Just how much money the Hawks will have to spend in free agency next month won’t be determined until the organization makes its decision on Danilo Gallinari. Atlanta has until June 29 to waive Gallinari and pay him his $5 million contract guarantee. If he remains on the roster past that date, the team will owe him an additional $16.5 million.
If the Hawks waive Gallinari, they would have the non-taxpayer midlevel exception ($10.3 million) to use and the $4.1 million biannual exception. If Gallinari is on the roster past June 29, the $10.3 million exception would decrease to the taxpayer $6.4 million exception. As I’ve stated since the Hawks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, I do not expect Gallinari on next season’s roster. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Hawks will have that non-taxpayer exception to use, because they could make a significant trade that would push them into the tax regardless of Gallinari’s status.
Outside of Gallinari, the Hawks have seven more free agents: Sharife Cooper, Gorgui Dieng, Kevin Knox, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, Skylar Mays, Lou Williams and Delon Wright. I expect Cooper will return on another two-way contract. Because Atlanta converted Mays’ two-way contract to a fully guaranteed deal late in the season, it’ll have to offer him a minimum contract to have his restricted rights. I wouldn’t imagine Mays getting anything more than a minimum deal elsewhere, so I’d suspect he’ll also return. The Hawks have Wright’s Bird rights, which means they won’t have to create any cap space to re-sign him. He showed how valuable he was to the roster in the second half of the season and in the playoffs; he should return.
Because the Hawks don’t have any cap space, they won’t be able to sign any of the big-name free agents who might become available, like Zach LaVine, Deandre Ayton or Jalen Brunson. The only way to acquire any of those three would be to execute a sign-and-trade. Sign-and-trades are always difficult to predict because one side of the deal is usually unbalanced and not at all what you’d think it would take to get the move done.
The Hawks’ needs are crystal clear: defense, defense and more defense. They could also use more ballhandling and secondary creators alongside Trae Young. Did I mention they need more defense? The Hawks were so abysmal on that end of the floor, and their roster has to become more balanced for them to become closer to their goals.
The following players are more defense-oriented. The Hawks aren’t getting a star with their exceptions, so I would use the $10.5 million to $14.4 million to get quality role players who defend well to fill out their roster.
Let’s get to the free agents (listed in alphabetical order) who could make the Hawks better than they were this season.
Kyle Anderson, forward (unrestricted)
Anderson would fill two key areas of need for the Hawks: ballhandling and perimeter defense. He is such a capable ballhandler that he’d be able to act as a de facto point guard with Young off the floor. Creation at the forward spot is a glaring hole for the Hawks. Both John Collins and De’Andre Hunter are below average with the ball in their hands. Jalen Johnson has shown the ability to handle the ball on the G League level, and the hope is he can become a playmaker in the frontcourt.
Mo Bamba, center (restricted)
It would be surprising if the Magic were to bring Bamba back, especially after they won the draft lottery. I’d imagine Orlando will look to add Jabari Smith or Chet Holmgren, both frontcourt players, with the No. 1 pick.
Bamba could become a restricted free agent if the Magic extend him his qualifying offer, which would be unexpected. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent if they don’t retain his rights. If the Hawks wanted to add him before free agency, they could also just trade for him and avoid battles with other teams.
A potential Bamba addition would really only make sense if the Hawks were to trade either Clint Capela or Onyeka Okongwu (or both) this offseason; otherwise, I can’t imagine he’d want to sign somewhere and be the third center. Bamba is coming off the most productive season of his career, shooting 38 percent from 3 on four attempts per game (for reference, he shot more 3s per game than Hunter), with 1.7 blocks per game. Importantly, Bamba figured out how to defend without getting himself in foul trouble; he finished with fewer than four fouls per 36 minutes for the first time in his career.
It also should be noted that Young and Kevin Huerter are good friends with Bamba.
Nicolas Batum, forward (player option)
I can’t imagine Batum will pick up his $3.3 million player option with the Clippers, because that would be quite the discount for one of the best role players in the league. He’s now shot over 40 percent from 3 in consecutive seasons and has been a good defender with the Clippers in both years. Now, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Clippers re-signed Batum using their early Bird rights; the Clippers obviously value having as many two-way wings as possible on their roster. But if they decide to part ways, Batum makes a whole lot of sense for the Hawks.
