Dwight Howard is not leaving the Los Angeles Lakers. The Atlanta Hawks are lusting after their hometown star and praying that his personal history with the city will bring him home. They will almost certainly be disappointed.
The Lakers are one of the two biggest markets for professional basketball. They offer Dwight the attention he loves. They can give him the money he wants. Orlando, his former workplace, pales in comparison to Los Angeles. To be fair, so do most cities.
The beaches and the city of Los Angeles are phenomenal. Dwight Howard is like a giant kid with an obscene allowance. Obviously he is going to go to the town that permits him to have the most fun and pay him the most money.
Now that Dwight is finally playing like the Dwight we have seen from prior years, Los Angeles is going to give its best sales pitch for him to stay. The Lakers are made of money. They have no regard for financial restrictions. There is no reason for Dwight to leave.
In the meantime, Atlanta has quietly been making some very savvy cap/roster moves since the end of last season. Somehow they managed to rid themselves of the underwhelming Marvin Williams and his overwhelming contract. They took advantage of Billy King and the Brooklyn Nets by pawning off Joe Johnson‘s albatross contract mostly for players with expiring contracts.
The only real recent knock the Hawks’ management has was their inability to find a taker for Josh Smith at the trade deadline. Smith is not coming back to the Hawks. He has made it clear that he wants a max contract and a major spotlight. Atlanta cannot and/or will not offer Smith either of those things.
Despite backing out of their deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, the Hawks still have a valuable asset going into this off-season. With the Hawks potentially having 10 players hitting free agency this off-season they will have astonishing amounts of cap space. With that cap space Atlanta can pay any star in league.
Atlanta is a very nice city that players enjoy visiting. The Hawks have a real star in Al Horford locked down long-term with the franchise for a reasonable contract. They also have first dibs on young, jet-quick point guard Jeff Teague, who they will likely extend this summer. Those two pieces plus the money they can offer and the area should be able to attract a big name to the franchise.
This off-season only a couple real stars will be available via free agency (Chris Paul and Dwight Howard). Both of these superstars are likely to re-sign in LA. This leaves Atlanta with two options, they can trade for superstars or sign solid players and try to develop them. If Hawks’ management plays this right they will pick the latter. Here are a few players the Hawks should pursue.
O.J. Mayo is a young and gifted off-guard. Since entering the league Mayo has displayed the ability to score in bunches and to spread the floor. Memphis was simply not the right fit for him and when he was misused his value fell off in a major way. Almost any team could have had Mayo this past off season but only the Mavericks were smart enough to gamble on him and give him a contact far below his value.
At the beginning of the season, Mayo started off scorching hot and averaged 20.1 points per game through November. Since then, Mayo has slowed down a bit with his scoring. However, Mayo is still a potent outsider shooter who can erupt at any given moment. Mayo also seems to have expanded his overall game. Since January, Mayo has averaged more than 4.5 assists per game. If Mayo can continue to distribute the ball at a high rate he may yet shed his reputation as a “chucker” and become a real all-around threat.
The Hawks would be wise to offer Mayo a contract this off-season. It is easy to forget that Mayo is still young and developing. He may yet pan out into an All-Star. If the Hawks lock down both Teague and Mayo for the foreseeable future, they will have one of the most enviable and potent young back-courts in the game.
As mentioned earlier, the Hawks already have one great front-court asset in Al Horford. Horford is an elite defender and underrated on offense by casual fans. Horford can score on post-ups (he is shooting a combined 64 percent on the season inside the restricted area and in the post according to NBA.com) and mid-range jumpers (44 percent on the season according to NBA.com). He is an excellent distributor down low and from the high post (only three active centers are averaging more assists than Horford). Also, he rarely, if ever plays outside his limits. Horford’s versatility gives Atlanta a plethora of options for players to put alongside him. Horford is naturally a power forward, but has played center most of his professional career.
Atlanta would be privileged to some wonderful basketball if they could steal Tiago Splitter this offseason. He likely will not come cheap but may be available for below his real value since he has been given a limited role in the San Antonio Spurs’ system.
Splitter is a talented seven-footer who plays solid defense. He also played in Europe, which likely helped him develop his superior passing skills. If Splitter could be had for a reasonable price, the Hawks would be getting an absolute steal and a nice young prospect to go along with their already young core.
Paul Millsap would be another great option for the Hawks. He is versatile and can play either the three or the four position. Millsap would be a refreshing option for Hawks fans as he can shoot from distance but rarely attempts to do so (unlike the maddening Josh Smith).
Millsap is still young and highly coveted throughout the league. It is unclear exactly what kind of offers he will be looking at from other teams. Atlanta might just be able to snag him as few teams can boast the cap space they are about to have.
If Atlanta is able to pull off even two of the aforementioned signings I believe they will return to relevance and be real up-and-coming threat in the Eastern Conference for the next few seasons. Atlanta should not despair when they miss out on Dwight. All they have to do is avoid their former mistakes and sign young players to reasonable contracts.