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30 preseason predictions: Atlanta Hawks

They have a new coach, cap flexibility and an eye on the future. What does this season hold for the Atlanta Hawks?

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs organization continues to pollinate the league with Pop/RC Buford alums-turned coaches. Avery Johnson, Monty Williams, Vinny Del Negro and Jacque Vaughn are all former players that have been or still are head coaches in the league. Then there are former assistants Mike Brown (now with the Cavaliers) and, most recently, Brett Brown and Mike Budenholzer.

While Brett Brown is steering the 76ers tank machine in Philadelphia, Budenholzer finds himself on the bench of a Hawks team with tempered expectations and eyes on long-term success.

Here's my prediction for the 2013-2014 Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta Hawks

Prediction: Lou Williams will be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate before being traded mid-season.

Since 2007, the Hawks have been stuck in middle-of-the-pack limbo: a talented team that's perennially good enough to make the postseason, but never a real threat to the elite teams in the east.

Former Spur Danny Ferry took over the general manager job in Atlanta last year and immediately asserted that this wasn't a team that he wanted competing for the 3-6 seed every year only to get eliminated early in the playoffs.

Because in Atlanta it was starting to feel a little like this:

With so much money tied up in their three stars (including the $119 million Joe Johnson contract), it seemed like escaping this cycle of better-than-average would be impossible. Yet somehow, Ferry managed to exorcise the main demons of the previous regime (namely, trading '06 Draft albatross Marvin Williams and the seemingly unmovable contract of Joe Johnson). The result? Well, a six-seed and another first-round exit from the playoffs.

But the team is indeed angling in a new direction, further evidenced by how they handled their Josh Smith situation last year. Unable to find a good trading partner during the season, they let Smith walk in free agency and signed Paul Millsap to a very economical two-year, $19 million deal. Millsap will help keep the Hawks respectable without sacrificing any long-term cap flexibility.

Millsap will keep Al Horford playing as an undersized center. Meanwhile, freshly re-inked point guard Jeff Teague will continue to try and prove he's their playmaker for the future, improving upon a solid season last year.

The rest of the roster is solid, if not a bit redundant. There is, in actuality, no center on this team. Instead, there are four power forwards - Millsap, Horford, Gustavo Ayon and Elton Brand. There are also currently four point guards and four shooting guards. Granted that the NBA is not as restricted to positional roles as it once was, but this still reason enough to expect changes in the near future.

Lou Williams will come in with the second unit and should put up points in a hurry, just like Jamal Crawford did last year with the Clips. He'll score more than 20 in quite a few games and should be one of the favorites for the Sixth Man of the Year Award which, at this point, belongs to the shooting guard position. In the past seven years, six of the winners have been scoring two-guards and a healthy Williams will be among the best next season.

The Hawks' positional logjam and prioritization of long-term success will likely claim someone as a trade casualty. In Grantland's recent preview of the team, Bill Simmons predicts Al Horford will get moved to Chicago for future prospects. It's certainly possible, but I'm not sure if the Hawks are wanting to start from scratch without their best player. That leaves Williams, a guy whose value should go up next year, as the next logical piece to move.

Williams is making less than $11 million over the next two years, a very reasonable price for any contender to pay. Trading him could not only bring back a future talent, but it would also free up last year's promising first-round pick, John Jenkins.

Jenkins had a decent rookie season playing only 15 minutes per game, scoring 6.1 PPG with averages of 44.6% from the field and 38.4% on threes. He's got a bit of Kevin Martin in his game, which he showcased in a 23-point effort against the Spurs at the end of last year.

Where will Lou go? Oklahoma City would be a good destination. Regardless of how well Russell Westbrook bounces back, they'll still be hurting for a scoring punch off the bench. No one expects Jeremy Lamb to be that guy - not even Jeremy Lamb. Two years of Lou Williams would likely be worth the Thunder sending over their first-round pick and a filler.

The Eastern Conference should be stronger than last year, but I still expect this team to contend for a playoff spot. It'll be a shaky first step for Coach Bud, but I see the Hawks becoming a real force sooner rather than later.

Other Hawks predictions:

  • Coach Budenholzer will win Coach of the Year award (7 to 1)
  • Dennis Schröeder will win Rookie of the Year award (20 to 1)
    It would likely take an injury to Jeff Teague for this to happen but, with length, quickness and a bit of umlaut power, I think Schröeder is legit.

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