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.
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.
ATLANTA – Fast and furious is the way Danny Ferry described his first four days on the job as the new general manager of the Atlanta Hawks.
When he finally emerged from the Hawks’ Draft war room late Thursday night, it was plain to see that Ferry has spent more time grinding away at his new job than he has doing much of anything else, and that includes sleeping.
“This was unique,” Ferry said. “I’ve been here a few days and was not part of the initial preparation that they had. I threw myself into what they were doing and really just tried to observe and participate, when appropriate, ask good questions and let the process play out. I thought the scouts that [his predecessor] Rick [Sund] was organizing did a nice job of doing their work and walking into the Draft with their decisions made and ready to go.”
But the first frantic four days of Ferry’s tenure is just the beginning of what promises to be an interesting offseason for a franchise in the midst of a transitional phase. As the rest of the Eastern Conference realigns itself behind the champion Miami Heat, a team built to win now and for the foreseeable future, the Hawks have to try to position themselves among that group of teams giving chase.
They went into Draft night with just six players — their core four of Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague along with reserves Marvin Williams and Zaza Pachulia — under contract. Adding Vanderbilt shooting guard John Jenkins and Virginia forward Mike Scott gives them eight to work with as Ferry goes about the business of trying to build the Hawks into a legitimate threat to the Heat.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Josh Smith for Pau Gasol trade rumors are apparently on again on the eve of the NBA Draft, per The Los Angeles Times.
Rekindling a rumors that began some 18 months ago, the Times is reporting that the Hawks “aggressively tried to trade” Smith for Gasol after the Lakers were eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals.
Smith worked out last summer in Los Angeles, when the rumors bubbled up again during the lockout. This is another twist for two players who seem to always find themselves in the middle of trade rumors in recent months and years.
From all indications, it sounds like the Lakers are openly shopping Gasol one way or another, same as they were at the start of the 2011-12 season, with Smith potentially being their desired target:
In separate activity leading up to Thursday’s amateur draft, the Lakers are also open to trading Gasol to a team with a high first-round pick because they covet Kentucky freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Atlanta holds the 23rd pick and cannot help in that area.
No deals were imminent for the Lakers, who hold only the 60th and final pick in the draft. They have not had a first-round pick since taking Javaris Crittenton in 2007.
Last season, Smith averaged career-highs in points (18.8) and rebounds (9.6) for the Hawks. He is only 26, five years younger than Gasol.
If the Lakers struck a deal with Atlanta, they would lose the height advantage that made them one of the longest teams in the NBA — Smith is 6 feet 9, three inches shorter than Gasol — but would instantly become more athletic.
Why that would be needed for a team that’s made five straight playoff appearances is not the point. With five core players (Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Zaza Pachulia) on the roster for the 2012-13 season chewing up the bulk of the salary cap space, the Hawks are in need of a mini-makeover.
Ferry, the vice president of basketball operations for the San Antonio Spurs (and the former general manager in Cleveland) – until he was announced as the Hawks new GM this morning – has proved capable of mastering the mini-makeover. He did it several times in Cleveland when he had to put together the right supporting cast for LeBron James.
HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS – When the playoff pairings came into focus late in the regular season, we knew there was the potential for this when the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks got locked into the No. 4-5 battle in the Eastern Conference.
An era was coming to an end. A five-year run for one of these two franchises would continue on for at least another series and that same five-year run (that began in their epic first-round series in 2008) for the other franchise would have run its course.
Well, it’s time for the Hawks to face the reality of their own situation and turn the page. The Hawks are facing more than just elimination after their disastrous 101-79 Game 4 showing in Boston Sunday night. Most compassionate observers turned away from when the Celtics’ lead grew to 37 points … with more than a quarter and a half to play remaining.
How many times can you hear about a team talk about “not responding” or “we just didn’t have it” or “our energy and effort was nonexistent” in a big game situation before it sinks in?
The Hawks have dropped 12 playoff games by 20-plus points since 2008, a staggering number that does not include all of the games they lost by 16, 17, 18 and 19 points.
They’d fight back with stats of their own — such as along with the Celtics and Lakers, they are one of just three teams to reach the second round in each of the past three seasons. But that would foolishly suggest that the Hawks belong in the same sentence with two franchises that have won championships in the past four seasons.
The Celtics won it all in 2008 while the Lakers won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. The Hawks, for all of their accomplishments during this same stretch, have been escorted from the postseason in an ugly fashion each and every time, without once truly breaking through with this current core group.
They’ll tell anyone willing to listen that this series is far from over at 3-1 with Game 5 Tuesday night at Philips Arena. And with their history against these Celtics, it might be worth a listen. They played seven games in 2008, with each team taking turns ruling their home floors all the way through to Game 7.
