averaging over 12 points a game last year) and if he can reign in the outside shooting a bit, he would be extremely valuable. Kirilenko’s availability would completely depend on where he thinks his market is, but it’s worth kicking the tires.
Lastly, the Hawks are in need of a backup big man, and I’d love to see them target Samuel Dalembert. The 32-year-old veteran played an unusual role in the crowded Milwaukee frontcourt last season, but still managed to average 15 points and 13 rebounds per 36 minutes with a solid PER of 18.6. He’s probably no better than league-average at this point (career 15.4 PER), but he’s a solid two-way big man who can show hard on pick-and-rolls as well as protect the rim as a career 1.8 blocks-per-game player. The “big man” market is very sparse right now, and with the loss of Zaza Pachulia, I’m positive that Mike Budenholzer desires a reliable backup to Al Horford that would allow him to play some power forward, as well.
The “Other Guys”
Currently, the Hawks have exactly 7 players on their “guaranteed” roster. If you assume that either Teague, Mo Williams, or Jennings will be there, as well as contracts for Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack, that brings the roster to 10. Then, if all 3 rookies were to a) come over to the US, and b) make the team (in Mike Muscala’s case), that brings the roster to 13, but obviously, that is a lot of “if” potential. In short, the Hawks need to fill the roster with 1 or 2 more players even with those assumptions, and here’s a (quick) look at some quality, low-cost options.
In the “big man” category, Elton Brand is probably the best available option outside of Dalembert. He may be out of Atlanta’s price range and he’s not a center, but Brand was still an above-average player in Dallas last year (15.2 PER, 12 points/10 rebounds per 36 min) and could provide some leadership as well. Ivan Johnson is also still available, and while the Hawks didn’t issue him a qualifying offer, he produced in a big way and, obviously, he’s familiar to the organization. Finally, DeJuan Blair has some familiarity with the new regime (and specifically, Mike Budenholzer) and he’s a plus-plus rebounder (11.1 rebounds per 36 min in his career) who would come very cheap.
On the perimeter, the options are a bit more plentiful. Fortunately, the Hawks don’t need shooting in a desperate way after the re-signing of Kyle Korver and the existence of John Jenkins, and that will help with any pursuit of former Hawk Dahntay Jones. I haven’t heard any buzz about a potential return, but he’s a quality defender who would come at the minimum and if the Hawks don’t believe that DeMarre Carroll or Kyle Korver can play shooting guard, they need an option there. Beno Udrih could provide the Hawks with a steady backup point guard, and on the heels of a 5-year, $32 million contract, he’d probably be willing to sign for the veteran minimum to provide a low-turnover game while creating some offense. Finally, Mikael Pietrus is always a guy I’ve had a soft spot for, and he’s available at virtually no cost. He was frankly awful in 19 games with Toronto last year (35% from the field), but he’s a career 35.5% three-point shooter with good length, and there are worse end-of-bench options for the league minimum.
There you have it. It is certainly possible (if not likely) that the Hawks could go off of the board in filling out their roster, but there are many options here who could present value. Stay tuned in the coming hours and days for updates as they arrive, and follow me in believing in Danny Ferry (until he signs Monta Ellis).