The Atlanta Hawks were desperate for another star.
After that unexpected joy in the 2021 playoffs, their stunning performance last season in the much-improved Eastern Conference was a major concern for everyone involved. Pressure from owners mounted – once again – particularly with Trae Young’s supermax expansion set to take effect for the 2022-23 season.
The high stakes meant it was high time to make another move; to raise the collective cap for this group that had shown so much promise two postseasons ago.
Losing five games in the first round to Miami highlighted just how badly the Hawks needed a second perimeter playmaker alongside Young. The organization believed this was necessary before the series, sources said the athlete, and that was only highlighted by the Heat’s ability to track Atlanta’s All-NBA guard and force him off the ball at an unprecedented level. Atlanta didn’t have the goal or playmaker threats to equalize Young, who was completely sidelined by Miami’s physicality and length.
Enter 2021-22 All-Star Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs keeper Dejounte Murray going to Atlanta to trade Danilo Gallinari, a 2023 top-16 protected first-round pick via Charlotte, 2025 and 2027 unprotected first-round picks and a 2026 Pick Swap, which is also unprotected, sources said the athlete. It’s a win-now move if there ever was one, a clear sign that the Hawks are looking to maximize the young era while shored up a defense that was ranked 26th last season to the allowable points per 100 possessions. But it’s also a heavy price to pay, the kind of make-or-break, mortgage-your-future movement that will be monitored and scrutinized for years to come.
The Hawks are hoping this goes so well that Murray wants to stay on after his current contract expires in the summer of 2024 (he owes him $16.5 million and $17.7 million over the next two seasons). Murray is eligible to sign a three-year extension worth up to $74.7 million after inducements this offseason, but he’s unlikely to sign one now after the All-Star season he’s currently enjoying with Spurs had, agrees. In the near term, the Hawks simply need to find a way to reassert themselves in an Eastern Conference with Boston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Miami and Brooklyn remaining as impressive as ever.
Just a week ago, Atlanta’s soon-to-be general manager Landry Fields said the front office is “committed to getting better, and we want to get better.” The Hawks are better and there is potential for even more improvement in the coming days.
With all signs continuing to point to a John Collins trade in the Hawks’ near future, it’s difficult to discount Atlanta’s potential for next season and beyond without knowing their return in this much-anticipated deal. Sources say trade talks for that Murray deal initially involved Collins before Spurs turned.
It’s also possible the Hawks are looking to trade either Kevin Huerter or Bogdan Bogdanovic, who could be headed to bankrolls due to the Murray addition. Huerter signed a four-year, $65 million deal last offseason, while Bogdanovic owes $18 million this season and is recovering from off-season knee surgery that is expected to sideline him in training camp.
Murray was the only player to average at least 21 points, nine assists and eight rebounds last season, with only Luka Dončić and James Harden coming close. Murray isn’t a perimeter threat, shooting just 33.3 percent out of 3 in his career and just 32.7 percent last season. To Young’s oft-cited basketball double, Steph Curry, he’s not Klay Thompson. Not even close.
While Murray is one of the league’s better guards inside the perimeter, making 44 percent of his midrange jumps and 64 percent of his attempts at the rim, he had a 26.8 utilization rate that far outperformed Huerter’s (16.9) Hawks unprepared Official. Murray will need the ball and Young may need to master the art of playing the ball like Curry. This will be an adjustment for Young and Murray, given that the two All-Stars each played 100 percent of their minutes at point guard last season, cleaning the glass.
Yet ever since Young entered the league, the Hawks have always believed that if he welcomed leaving the ball, they could unleash the best version of Young to the fullest. This ability isn’t entirely new to Young, who used it extensively in his AAU days alongside Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. In his limited off-ball attempts at the NBA level, Young has been brilliant. Last season, he averaged 1.3 points per ball possession, according to Synergy Sports, placing him in the 97th percentile. Young made 48.1 percent of his 77 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts last season.
Now that Young has a running mate in Murray who can run the show with or without him on the floor, the Hawks can unlock their superstar’s entire offensive arsenal. All it took was Gallinari’s partially guaranteed contract, a horde of drafts, and a tense few days of negotiations.
As the Hawks and Spurs discussed the deal late last week and throughout the weekend, there was a sense of confusion and disbelief from some of the parties involved on the Atlanta side. Were Spurs really ready to part ways with a 25-year-old widely regarded as one of the league’s best under-the-radar talents? Would they really welcome a full rebuild in Gregg Popovich’s twilight years? The Hawks knew the price would be high for Murray, but the chance of solving so many of their problems by pairing him with Young in their backcourt was too good to pass up.
Then came the unsettling silence. Sources say things went quiet at Spurs for an extended period earlier this week, with Hawks officials wondering internally whether San Antonio may have backed away from the potential deal or perhaps gained momentum in trade talks elsewhere. Time was of the essence for the Hawks as Gallinari’s $21.45 million contract for this season should be fully guaranteed by Wednesday night.
But during the athlete‘s Jon Krawczynski reported that there were Murray-centric talks last week between the Spurs and Minnesota, clearly the Timberwolves’ front office didn’t feel comfortable going all-in to land him. The Knicks were reported as a possible Murray landing spot, but a source with knowledge of their discussions said they have not spoken to San Antonio about him. Atlanta, meanwhile, was determined to find another elite wing talent.
As the Murray talks unfolded, sources said the Hawks were closely monitoring the situation in Brooklyn and — like so many other teams in the league — were seriously preparing for the possibility that Nets star Kevin Durant could ask for a trade. While Kyrie Irving’s decision to opt into the final year of his contract put a quick end to the Durant chatter, the Hawks’ interest spoke volumes about the scope and urgency of their quest.
In the end, Murray was her man.
(Top photo by Dejounte Murray: Brett Davis/USA Today)