The Atlanta Hawks paid Danilo Gallinari $61 million … to be a backup?

The Atlanta Hawks are paying quite a handsome sum for Danilo Gallinari to be a bench player.

When the news first broke that the Atlanta Hawks had landed one of the biggest fish in 2020 NBA free agency, it was a sign the front office was ready to start competing in the playoffs with Trae Young and the rest of its young core. Danilo Gallinari is getting older and has an extensive injury history, but his shooting, veteran experience and perpetually underrated slashing ability all figured to be boons for what the Hawks are trying to build.

According to general manager Travis Schlenk, however, it appears as though Gallo’s role may be that of a high-end reserve.

Despite the Hawks agreeing to shell out a three-year, $61.5 million contract to the 32-year-old stretch-4, Schlenk said on Wednesday that they signed him with the mutual understanding that he’d be backing up John Collins off the bench.

“We had our conversations with Danilo and his reps, we made it clear to him that the role he was signing up for was to come in and be a backup behind John,” he said.

Danilo Gallinari will be making a lot of money coming off the Atlanta Hawks bench

On the one hand, it’s good the Hawks’ offseason agenda of adding veteran talent hasn’t steered them away from giving the young, core pieces the chance to grow while in pursuit of a playoff spot. Collins is a promising power forward with incredible athletic ability and an emerging 3-point shot at just 23 years old.

Despite missing 26 games last season, 25 of which were due to a suspension, he averaged 21.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on .583/.401/.800 shooting splits. His pick-and-roll chemistry with Young is impressive, and he could be a definitive building block for the future.

However, this also means Gallo will be making about $20 million a season to come off the bench. Perhaps that’s not as much of an issue for a rebuilding squad with a lot of youngsters still playing on their rookie contracts, but it’s interesting Atlanta was able to sway Gallinari into signing on despite demoting him to a bench role.

Of course, this could very well change if Collins’ 3-point efficiency doesn’t hold up this year playing next to Clint Capela for the first time. The Hawks want as much spacing for Young and their wing shooters as possible, so if the fit between Collins and Capela in the frontcourt isn’t great, Gallinari might be a more natural choice.

He’s more suited as a small-ball 4 than a full-time wing at this stage of his career, but if De’Andre Hunter or Cam Reddish are unable step up and definitively claim that starting 3-spot, Gallo could find himself in the starting lineup sooner or later anyway.

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