But this time is different. As much as you’d like to believe these limping Hawks have a chance to make a series out of this one, the stench of inevitability is floating in the air after that Game 4 debacle in Boston.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Long before Dwight Howard‘s training camp trade request went public, his preschool classmate and former AAU teammate Josh Smith beat him to the punch, going to Hawks’ management with his trade request before last February’s trade deadline.
Smith’s played his entire career in his hometown for the Hawks, his career and the franchise’s on-court fortunes rising simultaneously. Smith’s agents have reiterated that request to Hawks GM Rick Sund since the lockout ended. The conversations have intensified recently, with executives around the league weighing all of their options as the deadline approaches.
Smith made it clear on the first day that players were allowed back at team facilities after the lockout ended that he was bent on competing for a championship at this stage of his career and that if the Hawks didn’t feel like their core group had the ability to do that, it was probably time to break up the core and start making moves.
While Johnson and Horford have battled injuries all season, Horford played just 11 games before going down for the season with that torn pectoral muscle, Smith has been the Hawks’ most consistent force. He’s averaging 17.1 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.0 blocks.
News of his trade request is sure to cause a shakeup for the Hawks, 23-16 but 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are trying to hold on to their playoff position while battling major injury issues. Surely, they don’t need any added distractions.
But if there is a move to be made, it has to be made by next Thursday’s deadline.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What looked like a serious shoulder injury Wednesday night turned out to be a devastating injury for the Hawks and their All-Star center Al Hoford, who will miss the next “three to four months” with a torn pectoral muscle.
Horford, a two-time All-Star and a third-team All-NBA pick last season, left the Hawks’ loss to the Pacers in Indiana at the 6:08 mark of the first quarter with an apparent left shoulder injury.
The severity of the injury wasn’t clear until after the results of an MRI this afternoon revealed the tear. Per the statement the team released, Horford’s injury “typically requires surgery,” but Horford will seek a second opinion before making a decision on what route he will take.
The Hawks, 7-4, lose not only their low-post anchor and team leader, they’re also losing the services of one of the league’s elite big men for what would appear to be the remainder of this abbreviated regular season.
For a team that’s already battling depth issues at the position, this is a blow that will be hard to overcome, especially with the competition for playoff slots in the Eastern Conference heating up this season.
“We are very disappointed for Al and our team and we wish him the best as he moves forward in the rehabilitation process,” Hawks’ Executive Vice President and General Manager Rick Sund said in a statement released by the team. “He has contributed greatly to our success since his arrival in Atlanta, and that’s evident by his selection to the NBA’s All-League team last season (third team pick).”
Horford, who averaged 12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 blocks to go along with .553 FGs in 11 games this season, joins the growing list of stars that will be sidelined for a significant portion of this season with injuries. San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili (hand) and Memphis big man Zach Randolph (knee), being the biggest names.
The Hawks will have to scour the current free agent pool to see if there is a big man out there that will help provide some depth. And in the meantime, either Zaza Pachulia or Jason Collins will have to move into a starting role to replace Horford.
Prior to the start of tonight’s Hawks-Bobcats game at Philips Arena, our Matt Winkeljohn reported on the Ten Before Tip blog that Hawks coach Larry Drew said the franchise will consider all of the available options before deciding what to do next:
Drew said the Hawks have not yet spoken in earnest about the possibility of replacing Horford on the Atlanta roster. Joel Pryzbilla is among un-signed big men, Erick Dampier is out there, and Greg Ostertag is laboring in the D-League. “It’s hard to replace unless you make a trade for it,” Drew said. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to [general manager] Rick Sund yet about the direction we’ll go from here.”
Whatever their choice, the Hawks will be at a severe disadvantage in the middle without Horford in uniform. Because none of the available big men come close to giving the Hawks what Horford has during his career.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Now that the news has broken and the previously unidentified buyer of the Atlanta Hawks has been revealed, Hawks fans are ready for the Alex Meruelo era to begin.
Never mind that most Hawks fans had never heard of Meruelo, the Southern California-based business man who would become the first Hispanic owner of an NBA franchise at the close of the deal, before word spread this morning that he would purchase controlling interest in the franchise from the remains of the Atlanta Spirit Group.
When you hit the stage talking the way Meruelo did to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — “I’m a person who doesn’t give up. I want to bring a championship to the city of Atlanta.” — the fans want to hear more.
As Hawks fans spend the next few days purging the drama and turmoil of the Spirit days from their systems, Hawks staffers are preparing for Monday’s official announcement and whatever changes might be on the way with a new owner (the Spirit group will retain minority ownership positions).
