Hawks GM Rick Sund said the core group of Hawks that has the team aiming for a Southeast Division title is the same group you can expect to see after the Feb. 18 trade deadline.
“People are talking about us as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, and that’s what we strive for,” Sund said today. “If there is something out there that will make us better, we’ll look at it. Do I anticipate (a deal)? No, I don’t.”
Sund wouldn’t get into specifics about trade chatter, but his indication that the Hawks’ core would stay together seems to rule out a trade involving Joe Johnson, who can become a free agent after the season. The other core players include Josh Smith, Jamal Crawford, Marvin Williams, Mike Bibby and Al Horford.
The Hawks are 32-17, tied with Boston for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference and one game behind Orlando for the Southeast lead.
“This is the time of year when everybody looks at deals,” Woody said. “But I like our team in terms of being in the hunt. We are a better team than last year.”
One recent report speculated that the Hawks might consider fielding offers for Johnson at the deadline. But there’s no indication that teams have inquired about Johnson or that the Hawks would listen if they did.
That J.J. approached the Hawks about an extension last summer suggests his preference is to stay with the team even though he turned down its $60 million offer in hopes of securing a more lucrative deal this summer. The Hawks still intend to re-sign Johnson; they structured recent deals for Williams, Bibby and Zaza Pachulia with salaries that are less in 2010-11 than this season so they would have increased flexibility for a new deal with Johnson.
It’s not hard to figure the Hawks aren’t getting calls about any of their other players, either. There isn’t much to choose from among their players with expiring contracts: Joe Smith, Jason Collins, Randolph Morris and Mario West, who is still under a trade restriction because he was recently signed).
Even if the Hawks wanted to deal Williams (and there’s nothing to suggest they do) his status as base-year compensation player makes it unpalatable. The Hawks wouldn’t be able to use the full value of his salary when trying to meet the trade exception of taking back no more than 125% plus $100,000 in salary in a trade. He’s signed through 2012-13.
Bibby’s role and production have declined this season and he has two years and $11.8 million left on his deal after this season. Pachulia’s salary is manageable, but his contract runs through 2012-13. That leaves Mo Evans, who has a player option for $2.5 million next season, and Jeff Teague, who is on a rookie scale contract and isn’t going anywhere.
So the Hawks don’t appear to have any attractive pieces they are willing to part with and, in any event, they appear content to see what happens with a core group that still has room to grow.
“Players start looking over their shoulders at this time of year,” Woody said. “But our group should feel pretty good about what we’ve done up to this point.”
If the Hawks did make a move, they’d probably be looking to add size, shooting or playmaking ability. Of course those are assets all teams covet, and there are others with more to offer in trade than the Hawks.
The Hawks also plan to continue with the minimum of 13 players on the roster for the rest of the season. That would rule out adding veterans who accept buyouts in the coming weeks.
Complicating matters not just for the Hawks but all teams looking to make a deal is the possibility of a new labor agreement between owners and players.
Teams might be reluctant to commit big money long term to players now and instead wait to see the details of a new agreement as owners seek to drastically reduce the players’ share of revenues. The current labor deal is set to expire on June 30, 2011, and the league and the players’ association are to meet in Dallas at All-Star Weekend to begin face-to-face negotiations.
The uncertainty surrounding those negotiations could affect Johnson and the other players expected to test the free agent market this summer. The top-tier free agents like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are likely to get maximum deals but the second tier that includes Johnson may not attract the type of offers they’d like.