There are two absolutes about every major pro sports draft. One is that every team has a plan. The other is that no team builder is going to tell you his plan. When a general manager speaks publicly, he will alternate between lies and half-truths, and by half-truths I mean half-lies and half-decipherable substances, the verbal equivalent of Spam.
Here are the undeniable facts about the Hawks and Thursday’s NBA draft: They hold four picks -- Nos. 3, 19, 30 and 34, barring trades -- and they need, well, everything. General manager Travis Schlenk is faced with a monumental task. The franchise hasn’t required this major of a rebuild since 2003 and Billy Knight, that rare combination of arrogance and incompetence, was in charge. If Schlenk can avoid mistakes on the level of Shelden Williams, Marvin Williams and ignoring Chris Paul, he has a pretty good shot at success.
Asked about the pressure of his task, Schlenk responded, “Any time you’re making big decisions, you’re going to feel pressure to get this right. But these aren’t necessarily yes-or-no answers. It takes time for this to play out to see if you made the right decisions.”
This draft is devoid of projected superstars, even if there are several talented options. But regardless of what Schlenk does – and the odds favor the Hawks’ first pick coming down to either Slovenian Luka Doncic (if he slips past Sacramento at No. 2) or Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. (if Doncic is gone) – one thing needs to happen for them to go anywhere in the future.
They need to move on from Dennis Schroder.
Schroder is young (24) and talented (he led the Hawks in scoring last season and can beat a defender off the dribble) and he’s a pretty good ballhandler. But he’s rip-your-eyeballs-out maddening. He’s emotional and immature and streaky.
He feuded too often with former coach Mike Budenholzer, and while there’s an argument to be made that Budenholzer at some point hates everybody and everything, Schroder was the wrong end of the grading curve.
I’m pretty sure that if he ever did the Ancestry.com test, his DNA would prove to be 6 percent Josh Smith.
In a 2017 game against Golden State, Dwight Howard threw the ball away, and Schroder argued with him because he wanted the ball. The argument continued after the ensuing in-bounds pass, causing Schroder to forget about defense. Klay Thompson passed to an unguarded Steph Curry, who made an open jumper. The default reaction was to blame Howard for the entire sequence because that’s usually the safe bet. But Schroder’s lack of maturity, especially for a potential building block, was the biggest issue.
He remains the biggest issue. He’s the best player on the team and the starting point guard and, as such, the player who’s supposed to make everybody around him better. He doesn’t. Because of the position he holds on the court and in the locker room, he’s not a guy you want around a young team that’s trying to build something.
Nobody expected Steph Curry to be “STEPH CURRY!” in 2009 when Golden State drafted him seventh overall – sandwiched between Jonny Flynn and Jordan Hill, if you need a reference point. But Curry made himself into a great player with extra practice, film study, maturity, intelligence.
Schroder has been here five seasons, the past two as a starter. He’s still popping the same springs he popped as a rookie.
Schroder never will be Curry, and he doesn’t have to be Curry. But Curry never gave an offseason news conference in Germany, as Schroder did last month, when he strangely opined that playing for Indiana or Milwaukee “wouldn’t be too bad.”
Curry also never allegedly ganged up with three friends to punch and/or kick somebody on the ground. Schroder was arrested on misdemeanor battery charges stemming from an incident in September. There’s video showing him initiating contact with a victim.
The Hawks and the NBA both held off suspending him until the league process played out. The Journal-Constitution’s Michael Cunningham reported in March that DeKalb County’s assistant solicitor-general is suggesting all four defendants be prosecuted for aggravated battery, given injuries sustained by the victim. Aggravated battery is a felony.
If this was just about one offseason incident, or one stupid comment, or one or two brain lapses on the court, it could easily be dismissed. But there’s a point at which the aggregate becomes too great to ignore.
Schlenk understandably is guarded about any of his plans. He gave the stock answer when asked about whether he is pursuing any trades involving Schroder.
“There are a few times every year when teams have discussions with lots of teams about lots of players,” he said Tuesday. “But right now we’re focused on the draft.”
Schlenk made a “bad basketball trade” with Charlotte soon after being hired, but there was a reason for it. He wanted Howard off the roster at almost any cost, so he took back Miles Plumlee (and his contract) and Marco Belinelli, with a swap of second-round picks. Logic suggests he won’t make that kind of deal with Schroder, who has three years remaining on his four-year, $70 million contract. He’ll want an asset, not an anchor, and the thinking is that Schroder is still young and talented enough that another team will think, “We can fix him.”
This is a topic now because most trades are made around the draft: leading to it, during it, soon after it, before training camps open. If the Hawks can find a trade partner, Schroder could be gone.
The Hawks finished only 24-58 last season, and there’s no guarantee they’ll be better next season, even with a seemingly smart hire as head coach, Lloyd Pierce. But going in the right direction will be difficult if they don’t make a change at point guard.
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