Schultz: Hawks’ rumors out of control, but Travis Schlenk eyes fix, not ‘overhaul’

ATLANTA — The Hawks aren’t a team today. They are a series of continuously mutating rumors. They are a tweet about John Collins going here, or a blog about Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter going there, or a “sources said” report about a swap of draft picks, or Tony Ressler wants changes, or everybody clear the decks for Deandre Ayton , or Rudy Gobert or … wait, give me another minute to Google.

“We’re the easy target,” Hawks president Travis Schlenk said. “Every rumor out there has the Hawks in it.”

Does that bother him?

“It doesn’t bother me. It’s harder on the players than me,” he said. “It’s hard on their families. I talk to their agents, or if they’re in town, I talk to them directly and tell them: ‘Look, don’t pay attention to what you read. I’ll let you know if something is real.’ I just don’t want them to read about something on Twitter before they hear it from me.”

There’s only one thing we can be certain of after the Hawks followed up an expected run to the Eastern Conference finals with an equally unexpected eighth-place conference finish and first-round playoff exit: They’re going to do something. But it might not be as massive a change as some expect. To assume Schlenk and the front office are going to blow up this roster would be a mistake, and it would be wrong because the Hawks aren’t bad. They’re just not great.

“It’s not going to be a major overhaul,” Schlenk said. “I think some people have assumed some things based on some of my comments or Tony’s comments after the season.”

This is a pivotal time for the franchise. The Hawks were skillfully rebuilt into a playoff team. But after taking a step back this season, suggesting the need for change, Schlenk knows he has to be careful because the next significant move can take the team in either direction. The change won’t impact only the product on the court; it could influence Trae Young’s thoughts on his future.

This isn’t meant to start some rumor like “TRAE YOUNG WANTS OUT!” Hey doesn’t. He likes it here. He makes a ton of money, likes playing in Atlanta and certainly has something every pro athlete wants: the owner’s ear. But the NBA is a player-driven league. Stars get what they want, maybe more than in any other pro league. They get coaches hired and fired and teammates traded and directions changed to their preference. If they don’t get it, they or their agents manipulate situations to force a trade.

Young wants to contend for and win championships, as he should. There’s no reason that can’t happen in Atlanta, which has the resources and financial backing to get that done. But if things go sideways, he will begin to wonder whether this is the best franchise to get him a ring. That’s just the reality of the NBA.


Trae Young and the Hawks were eliminated in the first round of the NBA playoffs. (Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

So, yes, this offseason is probably the most important since five years ago, when Mike Budenholzer came to the strange conclusion that signing Dwight Howard and letting Al Horford walk would fix everything. Kaboom.

The draft is June 23. Free agency will follow. Odds slightly favor a move happening within the next week, right up to draft night. Schlenk is talking to five to six teams per day. Without getting specific, of course, he said “there are four or five paths we can take right now” involving various teams, players and positions.

This isn’t just about deciding what area the Hawks need help with the most.

“It’s about fit,” he said. “That’s an aspect of this people don’t appreciate enough. It’s easy to (assess) talent, but these are human beings, and they’re a close-knit group of guys who spend a lot of time together. The right guy or the wrong guy can really affect a team.”

Atlanta needs to improve its perimeter defense. It needs a consistent second scoring option after Young. It could use a strong veteran (or two) in the locker room for leadership when this still-young roster struggles. But it’s a delicate situation.

“It’s a lot easier to become a good team, a playoff team, than it is to become one that contends for a title,” Schlenk said. “We feel we’ve become a competitive team, but now we have to take the next step, and these are difficult decisions. If you make a mistake in the draft, you can overcome that. It’s a two-year mistake. If you make a mistake in free agency or in a sign-and-trade, when you’re giving somebody a four-year, $150 million contract, that can be detrimental for a long time.”

As for how Young figures in all this, Schlenk said: “He wants to win. Our owner wants to win. Our coach wants to win. I want to win. We all want to win. He knows we’re doing everything we can to get better and contend for a championship, and he has put his trust in us. But it’s not as easy as snapping your fingers. All teams are trying to get better.”

Collins remains central to most rumors because he carries the most value of the players the team would deal. Bogdanovic and Huerter are on the table. Danilo Gallinari likely will be bought out or dealt. It’s doubtful De’Andre Hunter will be traded because his potential remains high, he’s young and cheap (for one more year) and the team could get burned. But, yes, as The Athletic‘s Chris Kirschner has reported several times, everybody but Young is up for discussion.

“We realize we have a special player in Trae, and we’re trying to give him the best opportunity to succeed because we all want to succeed,” Schlenk said.

Becoming good was the easy part. Becoming a contender is the challenge.

(Photo: Jeff Haynes / NBAE via Getty Images)

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