How they finished 2014: The Hawks were undercut in 2014 by the injury of Al Horford in December. They fell off a cliff, particularly on a few road trips, and stumbled into the 8th seed with 38 wins. But then a funny thing happened. They landed a first-round matchup with the Pacers, who couldn't handle a team that could spread the floor. And the one thing that Atlanta could do was spread the floor.
They pushed Indiana to seven games, learned a little bit about their identity, and with some young players developing and the emergence of Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague, Atlanta entered the offseason primed to make major strides once they got Horford back. Oddly, rumors of GM Danny Ferry still considering a massive rebuild continued to plague the team despite a sunny outlook.
Offseason needs: They were looking at some depth issues, particularly on the wing. Mostly, though, they wanted to create cap room to give themselves the room to pursue a significant free agent. They were looking to bring in a legit star, hoping their array of talent, money, and an optimistic future would be enough to land a Chris Bosh, a Carmelo Anthony, a LeBron James, or at least a Luol Deng.
Some front court depth was probably in line as well.
The draft: Atlanta landed a steal with Adreian Payne in the first-round. Not only is Payne perfect for their system as a big who can rebound, score in the post and shoot from the perimeter, but Payne provides coverage in the event that they lose Paul Millsap in what is set to be an expensive free agency.
Walter Tavares may not be coming over soon from Europe, but he's also a massive center with incredible upside. He replaces Bebe Noguiera who...
Free agency and trades: The Hawks made a cap-saving move of trading Lou Williams and Noguiera for John Salmons, who they waived. Everything was set for them to make a huge free agent offer and they landed ...
No meeting with LeBron, no meeting with Melo, couldn't stick the landing with Deng. The Hawks didn't land the big catch. The good news is they didn't respond by overpaying for another player and that means they still have flexibility long-term. That's been the key for Atlanta. They're good now, they'll be good next season, but they can also rebuild the team quickly if pressed.
What they did add was some guard depth. They signed Thabo Sefolosha to give them a wing defender who hopefully will regain some of his shooting skill that left him in Oklahoma City. There was speculation that Thabo was signed to try and pull in Deng, but even on his own, he's a quality addition.
The Hawks brought back Shelvin Mack, and signed Kent Bazemore. Bazemore's a good fit in the shot-centric system, and is likely to establish himself as the reserve guard. They also brought back Mike Scott.
Overall grade and accomplishments — C+: The Hawks didn't land a significant upgrade; they didn't turn themselves into contenders. But they kept a good team together, will get Al Horford back, drafted well, kept their flexibility, and added some quality depth.
Sefolosha isn't the best 3-and-D target they could have gotten, and losing Noguiera was regrettable given his upside. But Payne could have an impact fairly quickly, Sefolosha helps their defense which was a major concern, and their point guard depth is young and talented now.
Atlanta's not set on where it's going yet, but it's still set to be a playoff team and has the potential to be greater than the sum of its parts. The Hawks didn't make a big splash, but they did keep the water where they want it.