So if you are trying to be a championship contender, would you rather be GM of the Knicks or the Hawks right about now?
In Atlanta, you have a roster that’s been built on the Detroit model, which is historically flawed because a superstar player has almost always been necessary to win a title. But you do have two All-Stars, an All-Star (if enigmatic) talent, a promising young point guard and a solid veteran point guard.
In New York, you have the opposite problem. The Knicks have two superstar talents and not enough around them. Howard Beck of the New York Times breaks down the dilemma face by the Knicks:
As [Donnie] Walsh noted last week in announcing his decision to step down, “we have the stars” required to be respectable. “They will do what they do, and we’re lucky to have them,” he said. But, he noted, “You need more than that” to contend for championships.
The proof is in the playoffs, where each conference finalist had invaluable supporting players: Joakim Noah and Luol Deng in Chicago, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha in Oklahoma City, Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion in Dallas, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller in Miami.
They are not stars, but they are indispensable in a title chase — the players who “fill in the blanks,” as Walsh said — setting hard screens, pouncing on loose balls, hitting timely jumpers, guarding top scorers, challenging shots in the paint. The great teams have such players in abundance. The Knicks have a dearth of them.
Chicago, Oklahoma City, Dallas and Miami also had at least one player named second-team All-NBA or better, like all but five champions and 10 runners-up in the league’s history. Rick Sund suggested the only way to get those kind of players is by picking No. 1 or No. 2 in the draft or spending free agent cash.
I don’t have to remind my blog people of the many ways the Hawks have messed up selecting a future superstar in the draft before Sund got here. Nor do you need to be told that Sund just gave away a pick to Washington because of his mistake in signing Bibby to that deal. And you already know the No. 1 reason the Hawks don’t have the ability to sign a superstar is because Sund gave J.J. the richest contract in the league but didn’t get anywhere close to superstar-level or even usual J.J.-like production. (The deals for Bibby and Marvin didn’t help, either.)
There’s another way in addition trades and free agency, of course. Top 10 players can be acquired in trades, which isn’t easy to do but is not without precedent. Looking back since 1980, there are a handful of such players who joined new teams through trades and helped them win titles: Kareem, Dr. J (who was actually “sold” to the 76ers by the Nets), Tiny Archibald, Moses Malone, Pippen (after the Sonics drafted him No. 5 overall), Barkley (after he became disgruntled in Philly), Penny (after the Warriors drafted him No. 3 overall), Mutombo (sorry to bring it up), J. Kidd, and Kobe (after the Hornets drafted him No. 13 overall).
So if you doubt the Detroit model is a winner, and you are convinced the Hawks need to get a superstar to be real contenders, then hope Sund can somehow get one through a trade. Sund apparently considers the trades for Jamal and Hinrich to be major deals but neither required the Hawks to give up a major piece.
Getting a superstar would require that kind of bold move, which is tricky since Atlanta lacks coveted assets like draft picks and cheap/productive/promising players. Making such a move while also keeping enough help around for the acquired superstar makes it trickier still, as the Knicks are finding out.
Sund has been involved in some major swaps. In 2000 with Detroit, he traded away Grant Hill in his prime to Orlando for Ben Wallace. Eventually Wallace became the kind of elite defender who made the Detroit model work, to the point that he was voted second-team NBA in 2006. And while with Seattle in 2003, Sund traded away Gary Payton, who was just starting his decline from All-NBA, and got Ray Allen, who would make second-team All-NBA in 2005.
Speaking of trades . . . .
Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle reports: “League sources said the Warriors also have discussed [Monta] Ellis, among a variety of other players, in trade talks with Atlanta, Chicago, Memphis, Orlando and the Lakers.”
It’s always hard to know exactly what to make of “trade talks.” But I can’t think of a reason why the Hawks would be interested in Ellis, who has $33 million and three years left on a deal that includes a player option.
Simmons says the Warriors are looking for defensive help and want a big guard, a swingman and a post presence (and who doesn’t want one of those?). For what it’s worth, J.J. is a big guard who also can be a swingman, and Josh is a good defender who can play the 3, but look at the Golden State roster and tell me if there’s anyone the Hawks need/want?
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat