The Hawks are tanking. Draft picks are the way out of that tank

Everybody in the tank! (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

The Hawks are rebuilding. That’s not a pejorative. On the contrary, it’s a concession to stark reality and therefore worthy of applause.

In sports, nobody rebuilds on a whim. Because it’s hard to do and harder to stomach, even if you know it’s the only prudent course. Mediocrity is no fun, but there’s some comfort in that: You can say, “Hey, there are teams worse than us.” If you commit to a full-blown rebuild, there might come a time when, going on W’s and L’s, there’s nobody worse than you. But if you (re)build well, you won’t be wretched forever.

Here’s how soul-sucking rebuilding can be: Sam Hinkie, author of the most daring tanking strategy in league history, resigned just as it was beginning to bear conspicuous fruit. Today the Philadelphia 76ers have the NBA’s best collection of young talent – Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor were picked first, first, third and third in their respective drafts – but the author of the audacious “Process” was, at last report, living in Palo Alto and contemplating the meaning of life.

Ten days ago, the Hawks’ newly minted general manager proclaimed: “The Philly model is not our model.” Travis Schlenk also said he doesn’t like the word “rebuild,” which is disingenuous but understandable. (As noted, rebuilds are ugly and unpopular.) But then, in the team’s release announcing the addition of a guy who’ll surely be bought out or traded within days if not minutes, Schlenk quoted from the gospel according to Sam: “First-round picks have great value.”

That, see, was the reason the Hawks agreed to facilitate the Nuggets’ trade of Danilo Gallinari, who became superfluous when Denver signed Paul Millsap, to the Clippers. A rebuilding team has no need of the 37-year-old Jamal Crawford, once a Hawk of distinction, and at his age he wants no part of a team for which winning isn’t Job 1. Diamond Stone is an unpolished (heh, heh) big man who scored 10 points in his rookie season. The lure for the Hawks was the Rockets’ No. 1 pick in next year’s draft, even though that pick won’t fall anywhere near the lottery.

The Hawks figure to hold three Round 1 picks in the 2018 draft – theirs, which surely will be a lottery pick unless half the NBA East out-tanks the Hawks; Minnesota’s via the 2015 trade for Adreian Payne, which won’t be a lottery pick – if it is, it reverts to the Timberwolves – given that Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague are teaming with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in St. Paul, and the one from Houston, which just paired Chris Paul with James Harden.

Philly wouldn’t have gotten where it is without its run of high lottery picks, which were the function of manic trading and 199 losses over three seasons. Non-lottery picks can fill out your roster, but they don’t transfigure a franchise. The Hawks will need more than one lottery pick to clamber from this hole, but that’s OK. A rebuild isn’t a one-year deal. It is – cue Hinkie – a process.

One housewarming gift left for Schlenk by the failed Mike Budenholzer/Wes Wilcox managerial tandem is the 2019 Round 1 pick from Cleveland for Kyle Korver. If it falls in the draft’s top 10 selections, it stays with the Cavaliers. If LeBron James remains in place, there’s little chance that pick will fall in the top 25. But a lot of NBA folks believe he’ll opt out next summer and leave for L.A., which would change everything for the Cavs. (And the NBA.) Stick a pin in that pick.

If you’re effecting a reset, draft picks are your only currency. Rarely does an NBA team trade for a superstar. If they do, it’s because he’s about to become a free agent.  Superstars are either signed as free agents for massive amounts of money — and superstars don’t sign with bad teams — or they’re drafted. To draft a superstar, you have to pick high in the lottery.

Even if your Round 1 picks don’t figure to be prime, they can be clumped in exchange for a better one. (Philly did that to land Fultz.) The Hawks going eight drafts between lottery picks was why they got stuck being not quite good enough. Here’s their chance to come unstuck. They’ll have to get worse to do it, getting worse being the only way to get better.

In the resignation letter known as the Hinkie Manifesto, the man responsible for Philly’s splendid young core wrote: “In the first 26 months on the job we added more than one draft pick (or pick swap) per month to our coffers … That’s not any official record, because no one keeps track of such records. But it is the most ever. And it’s not close. And we kick ourselves for not adding another handful.”

Schlenk mightn’t publicly embrace Hinkie’s Process, but it should be his North Star. His team is tanking, same as Hinkie’s did. Draft picks are the way out of that tank.

