ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks cleaned out their lockers, met with the coaches, and headed off for summer vacation Thursday.
Even though a historic 60-win season ended with a one-sided sweep by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference final, no one was hanging their heads less than 48 hours after the final game.
Coach Mike Budenholzer and his players all view this season as a turning point for the long-overlooked franchise, a major success that changed expectations inside and outside the organization.
Now, the goal is to take the Hawks even higher.
“We’re not satisfied,” Budenholzer said. “We want more.”
With that in mind, here’s some of the questions they must address during the offseason:
FREE AGENCY: The primary goal is keeping what they already have. Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll turned out to be huge bargains after signing with Atlanta in 2013. Heading into free agency, both can expect big raises. Budenholzer talked repeatedly about “continuity” during his season-ending news conference and made it clear he wants both players back. Losing either would force the Hawks to pursue other free-agent options. Atlanta should have plenty of money under the projected $67.1 million cap to re-sign Millsap and Carroll. The Hawks have 10 players under contract for next season at around $41.3 million.
FRONT OFFICE: It’s unclear who is going to be running this team once the new ownership group led by Antony Ressler is approved by the NBA. Ressler’s group should get the green light to take over the franchise in the next few weeks. Its first priority will be settling the fate of general manager Danny Ferry, who masterfully put the roster together but wasn’t around for the entire season because of racially charged comments. Ferry’s return would undoubtedly rekindle protests by local civil rights leaders, though there’s plenty of sentiment that he’s been punished enough.
Budenholzer has been in charge of player personnel during Ferry’s absence and could take over that role permanently, with assistant general manager Wes Wilcox continuing to serve as his very able right-hand man.
INJURY REPORT: The Hawks are hopeful that three players who sustained serious injuries will be recovered or close to it by the time training camp opens Sept. 29. Thabo Sefolosha continues to get around on a push cart after suffering a broken right leg and ligament damage that he said was caused by New York City police. Sefolosha’s recovery could take up to six months, so there’s a chance he’ll still be limited when camp begins.
The outlook is more promising for guard Kyle Korver, who underwent surgery Tuesday night to repair ligament damage in his right ankle. He should be cleared for basketball activities in about three months. Backup guard Shelvin Mack will have surgery next Tuesday to repair a severely separated right shoulder. His expected recovery time is three to four months.
BULKING UP: One of the worst rebounding teams in the league during the regular season, Atlanta was thoroughly dominated on the boards in the conference final. The Cavaliers outrebounded the Hawks 208-157 over the four games and doubled up Atlanta on the offensive glass, 55-27.
But Budenholzer has no plans to shake things up in the front court, saying he prefers Al Horford at center and Millsap at power forward even though both are a bit undersized. Mike Muscala, who is 6-foot-11, came on strong in the playoffs and will likely play a bigger role next season. His goal over the summer is to put on weight and get stronger. Late-season signee Austin Daye hardly played at all, but the former first-round pick is also 6-11 and has a chance to impress the coaches during summer workouts.
GOINGS AND COMINGS: After posting the second-best record in the league, the Hawks are picking higher in the draft than would be expected (15th overall) thanks to the trade three years ago that sent Joe Johnson to Brooklyn. That’s certainly high enough to at least land another productive bench player. The Hawks are unlikely to bring back little-used John Jenkins, and Elton Brand could be headed for retirement.
There’s also restricted free agent center Pero Antic, who had a very inconsistent season but provides the outside shooting threat that Budenholzer likes from his big men. And speaking of big, the Hawks might be ready to give a look to Walter “Edy” Tavares, a 7-foot-3 behemoth who played this past season in the Spanish league. He was a second-round pick in 2014.