HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — In his first eight days on the job, new Hawks general manager Danny Ferry cleaned up the biggest mistakes of the men who preceded him and positioned the Hawks as potentially the biggest player on the free-agent scene in 2013.
By agreeing to trade the remaining four years and nearly $90 million on Joe Johnson‘s contract to the Brooklyn Nets for five players and a lottery-protected Draft pick in 2013 and Marvin Williams to the Utah Jazz for Devin Harris and his expiring contract, Ferry put the Hawks in a position to work with $30 million in cap space next summer.
He has rid the franchise of Billy Knight‘s Draft blunder in 2005 (Williams ahead of both Deron Williams and Chris Paul) and Rick Sund‘s free agent fiasco of 2010, when the Hawks signed Johnson to a $126 million deal, the richest deal in the league.
Do the math. The Hawks are shedding $100 million in outgoing salaries and taking back a fraction of that ($24 million), which gives them all sort of flexibility to make a play for hometown All-Star Dwight Howard (who has demanded a trade from Orlando) this summer or next summer when he’s a free agent.
With an All-Star center of their own on the roster in Al Horford, the Hawks could offer both Horford and Jeff Teague to the Magic and then pair Howard and his preschool classmate, AAU teammate and close friend Josh Smith on an imposing frontline as Ferry rebuilds around the 26-year-olds. Smith and Howard have remained close through the years and Howard was the best man in Smith’s wedding.
The question has been asked around Atlanta for years: would Howard ever come home and play for the Hawks? We could find out in the coming days. The Hawks are poised to make a play for Howard since his trade demand to the Nets is being dismissed by the Magic. Whether or not they’d be willing to send Howard to a division rival remains to be seen. Potentially acquiring Horford, who starred in college at the University of Florida, could be the sort of chip needed to get the conversation started.
(Howard went to former Magic GM Otis Smith on more than one occasion and to inquire about the Magic making a move to get Smith to join him in Orlando, according to two people familiar with the situation. But the subject of a potential reunion in their hometown was never discussed.)
With the NBA champion Miami Heat already entrenched and the Chicago Bulls in wait-and-see mode after Derrick Rose torn his ACL in the playoffs, the Pacers and Celtics are the only other Eastern Conference teams that look to be true challengers for one of those top four spots in the standings.
A summer makeover that includes an infusion of talent Howard’s caliber could vault the Hawks into that upper echelon of teams right away. Even if they don’t make their big splash this summer, they should still have a team capable of competing for a playoff spot. They did it this season without Horford for all but 11 regular season games after he tore a chest muscle and had to have surgery.
Either way, Ferry now has the flexibility to craft a team to his liking around his two best players and a young point guard without a cap-crippling contract hanging over his head.
That’s not bad for a week and a day on the job.