Travis Schlenk was on the hot seat this season. It was playoffs or bust after the Hawks general manager spent $134 million on Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic in free agency. Things hit rock bottom in March, when Atlanta dropped to 14-20 and fired head coach Lloyd Pierce. But Schlenk now looks like a visionary after his team’s surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals. The Hawks have one of the best young cores in the NBA and should contend for a long time. All the pieces of his plan have fallen into place.
Schlenk was an assistant general manager for the Warriors before he took over Atlanta’s front office in 2017 and began his own version of the Process. He blew up a middling playoff team and rebuilt through the draft. His reputation has been shaped by his decision to pass on Luka Doncic in the 2018 draft. Instead of selecting Luka at no. 3, he traded back for Trae Young at no. 5 and picked up an additional first-round pick in 2019, which became Cam Reddish. Trae has blossomed into a star in these playoffs, which is now changing the perception of the trade, but the deeper lesson is that you don’t necessarily need to have the best player in a trade to win it.