Bruce Brown, guard/forward (unrestricted)
Much like the Hawks, the Nets were terrible defensively this season. Along with the chaos that followed them all season long — Kyrie Irving sat out because of his refusal to get vaccinated and then became a part-time player, James Harden effectively quit on the team before the trade deadline, and Kevin Durant missed more than 20 games — Brooklyn’s inability to defend was another reason it underperformed expectations. Brown was one of the few players on the Nets roster who was a trusted defender.
What I like about Brown is his ability to guard numerous positions at a high level, and he’s still young enough (he’ll be 26 next season) to grow with the rest of the core of this roster. It would be unwise for the Nets to let Brown go, considering they have the same needs as Atlanta, but if he were to become available, the Hawks should jump at the opportunity to add him.
Jevon Carter, guard (unrestricted)
Carter isn’t good enough to be a consistent backup point guard option, but if the Hawks were to re-sign Wright and add Carter as their third guard option, he’d certainly be an upgrade over Williams. Much like Gary Payton II (whom I’ll touch on soon), Carter isn’t going to offer much offensively, but you know you’re getting 100 percent effort defensively.
Gary Harris, guard (unrestricted)
Orlando is in rebuild mode, but one of the goals should be finding useful players who could help when the organization is out of that stage. Harris is one of those players. He’s a 3-and-D guard who shot 38 percent from 3 this season, and he’s one of the better on-ball defenders.
Josh Okogie, guard (restricted)
Okogie fell out of Minnesota’s rotation this season and seems highly unlikely to return to the Timberwolves because of that. He could be a restricted free agent if the team were to extend his qualifying offer, but that would be a surprise considering how sparingly it played him.
Okogie is another guard who doesn’t provide much offensively but will give maximum effort defensively, and he’s good on that end of the floor. I’d imagine he won’t require anything more than the minimum. An added bonus is he’s a local product who played his college ball at Georgia Tech.
Victor Oladipo, guard (unrestricted)
Oladipo’s playoff run with the Heat accelerated after he helped cook the Hawks in the first round when Jimmy Butler sat with a minor knee injury. From that point on, Oladipo was a fixture in Miami’s rotation and provided exceptional perimeter defense. It’s still unclear how much offensive juice he has after two quad surgeries, but he was once a gifted player on that end. I’d imagine a team could sign Oladipo cheaply on a prove-it deal.
Gary Payton II, guard (unrestricted)
Payton developed into an integral part of Golden State’s run to the NBA Finals as a tenacious on-ball defender. One of the biggest weaknesses for the Hawks this season was awful point-of-attack defense; Payton would improve that immediately. He wouldn’t offer much offensively for Atlanta, but that’s fine. The Hawks need more players who want to make life hell for opposing offenses.
It also would make for an excellent story if Nate McMillan got to coach Payton; Payton’s father was McMillan’s backcourt mate with the Seattle SuperSonics.
Otto Porter Jr., forward (unrestricted)
It’s stunning the Warriors were able to sign Porter for the veteran’s minimum this season. He’s turned into a key piece for Golden State’s rotation and one of the better role players across the league, and he’s doing it for the cheapest salary possible. There have always been injury concerns with Porter, who hadn’t played more than 60 games since 2017-18; he played 63 this year. Porter hit 37 percent of his 3s this season and provided above-average defense as a combo forward. I’m a fan of trying to add Andrew Wiggins, his teammate, through a trade if possible, but Porter wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.
Bobby Portis, forward (player option)
Portis seems to love Milwaukee, and Bucks fans seem to love Portis. He signed a (very) friendly team deal to stay with the Bucks after winning a title last season. Perhaps he’ll look to recoup some of that money this offseason and decline his $4.5 million player option after he showed value as a replacement for Brook Lopez, who missed most of the season to injury.
Portis has been an excellent shooter over the past two seasons and provides switchability as an interior defender. He also would give the Hawks some much-needed edge they were missing this season.
Delon Wright, guard (unrestricted)
We already touched on his importance to the Hawks in the intro, but it’s a no-brainer to bring Wright back. His counting stats aren’t going to wow anyone, but he was one of the few on the team who could actually defend consistently. If he’s back, the Hawks should explore more Young-Wright lineups. That duo had a 13.2 net rating in the 93 minutes they played together against the Heat.
(Photo of Victor Oladipo: Brett Davis/USA Today)