Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Hawks shift into rebuild mode, an Atlanta sports tradition


Tear it down. Build it up. Try again. The Atlanta sports three-step: lather, rinse, repeat.

They see growth, potential, a blueprint for Eden. (Because there are no bad plans.) You see mistakes, inevitable doom and 36-point home-court losses to Detroit. (Because while there are no bad plans, there are bad choices.)

The Hawks are starting over. The Braves started over. The Falcons started over for 42 years.

There should be signs at the airport, and the train station, and the bus depot, and the three interstates that lead into the city: “Welcome to Atlanta: We’re starting over.”

The Falcons are finally at a place where we can watch and not cover our eyes (and, yes, I type those words remembering what happened in the last game). The Braves still aren’t great, and more evidence of correct player-personnel decisions would be comforting, but they’re at least more interesting and sometimes entertaining.

The Hawks: kaboom. They will go backward before forward, but at least this time it will be the residue of design.

Travis Schlenk is the new builder and human wrecking ball in the Hawks' front office. Any questions about his decisiveness disappeared this week when he traded Dwight Howard to Charlotte for a bag of junk, less than a year after the previous regime signed him, cast the moment as some long-awaited homecoming and vowed he would make the Hawks whole again.

Next on the exit ramp: Likely Paul Millsap. Maybe Kent Bazemore.

Before it's over, this could wind up looking like a Mini-Me of the Braves' rebuild -- the assets going out more familiar than the ones coming in.

Millsap's departure seems inevitable. He has a strong desire to stay in Atlanta, but it's not logical he would leave potentially $50 million on the table, depending on offers from other teams. He's the last remaining starter from the 2014-15 team that won 60 games and went to the Eastern Conference finals. Even if you believe that season was an aberration, that's a stunning level of turnover.

Before Schlenk is done, there’s a chance guard Dennis Schroder, a reserve two years ago, will be the only returning player from that roster. Mike Muscala and Thabo Sefolosha are unsigned (Muscala may be brought back). Bazemore is well liked, but he makes too much money for his perceived role, so he’s being shopped in trade talks. If Schlenk can trade Howard in about five minutes, he can certainly trade a young, athletic and affable Bazemore.

Schlenk had significant input in Golden State, but it’s a lot different when everybody in the office is looking at you for the final call on trades and draft picks.

In a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore and me, Schlenk looked ahead to the draft and said, "It’ll probably feel different on draft night, when you actually have to give the name (to the league). We were on the same page (at Golden State), but I guess now I’m actually on the hook for it.”

Schlenk didn’t inherit a lot of “keepers” on the roster (Schroder and Taurean Prince being the obvious ones). He would like to keep Tim Hardaway Jr., one of his few pieces on offense, but that will depend on the offers Hardaway gets as a restricted free agent.

The new general manager took the short end of the trade to get rid of Howard, but that should tell you how big of problem he was. He could still rebound and play a little defense, but he had little upside on offense. He couldn't function in the Hawks' pick-and-roll system. If they had better shooters, it wouldn't be a huge problem. But if they had better shooters, nothing would be a huge problem.

Howard made way too much money for his role and, maybe most important of all, he was a poor influence on young players in a locker room that was painfully devoid of leadership (Millsap's departure will make it worse). He was going to hurt the building process.

Tashanda Howard, the player's sister, vented on sports-talk station 92.9 FM after the trade, saying: "(Howard) one of the first big free agents to come here, and I think a lot of the free agents are going to look at that and see how they do their free agency, and they are not going to want to come to this city.”

It’s sweet that she came to her brother’s defense, but she could not be more wrong. No free agent takes their lead from Dwight Howard. There's a reason he will be on his fourth team in six seasons. (Worth noting: Houston got rid of Howard and went from 41 wins to 55. The Hawks signed him and went from 48 to 43.)

This rebuild will take time. Schlenk said recently, "It took Golden State seven years (to get to this point). It’s not a quick process."

Before this Braves season, general manager John Coppolella, in the third year of a rebuild, said the team would be "better," but avoided specifics: "We don't want to put any expectations on this season, saying we're going to win X number of games or we're going to make the playoffs or not make the playoffs."

The Hawks might want to avoid specifics for a while as well.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.