NBA Playoff Obituary: Clock strikes midnight on the Atlanta Hawks

Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks. Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images
Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks. Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images /

The Atlanta Hawks made a stunning run through the NBA playoffs but ultimately fell short against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals..

Now that seasons are coming to an end, it is time to write the obituary for the 2020-2021 seasons that were. Looking back on each team that made the playoffs will give a chance to look at what went right and what went wrong. It will also allow us to look ahead to what’s to come during the offseason to come.

The Cinderella run for the Atlanta Hawks has come to an end in Game 6 of the Conference Finals. What is next for this upstart team?

In one of the more unexpected runs in recent memory, the Atlanta Hawks made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals for just the second time in fifty years. They have blossomed into one of the up-and-coming teams that captured the hearts of fans outside of Atlanta, a rare occurrence for the franchise.

What Happened

For some of the more critical outsiders, Trae Yong was the mistake the franchise made when they passed on the chance to select Luka Doncic. As the Lloyd Pierce era was coming to an end the struggles were clear. The offseason acquisitions were not yielding ideal returns, Trae Young had missed the All-Star game and the team sat at 14-20.

The coaching change and the emergence of Bogdan Bogdanovic changed the team. Nate McMillan (previously maligned in his own right with the Indiana Pacers) changed the culture of the Hawks and led the team to a 27-11 record (tied for the second-best mark over the time period). They jumped to eighth in offensive rating and 12th in defensive rating over that time and changed the course of the franchise.

There is plenty to praise from the growth. Trae Young showed the world he is the kind of star that can carry a team to the top, not the dreaded “good stats, bad team” guy. Before his injury, De’Andre Hunter was taking the leap in his second season. He appeared to be the ideal pair next to young as he could lock in on both sides of the court.

The roster truly evolved as the season went along. Clint Capela led the league in rebounding (14.3 per game) and was the anchor of the defense. Onyeka Okongwu showed flashes (especially in the postseason) of why he was the sixth overall pick. John Collins entered the season with plenty to prove heading into free agency and is due for a major raise. Kevin Huerter showed throughout the playoffs that he is a championship-level role player and perhaps more. Even Cam Reddish had moments in the final game of the season that boosts the optimism for next season.

But ultimately it all comes down to Young. There was the bow, the shush and the shimmy. He is the personality, the heart and the face of the franchise. Better yet, he is just getting started.

What Comes Next

Last year was an enormous offseason for the Hawks and the sequel is set to be equally important. Most of the core is locked in for next season but there are two noticeable contracts that need to be handled. John Collins is a restricted free agent and proved invaluable during the run and grew as a defensive player next to Capela. He is likely to get a massive offer when free agency opens and the Hawks’ decision on whether or not to match could shape the next few years.

Perhaps more important, removing the interim tag from Nate McMillan and bringing him back on a long-term contract to coach the team is essential. Just last year he was let go by the Pacers and they did their best to shame him for his playoff record. Taking over as an assistant coach and leading the Hawks past the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers has certainly flipped the narrative. If he is willing to come back, the Hawks certainly need to get that done.

Beyond that, the roster is mostly set. Lou Williams, Tony Snell, Brandon Goodwin and Solomon Hill are free agents. Trae Young and Kevin Huerter are up for contract extensions, so they along with John Collins are all about to get much more expensive. This is the benefit and the curse of drafting well. Some teams have to pay for their young core long before they show they are able to compete.

The Atlanta  Hawks knocked off the number one seed in the Conference and were two games away from the Finals without getting much of anything from Hunter and Reddish due to injuries. The risk is smaller than it is for most teams and the price is well worth it.

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