The Atlanta Hawks made a surprise appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, and they only had higher expectations entering the 2021-22 season. But through 46 games, Nate McMillan’s squad sits outside the playoff picture in the East with a disappointing 21-25 record.
It will be interesting to monitor the Hawks leading up to the NBA trade deadline next month. Will they look to add another star in hopes of making another postseason run in 2022, or could they possibly punt on the season and keep building toward the future?
Let’s go over the three moves Atlanta should consider making before February 10.
1. Build a John Collins package to trade for Ben Simmons
John Collins has been a popular name circulating in trade rumors over the last few months. The 24-year-old just signed a five-year, $125 million deal with the Hawks last offseason, but he’s reportedly grown “increasingly frustrated over his role in Atlanta,” according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
One of the Hawks’ reported trade targets has been none other than Ben Simmons, who hasn’t played a single game for the Philadelphia 76ers this year. According to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Atlanta recently discussed a trade package of Collins, Cam Reddish, and a first-round pick for Simmons, but talks stalled once the 76ers tried to add Tobias Harris to the deal. Reddish was later dealt to the New York Knicks.
Simmons would greatly improve the Hawks’ defense and take some pressure off Trae Young as the main ball-handler on the offensive end, but Atlanta would likely have to add another young player or a second draft pick to its Collins package to complete a deal.
2. Repair the defense by trading for Marcus Smart
It’s no secret that the Hawks could use some help on the defensive end of the court. Atlanta has the second-best offensive rating in the NBA this season (114.3), but their 29th-ranked defensive rating (114.7) must improve if this team wants to even make the playoffs.
Enter Marcus Smart.
Smart is a relentless defender who can swing losses to wins with his late-game hustle plays. He’s done it for the Boston Celtics for nearly a decade, and he’s exactly what the Hawks need to change their defensive identity.
Atlanta showed some interest in Smart at last year’s deadline, and with the Celtics also struggling to stay above .500 this season, now could be the perfect time to strike.
3. Keep the core intact and add a few peripheral pieces
We saw just how good this Hawks team can be last year when everything is clicking. The core of Young, Collins, Clint Capela, and Kevin Huerter is a lethal offensive unit, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Atlanta stand pat at the February 10 deadline.
If that ends up being the plan, the Hawks could look to acquire some cheap defensive stoppers via trade or the buyout market. But looking at the big picture, Atlanta has a roster set up to win in the future. It might not be prudent to get aggressive in trades this season and break up the talented, young core the Hawks already have in the palm of their hand.