What that means for the team remains a mystery. The Hawks have gone from an Eastern Conference doormat to a consistent playoff team since the 2004 sale of the team from Time Warner to the ASG. They’ve made the playoffs four straight years and been to the Eastern Conference semifinals in each of the past three seasons.
But if Meruelo’s words (“I will be in complete control of the team.”) mean anything to you, folks in and around the organization should prepare themselves for some changes:
Although his primary residence and business will remain in Southern California,
Meruelo said he plans to spend a lot of time in Atlanta and to buy a home here.
“If you look at my previous … business ventures, I’m very hands-on, and this will be no different,” he said.
Asked if there is any scenario in which he would seek to move the Hawks out of Atlanta, Meruelo said: “Absolutely no. None.”
Owning an NBA team, he said, “has been a dream of mine and a passion, and you’ll definitely see that as I become, hopefully, the owner in a short period of time.”
What all of this means for the people running the show right now — most notably Hawks general manager Rick Sund and head coach Larry Drew — remains to be seen.
But general managers and coaches have a way of exiting the stage when new ownership takes control.
Without any clear basketball or NBA connections to speak of, there is no telling what direction Meruelo will go in. But you can rest assured there will be some changes … be it at that level or in the makeup of a team that many feel has plateaued with its current group of core players.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Surely guys like Andre Iguodala, Pau Gasol and Josh Smith remember their respective Draft week fondly. They were all first round picks, with Iguodala and Gasol being Lottery picks.
Short of a championship, precious few moments during a player’s NBA career carry the same sort of cosmic feeling than hearing their name called on draft night by NBA Commissioner David Stern.
All of those veteran names have been in the news this week for different reasons. All of them have been mentioned prominently in various trade rumors, with Smith’s name being the latest to pop on the radar.
It’s no secret that the Hawks have been talking to other teams for months, since the February trade deadline, trying to gauge his trade value. But now with Draft night just days away, the chatter is heating up again, per our main man Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
The Atlanta Hawks have started to gauge trade interest on forward Josh Smith, and Smith isn’t adverse to ending his seven-year stay with his hometown team, league sources told Yahoo! Sports on Monday.
Smith hasn’t requested a trade, but has privately told league friends that the Boston Celtics, New Jersey Nets, Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic are his preferred destinations should the Hawks decide to move him.
“The relationship has run its course,” said a league source with knowledge of the dynamic. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The last time the Hawks swung a trade deadline deal for a point guard, they got Mike Bibby from Sacramento and proceeded to make the playoffs three years in a row with the veteran big shot artist directing their attack.
That was February 2008. Fast forward to now and the Hawks are still trying to find the right fit at point guard. They traded Bibby, Mo Evans, Jordan Crawford and their 2011 first-round Draft pick to Washington for Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong yesterday.
The Hawks are trying, once again, to solve the point guard problems that have plagued them since Draft night 2005, when they passed up Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Raymond Felton to take Marvin Williams with the No. 2 pick.
“In hindsight, that might be the biggest top three Draft mistake since the Pistons took Darko [Milicic],” an Eastern Conference executive said. “And it’s not just about the player you take, it’s about the player or players you pass up when you make that pick.”
The Pistons passed on Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to take Milicic after LeBron James was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 Draft.
“Anyone that doesn’t think you’ll pay for your Draft mistakes for years to come, just take a look at the Hawks and Pistons right now,” the exec said. “It doesn’t mean you can’t have some success even with those mistakes. But at some point, you will pay for the mistake.”
The Hawks reportedly targeted both Felton and Devin Harris as potential trade pieces but came up empty both times. Bottom line: the Hawks still don’t get the point. Hinrich is yet another short-term answer to a long-term problem. He only has one year left on his deal (at $8 million), meaning the Hawks will have to make decisions about their point guard future all over again this time next year.
Jeff Teague, the Hawks’ second-year point guard, is clearly not ready for a starring role … and might not be anytime soon. He was given every opportunity to supplant Bibby and couldn’t do it. He’s the latest in a long line of supposed point guard solutions that ended up being a problem (Speedy Claxton, Acie Law) for the Hawks.
They’ve tried everything at the point from Royal Ivey to Anthony Johnson to Tyronn Lue to even playing Joe Johnson at point guard during his first season with the team. That’s nine different point guard options spanning two different regimes (former general manager Billy Knight is the man who drafted Marvin Williams, paid Claxton, drafted Law and also traded for Bibby while current general manager Rick Sund is the man who shipped Claxton and Law out of town for Jamal Crawford, drafted Teague and made the deal for Hinrich).
While Hinrich is clearly an upgrade over Bibby, particularly at the defensive end, he still doesn’t solve the Hawks’ seemingly eternal point guard problem.