Here’s what I’d do with the Atlanta Hawks’ roster. (How’s that for a snappy lead?)
Jeff Teague: Trade him. An easy call. He’s a year from becoming a free agent, which means he has value. He’d have less at the 2017 trade deadline. He’d have none for the Hawks a year from now. With Dennis Schroder close to ready — and Mike Budenholzer choosing Schroder over Teague at the end in Games 1 and 4 of the Cleveland sweep — there’s no reason to keep Teague, whose assertiveness waxes and wanes and whose numbers declined this season.
Kyle Korver: Keep him, but only as a sub. Korver has lost a lot — he’s 35, after all — but could still be effective playing against second units. It would be harder for opponents to plan for Korver when the planning involves him being guarded by another substitute. (Team defense tends to slip when the reserves enter — because they’re reserves.) And he’d be useful at the end of games. That’s how Chicago deployed him before he came here: He didn’t start, but he finished.
Paul Millsap: Leave him alone. He’s the best thing about the Hawks.
Kent Bazemore: Let him leave. As Jeremias Engelmann of ESPN Insider notes, Bazemore’s Real Plus-Minus was the 30th-best among small forwards. (There are 30 NBA teams.) According to Basketball-Reference, Bazemore’s VORP (value over replacement player) was 1.2. By way of contrast, DeMarre Carroll’s VORP was 2.7 in 2014-15. If Carroll wasn’t worth what he was asking, Bazemore won’t be, either.
Al Horford: Keep him, but not for max money. As noted in today’s AJC, this is a question without a satisfying answer. If he leaves, the Hawks won’t be as good. If he stays, they probably won’t get any better because they’ll have spent most of their money on maintaining a status quo that isn’t quite good enough. I’m guessing the Hawks will try to persuade Horford to take less money over less time, but that could offense him. (Lots of other teams — Boston, to name one — would love to have him.) So what happens if the only way he’ll stay is for the maximum contract ($145 million over five seasons)? Then I’d take a very deep breath and offer a very reluctant, “Thank you for your years of distinguished service.”
Dennis Schroder: Take another deep breath and hand him the keys to the offense. He’s the biggest talent on this team. He’s 22. He’s cheap. It’s time.
Tiago Splitter: Hope he heals and has more left than he showed. He’s 31. He’s coming off hip surgery. He averaged 5.6 points and 3.3 rebounds as a sub before he got hurt. If Horford leaves and the Hawks can’t hook Andre Drummond or Hassan Whiteside or Dwight Howard, Splitter will become a big man, literally and figuratively, on this roster. If his decline continues, he could be dumped at the deadline as an expiring contract.
Thabo Sefolosha: Don’t try to make him a starter. Because he’s not. He doesn’t shoot well enough or score enough to warrant heavier minutes, and the Hawks’ offense, as has been noted, fell off a cliff this season. (From tied for sixth in efficiency in 2014-15 to 18th.)
Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hope he improves — for real. He had two DNP-CDs and four other games of single-digit minutes in the playoffs, an indication that Budenholzer — for all his talk about how Hardaway had “bought into” the system after a halting start — still doesn’t trust him. That’s a major concern, given that Bazemore is a free agent and Korver is 35. Remember when the Hawks couldn’t have too many wings? Where’s Billy Knight when you need him?
Mike Scott: Hope for consistency. When you see him go off on one of his 3-point sprees, you think, “This guy needs more minutes.” When he’s given more minutes, you often forget he’s on the floor. Scott is a strange player, but he has a role here. And, given that he will make $3.3 million next season and has a drug case pending, it’s not as if anybody’s panting to trade for him.
Mike Muscala: If Horford leaves, hope he’s ready for prime time. The Hawks obviously see something in Muscala, even if what isn’t exactly clear. He’s big. He’s energetic. He can shoot a little. The Spurs — stop me if you’ve heard this, but Budenholzer came from San Antonio — are aces at nurturing young players of modest profile into something more. Muscala will turn 25 in July. It’s nearing that time for him to earn serious minutes or find another roster.
Walter (Edy) Tavares: You tell me. He’s 24. He has scored 25 NBA points. He’s 7-foot-3. He last appeared in a Hawks game on March 4. He’s under contract through next 2018.
Kris Humphries and Kirk Hinrich: Let them leave. They’re free agents. Unless you want to keep Humphries around just to foul Tristan Thompson.