Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Rudy Gobert trade rumors: Hawks circling defensive anchor, have assets to make consolidation deal work

After a surprise conference finals run in 2021, the Atlanta Hawks were among the most disappointing teams this season. They wound up scraping into the No. 8 seed before being promptly discarded by the Heat in five games. The offense around Trae Young is elite, if somewhat postseason vulnerable as a one-man show. The defense is a doormat. President Travis Schlenk and newly promoted GM Landry Fields have plenty of trade currency. Many suspect they’ll use it. 

A recent report from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer indicates that there has been “plenty of talk among league personnel” regarding Atlanta as a potential trade destination for Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who could, in theory, be had for “some combination of” Clint Capela, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and this year’s No. 16 pick. 

Collins is always in the middle of these trade rumors. Personally, it’s hard for me to imagine Atlanta getting better by trading Collins, which is why he hasn’t been moved in a deal to date, but Fischer, in accordance with plenty of other chatter, reported that Collins is “being mentioned” as a trade target of the Portland Trail Blazers, who could send back this year’s No. 7 pick. 

Perhaps Atlanta would then package the Nos. 7 and 16 pick in another deal. 

One way or another, Atlanta is primed to consolidate its many good-but-not-great assets into a single higher-impact player. Gobert makes sense as a backstop for a defense constantly compensating for Young’s shortcomings, but is Gobert going to like that? He just spent the last season having to cover for a porous perimeter defense in Utah. Also, Young’s nonexistent ball pressure and lackluster screen navigation paired with Gobert’s drop-coverage inclinations would have pull-up point guards licking their chops in playoff scenarios. 

Still, the defense has to get better, and Gobert would certainly accomplish that. Defense being an offseason priority is also why the Hawks are expected to re-sign De’Andre Hunter to a long-term extension, per Fischer, who also notes Atlanta’s intention to free up more playing time for third-year big man Onyeka Okongwu, who has serious defensive upside and makes Capela expendable. But if Atlanta wants Okongwu to play more, bringing in Gobert would seem to contradict that agenda. 

Other than Young, and it sounds like Hunter and Okongwu, the Hawks are making everyone else available. After firing coach Lloyd Pierce and making the aforementioned run to the conference finals, Atlanta’s timeline for true contention, whether intentionally or not, has moved up. They have a great but flawed franchise centerpiece in Young, and they have to support him properly, mainly on defense but also with another high-level scorer/creator to lighten his burden in the playoffs. 

The internal development of Hunter and Huerter as No. 2 perimeter options appears to have a ceiling, though I really like both of those players. Hunter has showed an ability to create his own offense, but he’s probably out of his depth as a No. 2. 

Same goes for Huerter, who can also create his own offense and is an underrated playmaker but is best positioned as a shooter alongside more primary options, as well as Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari. These are role players with the capability to contribute in primary ways on a given night. Collins is really good, but not as his own creator. He thrives in the gaps and vertical space that comes with playing inside Young’s orbit. Atlanta needs a consistent, more independently equipped No. 2. 

Whichever direction(s) the Hawks go, it’s hard to see them standing pat this summer. A trade is almost certainly going to be made. Gobert would be a home-run swing, but in truth, Atlanta has the goods to get into just about any trade discussion it desires. 

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