The Atlanta Hawks had to face the burden of expectations in 2021-22.
Fresh off a surprise trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, Atlanta entered the season as a picturesque franchise with a mixture of realized star power and unrealized potential. Unfortunately, not every young team progresses linearly.
On Jan. 14, the Hawks were seven games under .500. As late as Jan. 27, they were 11th in the Eastern Conference standings. And despite a spectacular rally to 43-39 and a successful Play-In Tournament run, Atlanta still looked hopeless for most of its first-round series against the Miami Heat.
And yet, the Hawks still finished with the second-best Offensive Rating in basketball, per Cleaning the Glass. Trae Young took the next step as a bona fide superstar. Onyeka Okongwu arrived after an injury-plagued rookie year. Even though Atlanta did underachieve, they still have several talented young players with room to grow. So how can the franchise get back on the right track?
Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler has hinted at a possible offseason overhaul.
“I think if you asked our front office they would say that we thought based on last season’s visit to the Eastern Conference finals, that we could bring back predominantly the same team and get better and expect it to be better,” Ressler said. "I don’t think that worked out the way we thought.
"So yes, I think we should have tried to get better rather than bring back what we had. That won’t happen again, by the way. It was a mistake, in my opinion."
Atlanta first has to answer The John Collins Question.
The Hawks signed Collins to a massive five-year, $125 million contract extension last summer, essentially locking him in as Young's partner in crime. His first year under the new deal went woefully off-script.
The 24-year-old appeared in just 54 games this past season, and just four after the All-Star break, due to injuries. He posted the worst True Shooting percentage of his career (still a pretty nice 61.0%) and saw his lowest usage rate in four seasons. In January, Collins went on record voicing his displeasure about his role, and as of that moment, he had statistical evidence to back him up.
Collins possesses undeniable on-court synergy with Young, but is that enough for him to want him to stay, and for the front office to keep faith?
Ressler also made two other notable comments that could pertain to Collins. One is that he's not afraid of spending into the luxury tax to make the Hawks a championship contender. Perhaps this means Atlanta values Collins regardless of his salary and wants to fortify other areas. But Ressler also added: "I think every team in the NBA should add a superstar whenever they can, and I promise you we’re no exception.”
Collins would surely help Atlanta chase a superstar if he were included in a trade. We'll see if he's on the table for Atlanta.