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Trae Young was the toast of Atlanta only three years ago. In his third season, he took the Hawks to the Eastern Conference finals, and were it not for an untimely injury, he may well have taken them to the top of the mountain. At that point, it looked as though the Hawks had found a franchise player for the next decade. But Atlanta hasn't won a playoff series.

The 2021 team regressed in the following season. The front office tried to shake things up with a mega trade for Dejounte Murray, but that didn't help. Both the front office and coaching staff have changed, but it hasn't mattered. Three years later, the 2021 run looks like an anomaly. The Hawks have spent those seasons hovering around .500 and accomplishing little.

Now, Young's status as the franchise player is in doubt. He's become one of the most common players in the rumor mill, and now that the Hawks have the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, virtually anything is on the table. So why might the Hawks move Young? What could they get for him? And where is this all going?

Why he's in trade rumors

The Hawks are six games under .500 over the past three regular seasons. Lineups featuring Young and Murray got outscored by 169 points in nearly 1,200 minutes last season. That was the worst two-man combination on the Hawks and the 49th-worst in the entire NBA last season. The Hawks are 17-18 in games Murray has played without Young over the last two seasons, but only 60-69 with both in that span. This fit, beyond a shadow of a doubt, does not work.

The Hawks could trade Murray instead of Young, but they tried to do so at the trade deadline and couldn't find a decent offer. Perhaps things have changed in the offseason. If nothing else, suitors have more picks to work with once the calendar turns over to the 2024-25 league year. But coach Quin Snyder reportedly made it known that he wanted the Hawks to keep Murray in February.

Building a functional NBA defense around Young seems borderline impossible at this point, at least with the resources the Hawks have. Atlanta has never ranked higher than 18th during his career. He's small, his effort is inconsistent and he comes with barely any schematic versatility. With the No. 1 pick in the draft coming, the Hawks have a real opportunity to hit the reset button and take a fresh start without such limitations.

Why the Hawks would keep him

Young may drag down Atlanta's defense, but he carries the offense. The Hawks have consistently outperformed their talent offensively because of the shots Young creates. His size carries offensive limitations as well, but even amid all of last season's turmoil, Dunks & Threes ranked Young as the 18th-best offensive player in the NBA by their EPM metric. He's ranked as high as fourth on their board over a full season. For all of his weaknesses, Young is among the best pick-and-roll operators in basketball.

That's the primary difference between Young and Murray. One is a very good player best suited for a supporting role. The other is a flawed face of the franchise. It's easier to find players in Murray's class than players like Young even if Murray has the more complete skill set. Without Young, the Hawks would need a new cornerstone.

It's also worth pointing out here that Young will only be 26 on opening night. Any notions that he is a finished product are likely shortsighted. His physical dimensions are always going to create shortcomings. Fine. But, even within the limited upside world that he occupies, he probably just had his best defensive season. He may never have embraced the off-ball duties the Hawks had hoped, but that's a fixable mindset, not a physical limit. Giving up a player this young and this talented carries an inherent risk that the Hawks might not want to take.

What destinations make sense?

Young is a hard player to trade because the Murray situation proved that he really can't function next to another high-usage guard. His value is maxed out only when his offense runs entirely through him. There are teams that just can't offer him that degree of control and, therefore, make no sense as fits. Here are three teams that might.

Los Angeles Lakers: Yes, yes, we just said Young needs to run the offense. How would he work next to a control freak like LeBron James? Well, he probably wouldn't, which is an idea that I've explained in more depth here. But James is about to turn 40, and the Lakers need a new centerpiece after he retires or leaves. Young and Anthony Davis make plenty of sense together. They'd be a stellar pick-and-roll duo, and Davis could cover for Young's defensive weaknesses. This would be a move geared more towards life after James even if they overlap in Los Angeles. 

Orlando Magic: The Magic have two forwards who run their offense in Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, but their guards are relatively low-usage. Now, if Wagner continues to shoot 3's as poorly as he did last season, taking him off of the ball in a Young-centric offense would go poorly. But if the Magic could find some shooting elsewhere without sacrificing the defense that made them special last year? Young would go a long way offensively. Still, this team's entire identity has been size and defense. Young would be an enormous deviation.

San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs would be Atlanta's preferred trading partner because San Antonio has control of Atlanta's next three first-round picks after 2024. If the Hawks get those back, they can tank and rebuild properly. If there's any player that can protect Young defensively, it's Victor Wembanyama, and we saw last year just how badly the Spurs need a point guard to create shots for him. Their skill sets align perfectly if the Spurs are ready to take a major step.

What is the latest reporting?

Virtually all of the reporting has indicated that the Hawks will try to move at least one of their guards. Yahoo's Jake Fischer reported in May that there was a growing belief around the league that Young would be the one on the block. The Lakers are the one team that has been definitively linked to Young, albeit earlier in the offseason. Reports have suggested that the Spurs may not be interested, though that might be a matter of price. One of these Hawks guards is getting traded. The only question now is whether it will be Young or Murray.