30 Teams 30 Days
30 Teams 30 Days
30 Teams 30 Days
30 Teams 30 Days

30 Teams in 30 Days: Hawks hope shakeup provides spark

Howard returns to hometown, Schroder given keys after franchise moves on from Horford-Teague era

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell


Sep 24, 2016 10:54 PM ET

Can a return home for Dwight Howard help re-energize his career and provide a spark for the Hawks?

Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason. NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise -- from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record -- during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule

Today's team: Atlanta Hawks

2015-16 record: 48-34

Who's Gone: Al Horford (free agent), Jeff Teague (trade).

Who's New: Dwight HowardJarrett Jack (free agent), Taurean Prince, DeAndre Bembry (draft).

The Lowdown: After breaking the 60-win barrier and reaching the Eastern Conference finals to set franchise watermarks, the Hawks tapered to 48 wins last season.

The Hawks are a candidate for being the least-respected respectable team in the NBA. Sounds strange right? Well, consider the Hawks have been steady winners since 2009, but still haven't taken the league by storm. They've had a batch of All-Stars over the years (Horford, Teague, Joe JohnsonPaul MillsapKyle Korver) but never been blessed with a superstar. And for all of their prosperity, the Hawks remain a mild draw at home, where they simply can't captivate Atlanta.

This summer they attempted a shakeup of sorts. Gone is Horford, the face of the franchise over the last several years, and Teague, who came of age in Atlanta as a top-15 point guard. Instead, the Hawks have hitched themselves, at least temporarily, to Howard, the Atlanta-bred big man who finds himself at a career crossroad. And they spent four years and $70 million to keep free agent swingman Kent Bazemore, who became a first-time starter last season.

These were moves designed to improve the Hawks, yet it smells suspiciously like the team only maintained the status quo, just with a different look. Change for the sake of change.

Lots will depend on what Howard has left. He's an old 30, having gone straight from high school while enduring injuries of late. He was first-team All-NBA for five straight years but not since 2012. He lacks a polished offensive move and no longer generates an abundance of votes for Defensive Player of the Year. At the same time, Howard remains very functional and a somewhat consistent presence in the post.

The Hawks evidently believe Howard was miscast and underused the last few years in Houston. He was teammates with James Harden, which means he didn't see the ball much. The Rockets' offense was geared toward getting Harden shots, and in the event of double-teams, Harden was instructed to pass to 3-point shooters in a spread offense. Howard was the odd man out.

The problem is Howard, when he averaged 20 points a night at the height of his career, scored his points on athletic ability. He never developed a go-to move that would bail him out as he aged, and as his athletic ability began to wane, Howard was exposed. Is it possible to teach a 30-year-old center some new offensive tricks, or is it too late?

The Hawks aren't asking Howard, who has a quirky personality, to be a team leader. That role belongs to Millsap, which is good. All Howard needs to do is average a double-double and do so forcefully.

He's not the only player on the spot. By shipping out Teague, the Hawks have thrown the keys to Dennis Schroder, who played well in a backup role last season and also shined when Teague was hurt. Can Schroder maintain that level when given 35 minutes a night for an entire season? The Hawks made a wise decision to sign Jack as a backup; although the ex-Georgia Tech player is coming off knee surgery, he was a steal at the veteran's minimum.

The Teague deal allowed the Hawks to move up and draft Prince, an athletic 6-foot-8 small forward who brings plenty of energy and a developing offense. Prince will get a chance to crack the rotation, which is rare for a rookie coming to a winning team.

When the Hawks fired GM Danny Ferry, the job was assumed by coach Mike Budenholzer with assistance from Wes Wilcox. Only a handful of coaches wield the front-office power over Budenholzer. The Budenholzer-Wilcox tandem is still looking to make a signature personnel decision that pushes the Hawks into the elite; signing Howard will either help or hurt their track record.

In a sense, Howard was a value buy. He cost three years and $70 million, less than what the Knicks are paying Joakim Noah and barely more than whatTimofey Mozgov will make with the Lakers. This gives the Hawks flexibility, just in case they find themselves in the hunt for free agents, who for the most part have kept their distance from Atlanta.

He says he's happy to be in Atlanta, where he was born and raised. In due time, how will Atlanta feel about him?

Coming Next: Boston Celtics

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Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him onTwitter.

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