Draft time around any professional sport is usually met with excitement, wonder, and hope for a better future, especially when it comes to the worst teams. However with “middle of the road” teams, or those who feel as though they were a couple of steps and/or missed opportunities away from contending for a championship, the draft is met with a different type of scrutiny, nitpickiness, and sense of urgency.
Take the Atlanta Hawks, for instance. How do you follow up a 60-win season, a season that turned out to be the best season in franchise history? What move(s) do you make in the NBA Draft that can help you close the gap from where you are and where you want to be? Well, here’s where it gets murky. Although the NBA Draft is a time for revelry and dreams of a better tomorrow for 20+ teams, for a team like the Hawks, it’s a time of making strategic decisions that help you maximize the potential of your current window of opportunity. Rather than take a high risk/reward player with the 15th pick (because that’s what most picks after the first dozen or so really are), the Atlanta Hawks chose a path that included a series of moves that landed them Tim Hardaway, Jr. in a trade and a couple of European players, Marcus Eriksson (Sweden) and Dimitrios Agravanis (Greece).
Initial reactions to the transactions above varied from mild disappointment to utter confusion, especially considering that the basic emotional premise of a draft—the hoopla and celebration of better days to come—usually hinges on acquiring new, generally unproven commodities teams can easily sell to a fan base, rather known commodities that have lost some luster. (Insert Kanye Shrug here.) However, when you strip away the television broadcast and silly/useless post-draft grades, what the draft ultimately boils down to is acquiring talent that can help a team win. And after allowing the notion of Tim Hardaway, Jr. suiting up for the Atlanta Hawks to settle in, I must admit I’m warming up to the idea.
Atlanta sharpshooter Kyle Korver recently turned 34 years old, and is coming off a lower leg injury suffered in the playoffs, so age plus injury will leave him a step (or two) slower heading into the new season; while Hardaway just turned 23 (his birthday is the day before Korver’s), is nearly the same size (6-6 to Korver at 6-7) and is significantly more athletic. Hardaway has a good shooting stroke, and while not as consistent as Korver, especially from deeper distances, he’ll see many more open looks in a better offense than the one he’s played in with the dysfunctional New York Knicks the past two seasons. In essence, in Tim Hardaway, Jr. the Atlanta Hawks acquired a player that gives them depth, more athleticism, and fills an area of need, all while at a very team-friendly price ($1.3M in 2015, with a club-option for $2.3M in 2016).
Logically speaking, I can see how this move makes sense. It’s a rational move. It seems like the right thing to do. But it’s not sexy, and sexiness sells. However, winning sells too, and if the Atlanta Hawks can win with Tim Hardaway, Jr. as a key part of their rotation, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt and buy into the vision of the new owners and brain trust. Stranger things have happened, right?
It’s easy to admit at this point that I’ve talked myself into seeing the upside and potential of this move, not unlike most fans who talk themselves into seeing the best-case scenario when it comes to whomever their favorite teams drafted; as a fan you rationalize events and convince yourself that what you’re witnessing is what you truly want to believe. And while I can see the vision, deep down inside I just hope it doesn’t turn out to be a mirage.