With the aftermath of the draft still reverberating throughout the NBA, we now turn our attention fully to free agency, trade, and – in a few weeks – the summer league. Draft Day featured so many trades that one wonders if NBA teams have anything left in the bag for the festivities that begin on July 1st. Have no doubts, surely there’s more to come.
Typically, some transactions will take longer than initially expected. Others will happen very quickly. For Hawks fans, there is one guy who needs to act with speed and resolution: General Manager Rick Sund. While a slow and deliberate pace may be his preferred method of operation, it could prove costly this summer. Just look at what happened on June 24th. Teams moved quickly, with a sense of desperation in some cases. Normally, there is a flurry of movement early in the free agency period, even as the League moratorium comes to a close (July 8th). Then things settle down. Will this summer prove to be different? It’s possible, but that may not be the point. It’s the total volume of what could happen in that first flurry that matters, I think. Or, it could be business as usual. But, I’m not so sure. What do you think?
Hyping the free agent class of 2010 became so cliche that we’ve all probably gotten sick of it. All the same, the big names are where the most attention will be focused in the beginning. Lebron, Wade, Bosh, Stoudamire, Johnson, Boozer…these guys will be the headliners. The only name the Hawks need worry themselves with is Joe Johnson, the only franchise type they’ll be able to sign anyway.
So what will it take to keep Joe around? I think only one thing works. Offer him a max contract, or something very close to it. Otherwise, what exactly is his motivation for staying? Larry Drew may not have as much of an effect on the situation as management would like. Drew can only promise changes to the gameplan, and perhaps some changes in the locker room due to more accountability during practice. Would that be enough? Not without the money, it won’t. Back to the subject of the money, if the Hawks feel they really must keep Joe, they better make their offer quickly. When Johnson left Phoenix for Atlanta, he was leaving a winning situation, but he was quick and resolute in his decision to do so, even if the process took a while (we all know what happened). The Hawks will have to be the same in their efforts to keep him, if they really want to keep him. Do they really want to keep him, and how badly? I recall one whispered suggestion, from an ESPN writer I believe, that not all within the organization feel as married to Joe as you might think. Maybe this is nothing more than a small spark of swirling rumor. Or maybe not. We shall see.
Either way, Sund must act fast.
Options at the Ready
Every year, there is some big move, followed by smaller moves. The chances of a team overpaying ridiculously for that big move (and then having it not pan out) is pretty good. Sometimes it’s a couple of teams that do it, but usually not more than that. Then there’s a multiplayer trade that involves multiple teams, and those are interesting to analyze. And, of course, there is that shrewd move that kind of goes under the radar. How many of those shrewd moves are lucky happenstance (”hey, look what fell into my lap”)? Hard to say, unless you have the true inside knowledge of such situations. On the outside, it doesn’t matter “why”, sometimes not even “how.”
Several teams (five, I think) have cleared massive amounts of cap space to try and lure the more popular free agent talents away from their current teams. Somebody is going to win, somebody is going to get a consolation prize, and somebody is going to flat out lose big. And then there are the lesser winners and losers. For every team trying to strike it big in free agency, there is another team with smaller ambitions that makes a hit that really matters and actually fits. Those that swing and strike out? They often end up overpaying for someone they really didn’t want in the first place, and doesn’t fit them as well as the team needs them to. One prime example is the Golden State Warriors going after Corey Maggette for $50 million after striking out on Elton Brand. And what did Maggette do for the Warriors besides provide more of the same stuff they already had, miss 12 games, and partially stifle the growth of some of their younger players? This is precisely what the Hawks need to avoid.
If Joe Johnson goes, the Hawks don’t need to come up with a backup or alternate plan. They should have that already, if not two or three plans or ideas. What they need to do is execute that plan. And they’ll need to do it quickly, as quickly as can be reasonably expected. Again, slow and deliberate won’t cut it. If Joe Johnson leaves Atlanta, and the Hawk can get nothing in return via a sign and trade, then they’ll have to turn to other, lesser talents.
Of the more battle-tested vets, John Salmons probably makes the most sense for the Hawks. Not only would he be able to fill the better part of the scoring void that would be created by Johnson’s absence, but he would allow the Hawks to heavily consider trading Jamal Crawford for a needed frontcourt piece.
At the same time, centers Brad Miller and Jermaine O’Neal could make sense for the Hawks as well, particularly if they are utilized properly (off the bench, in limited minutes - probably no more than 20). Miller has never been a major defensive force, but he’s of traditional center size, can contribute some on the glass, and is fairly tough-minded. In addtion, he brings outside shooting capability, and is a good passing big man. Jermaine O’Neal is the better defensive presence and has a more effective post scoring repertoire. If he can be kept healthy and not overused, he could be a better option for the Hawks. Can either one be pryed away from their current teams, or would they stick around in a highly diminished role for a shot at contending for a ring, ala Zydrunas Ilgauskas? Speaking of Big Z, is he still attached to Cleveland? What happens if Lebron leaves? Is he worth pursuing a second time after spurning the Hawks (and any other suitors who didn’t have a chance at the time, either)?
The younger crowd presents some interesting options, especially if the Hawks want to mix more depth into the situation. In fact, that may be a smart option if it can still be quality depth. One guy I think the Hawks should look at the hardest on that list is Anthony Morrow. But like Wesley Matthews, he may be too hot of a commodity to pry away from his current team. But if Sund can steal another one from Golden State, this is the guy to snag (well, Biedrins comes to mind as well, but we’ll discuss that later). Morrow can shoot with the best of them and will grab rebounds as well, which is something we figure to miss at the guard position if Johnson vacates the ATL. Does he play defense? Not particularly well, but since he’s young, he can still be taught. My guess is that he would fare better than Jamal Crawford…Speaking of defense, my second favorite guy on Blinebury’s list is Ronnie Brewer. The ex-Jazz guard gets after it like Mario West, only he plays under control and is pretty efficient on offense. Basically, he could bring a lot of what we miss in Josh Childress. You know, good solid defense and over 50% shooting from the field, despite a funky-looking jump shot. If Joe leaves, I say try and sign both guys. What do you think?
Kyle Lowry might deserve some thought here as another point guard option for the Hawks, but it could be a very crowded backcourt if he, Teague, Jamal, and Mike Bibby are all in the mix. That, and Lowry is reportedly a bit of a bulldog in the locker room, and word is that he wants to be a starter. Adding him would certainly test Larry Drew’s skills as both manager and mediator. Is this a good idea, or a bad one?
So what do you think of the above players? Should the Hawks not even think twice about all of this and simply concentrate on offering Joe the sun, moon, stars, and essentially the rest of the solar system? How many of the above players should the Hawks go after if Joe is out the door? How many can they go after?