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Posted: July 5, 2014 10:00 p.m.

New beasts of the East

Are the Hawks one player away from being a contender?

I’ve honestly never been a fan of the Hawks. To me they’ve always been one of those teams that I hope does well – if only because I’m from Georgia – but in the back of my mind (or the front – wherever common sense is located) I knew they wouldn’t.

My belief in the Hawks organization faded in the summer of 2010 when the decision was made to sign Joe Johnson to a six-year $119 million dollar deal. July 1, 2010 Yahoo! Sports reported the deal, and this was the headline: ‘Joe Johnson to sign a ridiculous contract.’

For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t pay Amare Stoudemire that money, move him to center and finally allow Al Horford to flourish at his true position of power forward. But they didn’t. They signed Johnson to that toxic contract and were stuck as a middle-of-the-road team for years.

Then, in 2012 the Hawks front office made its biggest and best acquisition since acquiring the Human Highlight Reel when they brought on Danny Ferry as GM. He found a way to trade Johnson’s ridiculous contract. He’s been able to draft and sign good players to fill holes where needed, and he’s giving the Hawks an identity quite similar to the Spurs.

This year without Al Horford, the Hawks took the Pacers to seven games before falling in the first round of the playoffs. This summer in free agency could be big for Atlanta. It could quite possibly push them into the upper echelon of the East.

Here are some of the acquisitions that could make a huge difference for Atlanta.

Kevin Love
Obviously Love would be a great addition to any team, but Atlanta is one of the best fits available. The East is anemic in competition and Love could vault the Hawks into being top two in the conference if acquired. It also makes sense because the Hawks have the pieces to move that should satisfy Minnesota. A deal packaged around Paul Milsap or Teague (possibly both), a couple young players and a couple future first rounders is a good price to pay for Love. The deal would probably land Kevin Martin in Atlanta, both Love and Martin fit Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer’s system of offense built on spacing. Their additions could do wonders for the Hawks offensively, not so much on the defensive end but I’ll leave Bud to work that out. The Hawks should do their best not to include Teague, but if you have to pull that trigger then do it. Atlanta still has promising young guard Dennis Schroeder to fill the void. All in all, a starting lineup of Teague, Korver, Sefolosha, Love and Horford should strike fear in the strongest teams in the league.

Luol Deng
As mentioned above, Bud’s system thrives on spacing and Luol Deng could help with that. In a situation where he isn’t the first or second option, we could see Deng continue to put up all-star numbers. Deng, 29, averaged 16 a game last season. Deng would, also improve the Hawks need for defense at the wing position, a reason for the team signing Sefolosha to a three-year deal. Pairing the two together allows ATL to keep the floor spaced and be tenacious on defense. It also provides balance when Korver plays. Pairing Korver with either Deng or Sefolosha will allow the Hawks to hide Korver on defense. Deng could also play as a stretch-four in small-ball lineups next to Horford. He’s a good acquisition if the Hawks can get him to sign at $10 million per for about three years.

Lance Stephenson
When the Hawks traded Johnson, they never were able to replace his production at the two spot. Stephenson can do that and more (plus you won’t have to pay him $20 mill a year). Stephenson led the league in triple-doubles last season and was arguably the biggest all-star snub of the season. Yes, he plays a little out of control at times and he can be unpredictable with his antics. These are his strengths and his weaknesses. There aren't many other two-guards who can affect the game in as many ways as Stephenson can. As far as his attitude is concerned, he wants to win, whether he pushes his teammates’ buttons too much or not depends on his environment. Bud can provide the leadership that Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel couldn’t and Stephenson could be the best value buy of this free agency – he’s still getting better. Stephenson wants $10 million per year. He’s already reportedly rejected a five-year $44 million deal according to CBS Sports. The Hawks have about $12 million in cap space, so giving Stephenson exactly what he wants could be the perfect fit.

Nick Young
Swaggy P had a good year with the Lakers, benefitting from Mike D’antoni’s seven seconds or less offensive system. Keeping with our theme of needing a two-guard, Young provides Atlanta with yet another capable three-point shooter and a guy who is capable of playing solid defense (e.g. his defense against Lebron in the third quarter of the Lakers/Heat game on Christmas last year). Yes, at times he can take shots that make you wonder if he thinks he’s playing an actual NBA game or just goofin’ around on 2K. His shot selection, however, shouldn’t prove to be a huge problem as long as the Hawks are willing to take the good with the bad. And with Young, usually there’s more good than bad.

If it weren’t for Horford’s injury this season, who knows what the Hawks could have done in the East.
It’s 2014, the Hawks have a brilliant GM in Ferry and finally – after years of making the wrong moves – they’re a player or two away from being in the Eastern Conference Finals.

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