It's easy to spot the NBA's underachievers. We already did it earlier this season. The hard part is fixing them.
We'll pull from the field of teams we labeled disappointments in early March, even hitting the honorable mentions from that list for completeness' sake. In the weeks since we highlighted those squads, a few have worked hard to change their fates. Playoff runs are possible for more than one of them, which would make including them on that previous list (and this one) look foolish. Most, though, are ticketed for early playoff exits that will fall short of preseason expectations.
Some may not even play beyond game No. 82. Looking at you, Portland Trail Blazers.
Wherever these squads end up, they've given us enough of a sample to pinpoint the issues that have held them back to this point. If they want better results next year, these are the key areas on which they should focus in the offseason.
In a best-case scenario, these clubs will recognize what went wrong and work to correct it via the draft, free agency or trade. Fail to do that, and the worst-case scenario comes into play: winding up on this same list—for the same reason—next year.
And nobody wants that.
Atlanta Hawks: Make the John Collins Trade
Barring an unlikely surge to close 2022-23, the Atlanta Hawks are on pace to continue their three-year trend of declining win percentages. With the defense still a wreck and the offense underwhelming relative to past highs, that Eastern Conference Finals trip in 2021 feels like it happened a decade ago.
No one move will cure everything that ails the Hawks, and they've already pulled most of the available levers by shaking up the front office and replacing head coach Nate McMillan with Quin Snyder. But one piece of unfinished business looms large, and finally addressing it could be the first step toward making sure the Hawks don't extend their year-over-year slide to a fourth season in 2023-24.
Yep, it's time to trade John Collins.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that suggestion was cut and pasted from almost any time in the last 18 months. Collins basically set up permanent residence in the rumor mill at some point last year and hasn't left since.
The forces pushing Atlanta to move the struggling power forward will only intensify. In addition to the mental strain such prolonged uncertainty must be putting on Collins (which could be as big of a factor in his brutal year as the injured finger knocking his jumper offline), the Hawks' recent transactions have basically made keeping him around financially untenable. Unless Atlanta is as open to paying the luxury tax as team governor Tony Ressler claims, a highly dubious proposition in light of last summer's tax-ducking trade of Kevin Huerter, something's got to give.
Dejounte Murray cost Atlanta a mint to acquire, and he'll hit unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2024. Teams don't tend to surrender multiple first-rounders for rentals, and removing Collins' remaining $78.5 million over the next three years could help ensure the necessary cash will be available to pay Murray. Don't forget deadline acquisition Saddiq Bey's extension eligibility this summer, either.
It's not easy to offload a salary like Collins', particularly when his value is as low as it's been in years. But a handful of teams—the Indiana Pacers, Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz come to mind—have the flexibility to take Collins into space with draft capital attached. Hopefully, Collins' status as a quality starter as recently as 2021-22 will keep the Hawks from having to include too many sweeteners in a package sending him out.
With Collins gone, the Hawks can pivot to smaller looks with Bey or AJ Griffin joining De'Andre Hunter at the forward spots. Clint Capela can still anchor the middle, and playing more wings instead of Collins could help the Hawks fix their 23rd-ranked three-point accuracy rate. Much has gone wrong for Atlanta, but a lot of the difference between this year and last can be traced to its shooting woes. The Hawks were No. 3 in three-point percentage in 2021-22.
Better coaching, improved performance from Trae Young and another year of chemistry building should help Atlanta right the ship. But moving Collins to clear space and change the lineup construction should be the first order of business.