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31 comments
CoffeeHoops
CoffeeHoops

Nobody likes the route that the Hawks are taking. I see all of these players that the Hawks could be getting right now, but picking up these players would make them win maybe 30 games. In the East next year, 30 wins might put you in the playoffs. Then our 1st pick will not be good. I hate this process. I guess I will focus on the Warriors next year so I won't be upset with the Hawks. Maybe they will be ready to compete for the ECC in 4-5 years.

escapeplan
escapeplan

High draft picks are no silver bullet if you can't coach them.

Hell Horsey
Hell Horsey

Somewhere, Billy Knight is finally getting that BJ.

Lisa.Roy
Lisa.Roy

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Harvey
Harvey

It's the way out only IF (a) you can stand the embarrassment for 5 years, (b) organization needs tax write-off, (c) all legitimate teams are pissed at you and refuse to cut a deal, any deal, leaving you no other options.

Bug
Bug

The hawks started tanking the day they fired Ferry. It took them 45 years to assemble the 60 win team and it will take them another 45 years to do it again. In other words if your older than 30 years of age you will probably never live long enough to see it again.

Harvey
Harvey

@Bug  Get used to the term:  "Birmingham Hawks". Or, Bozeman (MT) Hawks.

Dsyelxia
Dsyelxia

Can we just admit that firing Danny Ferry was an idiotic mistake?  Tony Ressler is just another in-over-his-head delusional owner who doesn't know what he is doing. He's basically Atlanta Spirit 2.0.

It took him only two years to tear down what was a four All-star Eastern Conference finalists team and turned them into a doormat.

RickRN69
RickRN69

The word for success is draft smart, trade smarter, and little luck. Atlanta has the market and fan base to support a winner we just need a commitment like one that turned the falcons around


BillVol
BillVol

Quit trying to rationalize the Hawks.  Just get rid of them.  Trade them for a hockey team.  Build a new arena for the team in Cobb.

RickRN69
RickRN69

@BillVol What..how about Cobb Co start their own franchise. This will be painful process that takes time if it's done right i.e. falcons


moboman
moboman

And not draft picks like the 6 that played for the Hawks in the Summer League tonight.  It will take top 3 draft picks, with skill sets.  

adarian652
adarian652

The Hawks are putting together a team that the construction company that is remodeling Phillips Arena can work while home games are being played. !

GeorgeJetsen
GeorgeJetsen

Rebuilding was the only logical option for a 'good not great' team over the last 8 years. Hawks failed at many rebuilds in the past due to inept draft choices (see Billy Knight) and holding good picks in some bad draft classes. Shlenck will first need some luck for the draft classes of the next few years to be very strong and second will have to use all of his GSW skills to select the right players at the right times- something past Hawk GMs have not been successful at. Hopefully the planets will finally align for the Hawks and we'll draft a superstar or two and get an NBA title in the next 10 years. As an ATL native I realize the odds of this are about the same as me winning the Powerball lottery by finding the winning ticket stuck to the bottom of my shoe.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@GeorgeJetsen: "Hawks failed at many rebuilds in the past . . . ."

__________________

YUP, which is why it's hard to get excited about this one--especially on a team that's never even appeared in The Finals during its nearly 5 decades in ATL.

jlrhoya
jlrhoya

What good are lots of draft picks if by the 3rd or so year, those picks that have become superstars leave for good teams or you have to pay ridiculous contracts to hang onto mediocre players?


The NBA is not like baseball where you can build a farm system and control player development.  Instead the players control the teams and decide which teams are going to be the best few ones.


The only way to win in the NBA is money and the Hawks ownership has no desire to pay any out.  The Hawks will be lucky to get double-digit wins in 2017-18 and just have to hope they get a pick that turns into a Jordan, James or such.

moboman
moboman

Yep, only way up is from the bottom.  So far, given that no one is beating GS for a couple of seasons, Schlenks moves look sound and logical. 

SupremeGrandPoobah
SupremeGrandPoobah

@moboman  On what planet is paying $12.5 million to Miles Plumlee for three more years "sound and logical?"

moboman
moboman

@SupremeGrandPoobah @moboman The Hawks have a mininmum cap to fulfill.  Plumlee is perfect for that.  He wont win us any games, and fills the cap number.  Its called TANKING.