The Atlanta Hawks have been remarkably patient under Travis Schlenk. They've methodically acquired extra draft picks and avoided making long-term financial investments, instead choosing to surround Trae Young with young talent that can develop on his timeline. Recent evidence suggests, however, that ownership is growing impatient with that approach. The Hawks traded a first-round pick for Clint Capela at the trade deadline, and now, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, they're preparing to make another push to win right away.
O'Connor reports that the Hawks are shopping the No. 6 overall pick with the intention of adding a player who can help them reach the postseason in 2021. If that is a route the Hawks do indeed go, they should have quite a bit of flexibility on that front given their cap situation. The Hawks have virtually unlimited cap space, so if they needed to absorb a big contract, they easily could.
Ideally, they would add a player who is either reasonably priced, or whose contracts expire after next season. The Hawks are well-positioned from a cap perspective in the critical summer of 2021, and while they have a long way to go before they can credibly approach a superstar like Giannis Antetokounmpo, remember that the Nets jumped from laughingstock to destination for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in only a season. The Hawks have Young and a desirable market. Their cap space is valuable. So with that in mind, here are a few sensible trade targets with that No. 6 pick.
- Robert Covington's ability to put out fires as a help defender would be especially valuable on this roster, currently devoid of positive defenders. His contract is extremely reasonable, as he is owed only around $25 million for the next two seasons in total, but moving him would mean far more for Houston, as the Rockets are pressed up against the luxury tax as it is. When owner Tilman Fertitta listed players the Rockets plan to build around next season, Covington was conspicuously absent. The Rockets owe so many future first-round picks in trades that this would be one of their few chances to add top young talent as the inevitability of a rebuild approaches.
- The Magic won't have Jonathan Isaac for most of next season after he tore his ACL in the bubble. If that pushes them towards a tanking year, Aaron Gordon should be available. He isn't Covington's equal as a help defender, but he has the althetic potential to be a man-to-man stopper and stout secondary rim-protector. Offensively, he can do a little bit of everything, but would likely thrive in transition alongside Young's elite passing.
- Nobody knows quite how available Victor Oladipo is, and he carries quite a bit of injury risk, but his fit with Young at full strength would be tantalizing. He could cover for Young's deficiencies defensively and, as a high-level ball-handler, unlock Young's potent but currently untapped off-ball potential as a shooter and cutter.
- The 76ers are deep into tax territory and last year's roster clearly didn't work. Josh Richardson would be an interesting buy-low candidate. Only a season ago, he led the Miami Heat in scoring. Philadelphia couldn't make use of his gifts. Atlanta might be able to.
There will be other, older names rumored here. O'Connor suggests DeMar DeRozan and No. 11 for No. 6. But ideally, the Hawks will want someone that fits Young's timeline at least in part. They could credibly view any of the above players as likely contributors when they hope to be in the championship conversation two or three years from now. DeRozan, at 31 and without a 3-point shot, is probably too old for that.
The Hawks can afford to wait for the perfect offer here. Given their cap space, the trade market isn't their only pathway to improvement. The Hawks will be in the playoff picture one way or another next season. How high their record climbs likely depends on how much of their future they're willing to sacrifice in that effort.