HAWKSVILLE - Mike Bibby has been here before, at the controls of a team loaded with talent and options, a team still trying to rise up the NBA food chain.
He joined a loaded Sacramento Kings team in July 2001 and pushed them over the top. The Kings put together a league-best 61-21 season his first year and made the Western Conference finals, losing to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Before Mike D’Antoni’s 7-Second Phoenix Suns there were the Kings, known back then as the “Greatest Show on Court” (a title actually bestowed upon the team the year before Bibby arrived, but upheld marvelously during Bibby’s prime with the franchise).
With a core group that included not only a young Bibby, but also veterans like Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Doug Christie and up and coming talents like Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu, the Kings had a roster primed to lead a franchise renaissance. And for a few years, even with some crushing injuries along the way, that’s exactly what happened. The Kings evolved from a league doormat into a power.
Bibby said he sees some of the same good qualities in his Hawks (of the past year and a half and the team that is taking shape this summer) as he did in those teams he played on Sacramento.
Sure, the dynamics are a bit different now. For starters, he’s 31 and in a totally different position (having oficially re-signed with the Hawks for three years and $18 million Monday). He’s the veteran now, paired with an ensemble cast of young talent including All-Star and captain Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Marvin Williams (more on him in a minute), Zaza Pachulia, Mo Evans and newcomers like Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague.
And while it’s certainly not as talented a group as Bibby played with in Sacramento, few were then or are now (when you talk about just sheer talent), even to this day, there is something there in the comparison.
“Different teams and different times,” Bibby said. “But when everybody cares about the same thing [winning] … you’ve got something. That’s all we talked about back then. And that’s all we talk about around here now. The way we finished last season, the only thing on our minds was getting a chance to come back together and go back at it. That’s the common thing about the teams we had in Sacramento and the team we have here right now. We’re all trying to win, that’s our biggest goal.”
That would help explain the motivation for both Bibby and Pachulia (four years, $19 million) to re-up with the Hawks as quickly as they did. Had they played things out a little longer there might have been bigger paydays elsewhere (though the deal might not have been as long, in Bibby’s case).
“The things that we have done these past two seasons, making the playoffs and playing well, it changes everything,” Pachulia said. “The love you get from the fans and from people, it all changes. My first two years here, I wasn’t sure if people even knew who I was, with all that goes on here in Atlanta. These last two years, it’s a complete turnaround. People stop me all the time now. The one thing that’s changed is the winning. When you have success as a team, everything else works out fine.”
That weekend news on a potential deal for Williams was not only premature, it appears to be wildly overblown. Neither side appears ready to compromise on a deal and this thing looks like it last for a while longer.
In fact, after hearing last week that things might be coming together on the Williams front, I got the feeling Monday that things aren’t nearly as close to getting done as I initially believed.
The fact remains, Williams has a sizable qualifying offer ($7.4 million), meaning he could play out the season and become an unrestricted free agent next summer – when quite a few wealthy teams will have money to spend.
The heralded free agent class of 2010 can’t take all the money. The other players in the free agent mix next summer, particularly those that are unrestricted free agents, stand to cash in as well.
Josh Childress could also opt to return to Olympiakos for a second straight year and try his luck in free agency next summer. He hasn’t made a decision yet, but has to make one by Wednesday.
According to my sources, the overall interest in his services this summer exceeds the level of interest from a year ago. But the same hurdles remain for any team trying to pry him away from the Hawks. He’s restricted. And any mid-level type offer from another team is sure to be matched.
The one sign-and-trade deal that has been on a low rumble throughout the past two weeks has been a proposed deal with Milwaukee, where the Hawks move Childress for a package that includes veteran big man Kurt Thomas (although, if I were the Hawks, I’d need a draft pick or something else to even consider this one).
I just can’t see moving a young player like Childress for a player that might not be in the playing rotation. The Bucks would have to add something to sweeten the pot for me. And even then, I still don’t like the idea of moving Childress to another Eastern Conference team.
I know. I know. That still doesn’t address the issue of the Hawks’ glaring need for more size and help on the frontline. Getting Zaza back was huge, yet there’s still a need for at least one or two more big guys – especially when you look at what Southeast Division rival Orlando has done in the last few days signing Brandon Bass and matching the offer sheet Dallas presented to Marcin Gortat.
There will be reinforcements on the way before the summer ends. There have to be if the Hawks plan on competing with the likes of the Magic, Cleveland and Boston in the upper echelon of the conference (and league, for that matter).
Restricted free agent Solomon Jones remains an option. Three years deep into his career, there is still untapped potential to work with there. Jones has matured nicely over the past couple of seasons and showed himself to be an able contributor when called upon (he was a mainstay in the rotation when Smith was hurt and didn’t disappoint). His familiarity with the Hawks’ program makes him an ideal fit, though he still lacks the ideal bulk (not that that has ever stopped him from delivering a hard foul).
Randolph Morris is under contract and has one last shot to prove himself worthy of a rotation spot. When the Hawks convene their mini-camp next week we’ll get a closer look at blog-fav/human destroyer Garret Siler, whose work in summer league action has been impressive, so far.
There are other 7-footers on the market, guys with the size and experience to help the Hawks. Guys like Johan Petro and Mikki Moore are still out there. Petro (7-foot, 250) has been productive when used and still has enough of his career ahead of him where you can project him to do some bigger things down the road. Moore (7-foot, 225) is a veteran journeyman that knows how to fill his role, having done so for 10 different teams in his 11-year career (including a five-game stint with the Hawks during the 2002-03 season).
Any combination of three (of those five guys) gives the Hawks what they need in terms of depth at the position, which is all you’re looking for at this point … unless you’re talking about making a blockbuster trade for an All-Star-caliber big man (which for the umpteenth time I’ve been told is not going to happen).