Sun. Jul 21st, 2024


Dejounte’s gone. Is Trae next?

Either way, the Atlanta Hawks have to feel a lot better today, because they finally ripped off the Band-Aid. One of Dejounte Murray or Trae Young had to go … at least. Today, the answer was Murray, whom the team sent to New Orleans for Dyson Daniels, Larry Nance Jr., E.J. Liddell and two first-round picks, league sources confirmed Friday.

Somehow, some way, it appears the Hawks have been able to salvage about 97 cents on the dollar from the reckless trade that brought Murray to Atlanta in the first place, one that thrust them into a crisis of being relentlessly mediocre yet unable to tank.

For a front office that went an entire calendar year without making a single transaction more meaningful than promoting Trent Forrest from a two-way deal, it’s a jarring and notable achievement.

Let’s compare side-by-side. The original Murray trade sent three first-round picks, two of which are unprotected, and a pick swap to San Antonio; on Friday, the Hawks received two firsts and a former lottery pick in Daniels. The veteran big man Nance is in the deal as a salary match.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Grading the Pelicans-Hawks trade: Is New Orleans a contender with Dejounte Murray?

Remember, however, that one of those firsts originally sent to San Antonio – a lottery protected first from Charlotte – has yet to convey and seems increasingly likely to turn into two second-round picks in 2026 and 2027. (That will happen if the Hornets miss the playoffs this year, as most expect).

The Hawks won’t have their own picks in 2025 and 2027 and owe the Spurs a swap in 2026, by which time the Victor Wembanyama-led San Antonio squad figures to be mighty. Not great, Bob. We’ll get back to this part in a minute.

On the other hand, Atlanta just got back an unprotected Lakers pick in the 2025 draft that has a very strong chance of landing in the teens. The Hawks also received an unprotected pick in 2027, although it is the lesser of New Orleans’ or Milwaukee’s.

However, the other pearl is Daniels, a budding defensive specialist joining a team whose tragic inability to contain the ball resulted in the league’s 27th-ranked defense a season ago.

Daniels has two years left on a rookie deal that will pay him $6.1 million this year and $7.7 million next year. He struggles shooting and didn’t really fit in New Orleans because they had so many other suspect marksmen, but in Atlanta, he becomes a vital piece who may start to offset noted matador Young.

The timing of this trade also allows the Hawks to recycle the $23 million John Collins trade exception for another year; it will now be “the Murray exception,” worth $18.2 million through next June 28 or 29. The Atlanta faithful will never again need to say the name “John Collins” any time they propose a transaction. (I should note: $6 million will remain on the Collins exception through July 8 should the Hawks get frisky on the trade machine.)

Atlanta also gets to hang another “avoided luxury tax” banner in the State Farm Arena rafters, dropping $6.3 million below the line after their draft lottery triumph briefly put them over. The Hawks have 14 players under contract, but Nance’s addition would seem to make the non-guaranteed $2.7 million deal of Bruno Fernando fungible; the deadline for his guarantee is Saturday, so we’ll know soon on him.

I kid about the luxury tax avoidance, but the additional financial wiggle room opens other possibilities for Atlanta. Signing Vit Krejčí to a roster contract seems to be a foregone conclusion, but the Hawks also might consider a small deal for free-agent forward Saddiq Bey. He has a torn ACL and will likely miss most or all of this season, but the Hawks would retain his Bird rights into next summer if he stays under contract in 2024-25.

More notably, Atlanta can now use its full nontaxpayer midlevel exception to pursue other talent. In particular, the backcourt could use another shot creator for the non-Young minutes.

Even with no further moves, the Hawks have quickly remade themselves into a younger team. Daniels, top overall pick Zaccharie Risacher, 2023 first-rounder Kobe Bufkin and 2022 first-rounder Jalen Johnson – quietly among the league’s most improved players last season – now seem like core pieces.

Of course, I say all this as if the Hawks are done dealing. Are they? Clint Capela and De’Andre Hunter rumors have subsisted for ages, but the general consensus from league sources is that the Hawks can’t get any meaningful return for them.

And finally, there’s the elephant in the room. No discussion of Atlanta’s plight is complete without discussing the nuclear option: Trading Young to San Antonio and getting those picks back, which would allow Atlanta to move forward with a sincere tanking reset around Risacher, Johnson and Daniels.

San Antonio is the only plausible trade partner for such a move, given that the Spurs currently own three straight Hawks drafts. Conveniently, San Antonio also desperately needs an elite point guard and could easily aggregate non-core salaries (Devonte’ Graham, Zach Collins and Tre Jones) to match Young’s $43 million salary. The fact that the Spurs just pushed back Graham’s guarantee date to July 8 at least makes you wonder.

Pivoting to a tank by trading Young to any other team is much, much harder. Theoretically, Atlanta could also do “The Brooklyn Special” by trading the picks they just received in the Murray trade to San Antonio to get their own picks back, but the Spurs would likely demand a premium beyond that in additional firsts. Thus, unless the offers for Young are in Mikal Bridges territory – think four or five firsts – dealing Young elsewhere is probably not a great move for Atlanta.

So instead, this is once again undeniably Trae Young’s team … for now.

This time, at least, the pieces fit dramatically better. Let’s stop for a quick shout-out to Murray, who played (and played well) through assorted injuries during last season’s second half, even as his name was in trade rumors and he knew he was probably gone over the summer. But he and Young had zero chemistry together, and asking Murray to guard 2s subtracted one of his former strengths.

Existential questions remain about whether this roster can truly achieve anything beyond “first-round cannon fodder” — Atlanta’s record over the past four seasons is an inoffensively average 161-157. Fittingly, they got the top pick in the draft in a year where most rated the top pick as a helpful secondary weapon but not a superstar. To the Play-In we go!

Nonetheless, Friday was the best day for the reconstituted front office under Landry Fields since its formation. By moving on from Murray, the Hawks have regained the flexibility to move forward in a number of directions with or without Young. (Don’t discount the fact they evaded the Stepien rule now, for instance, on trading their own first in 2026 or 2028.)

In doing so, they ended up with a roster that is younger, cheaper, more coherent and a better fit around their best player. We just don’t know how long that last part will still apply.


(Top photo of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray: Kevin Jairaj / USA Today)




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