COMMENTARY | Dwight Howard may have spurned the advances of the Atlanta Hawks by choosing to team with James Harden and the Houston Rockets, but an under-the-radar move the Hawks made this offseason could still ultimately turn out to be the better deal for Atlanta.
Who Is Gustavo Ayon?
The Hawks signed 6-10 center Gusatvo Ayon after he was waived by the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this offseason. Ayon is not a name that many fans in the states are yet familiar with, but he has made a big name for himself in the international game.
Ayon took home MVP honors at this year's FIBA Americas tournament when he led Mexico to a 91-89 victory over Puerto Rico in the championship game. The Hawks' newest big man poured in 20 points and snatched 16 rebounds to help take the title.
Ayon's 17.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game for the tournament netted him the MVP trophy, and thanks to Ayon's stellar performance, Mexico has now qualified for the 2014 World Championships.
News of Ayon's development should have Hawks fans very excited for the 2014 season. Atlanta ranked No. 23 in the NBA in rebounding last year with only 40.9 boards per game. The Hawks were also equally as inept at scoring inside. The Hawks averaged 40.8 points in the paint during the 2012-2013 season, which was only good enough to rank them No. 17 in the league despite having Josh Smith and Al Horford each averaging over 17 ppg.
Other Free-Agent Signings
Thanks to the Hawks not landing Howard, they were able to spread their money around to more than just one big-name free agent. Paul Millsap signed a two-year, $19 million deal to play down low opposite Horford. Millsap averaged 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in 2012, and, unlike Howard, Millsap is not in danger of putting unsuspecting hot dog vendors in the hospital every time he steps to the foul line.
The Hawks also inked veteran power forward Elton Brand and brought back sharp-shooting Kyle Korver to play the wing. Fans are also eagerly waiting to see how the newly drafted international point guard Dennis Schroder will transition to the NBA game. Schroder is billed as the German equivalent to the Boston Celtics' Rajon Rondo, so expectations will be high.
Cap Space to Spend
Had the Hawks been able to woo Howard to the ATL, his four-year, $87.5 million deal would have made Atlanta's cap very inflexible next season. Instead, the Hawks currently find themselves over $6 million under the cap for this season, with roughly $13 million in available cash coming open for their trip to next year's free-agent market.
Of course, everyone will be talking about LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony all possibly becoming available in 2014. But it could be the signing of one of the lesser-coveted second-tier All-Stars that could propel Atlanta to "Beast in the East" status.
Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, Paul George, Danny Granger, Jamal Crawford, Lance Stephenson and Eric Bledsoe are just a few of the non-bank-breaking names that the 2014 free agency will feature.
If Ayon does turn out to be the player he has showcased himself to be on the international stage, the Hawks' imposing front court could allow them to become one solid wing scorer away from being a true contender. Ayon showed flashes of brilliance last season, including two double-doubles and four double-digit rebounding efforts in very limited minutes for the Bucks in 2012.
Casual fans may not know, but Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki was originally drafted by Milwaukee before being shipped to the Lone Star state prior to ever playing his first NBA game. Let's hope history repeats itself and the Bucks have now passed on two foreign-born players who go on to become stars with other teams.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Hawks since Dominique Wilkins created a poster over the first defender foolish enough to step onto his runway.
- Sports & Recreation
- Atlanta Hawks
- Gustavo Ayon
- Dwight Howard