Al Horford had surgery today and let’s go ahead and say he’s out for the year, regular season and playoffs.
I don’t know that for sure, of course, but out three to four months on Jan. 17 sure sounds that way. If he comes back at the end of the regular season, how long before he’s in game shape and ready to contribute? Could he really make a difference in the playoffs under those circumstances? Is it even worth it at that point for the Hawks to send out their All-Star center with four years left on his $60 million extension?
The Hawks might have been able to make a good run at the East finals with Horford. It would have been interesting to see if they could do it, at least. Without Horford, the focus has shifted to whether the Hawks still can make the playoffs without him (yes) or win a playoff round if they manage to make the postseason (unlikely).
But shouldn’t the thinking go beyond that that now for the Hawks? Isn’t looking to the future the prudent thing to do once you accept that a) Horford isn’t coming back or b) he won’t have much if an impact if he does or c) even if he does come back healthy this team has maxed out?
When you look ahead, you see that the Hawks have roughly $61 million committed to six players next season. If it stays that way, Atlanta will have no cap space and would face the possibility of adding free agents around Horford, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague with the mid-level, bi-annual and minimum-salary exceptions (or a higher salary through a sign-and-trade). With about $9 million of wiggle room beneath the luxury-tax line, could the Hawks build a true contender that way?
I suppose the Hawks could try to add a big now, either a stop-gap for this season or a legit center both for this postseason and next season. The free-agent pickings are slim but once Kirk Hinrich is healthy it’s possible his expiring $8.1 million contract could be flipped for a center. That most likely would mean the Hawks would have to take on more salary next season while keeping that $9 million tax wiggle room in mind.
Larry Drew, for one, is proceeding as if Atlanta will stick with the status quo.
“That’s the approach I have to take,” he said. “I don’t want to get my hopes built up about something possibly happening and it doesn’t happen. I would rather approach it as nothing is going to happen, this is the team and we will go out and do the best we can.”
If they best the Hawks can do with this roster still leaves them out of the playoffs, that would be disappointing for them considering their high hopes this season. But it may not be the worst thing in the world considering they could have a high pick in what’s supposed to be a deep draft. That player (or the pick) could be a valuable asset down the line, either as a trade chip or a promising young (and cheap) rotation player.
It’s difficult for me to guess how Hawks management would react to things coming to an end in that way for the core. The whole point of keeping this team together was to make a “make or break” run at it this year. The Hawks made the team deeper by adding minimum-salaried veterans but now the master plan has been undermined by losing one of their key cogs to a freak injury.
That’s bad luck, but does that bad luck mean the Hawks keep the core together another year for another run? If they decide this group has run its course, anyway, do they make another run at Dwight Howard even if he still doesn’t include them on his list? If they can’t get Howard, do they trade away a core piece and start building toward acquiring a different superstar or better complementary pieces around whichever part of the core is left behind after trades?
I don’t know what they should do. You tell me, blog people.
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat