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Can the Hawks take the next step after a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals?

Trae Young is emerging as a superstar for an exciting, young Atlanta team ready to contend for years.

Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks gets ready for the start of Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks at State Farm Arena on July 03, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia
Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks gets ready for the start of Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks at State Farm Arena on July 03, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks enter the 2021 offseason coming off a surprising run to the Eastern conference finals behind superstar guard Trae Young. The Hawks lost 4-2 to the Milwaukee Bucks but missed Young for Games 4 and 5, which could’ve made a big difference in the series result. Young battled out a bone bruise to play in Game 6, but wasn’t effective due to the injury.

The guard averaged 28.8 points and 9.5 assists during the playoff run. He even helped Atlanta win a road Game 7 over the Philadelphia 76ers, scoring 21 points and dishing out 10 assists despite a poor shooting performance. The Hawks proved to be a gutsy bunch during this postseason, but can they take the next step and eventually win a championship?

The Hawks were a consistent playoff team from the late 1970s to 2000. They had an eight-year postseason gap before rattling off 10 straight playoff appearances. Ultimately, Atlanta only reached the conference finals once and the franchise decided a rebuild was necessary to make the team a championship contender again. This deep playoff run was proof Atlanta’s current rebuild is on the right track.

Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and Onyeka Okongwu form a talented, young core largely on rookie contracts. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari are useful veteran pieces supporting the group. Clint Capela is also in the fold, but his contract might be something Atlanta considers moving to free up cap space as the young stars become eligible for extensions. Many people criticized the Hawks when they traded Luka Doncic to the Dallas Mavericks on draft night for what eventually became a package of Young and Reddish. If the latter plays like he did in Game 6, that trade looks really good for Atlanta.

The Hawks have two major situations to deal with in the offseason. First, they must decide whether Collins is worth matching any offer on. The big man reportedly declined a $90 million extension and will likely get a big offer as one of the top restricted free agents on the market. Expect the Hawks to match any offer, but that deal is going to eat into Atlanta’s cap space.

The next step is determining whether Nate McMillan deserves the full-time gig as head coach. McMillan took over for Lloyd Pierce when the Hawks were 14-20 and eventually finished 41-31. Atlanta’s metrics took a jump during McMillan’s tenure as well.

Hawks under Pierce (34 games): 112.7 offensive rating, 112.9 defensive rating, 1.71 A/TO
Hawks under McMillan (38 games): 115.9 offensive rating, 111.3 defensive rating, 1.94 A/TO

There’s no reason to think McMillan won’t come back as the head coach. Collins and Young have spoken in support of him. Atlanta performed well enough to turn its entire season around under him.

Once those two situations are resolved, the Hawks can look at improving the roster if they feel it necessary. Atlanta has salary filler options with Gallinari, Capela and Bogdanovic and can throw in one or two young players if a substantial upgrade presents itself. GM Travis Schlenk has kept his first-round picks intact, meaning the Hawks can throw around draft capital if a trade materializes.

Bradley Beal and CJ McCollum could be potential trade targets this offseason and the Hawks can definitely be in the running for them. There’s value in keeping the same core together and letting them develop, but a player like Beal isn’t going to be available for the Hawks that often. A backcourt with him and Young would be deadly. McCollum could also do the trick for Atlanta.

In free agency, don’t expect the Hawks to do much outside of matching an offer on Collins. Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul and Mike Conley aren’t choosing the Hawks even with the exciting pieces on the roster and only Leonard would really fit Atlanta’s timeline.

Ultimately, I expect the Hawks to bring back Collins and McMillan while pushing their cap space to the summer of 2022 where James Harden, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and other superstars hit free agency. Atlanta might drop a future first-round pick to shed Capela or Gallinari to create salary room, but expect largely the same roster to return to build on this season’s playoff run.

The Hawks are +3500 to win next season’s NBA title and Young is +2500 to win league MVP, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.