It’s the kind of questions I get often on Twitter: “Why don’t the Hawks pursue [insert big-name free agent]?” After I explain that they don’t have the cap space, I sometimes get the follow-up: Why don’t they trade [Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, some other player I don't like] and use that cap space?” And then I have to tell them that doesn’t work, either, because the Hawks are over the cap and have to take salary back in a trade.
The point here is, until the Hawks gain significant cap space, which they aren’t scheduled to do until 2013-14 unless the use the amnesty card, then they aren’t going to be involved with free agents who command more than the MLE. Shoot, they still may not be involved with MLE free agents until they retreat further from the luxury-tax line.
Sure, the Hawks can swing sign-and-trades (which usually is the next question I get after the two above) but those transactions are not easy. The player has to want to sign with the Hawks and then an acceptable deal has to be worked out between Atlanta and the trading partner. That’s a lot of “ifs” involved.
The Hawks made their big when they re-signed J.J. last summer. They had the choice of using him in a sign-and-trade and then making other moves to clear cap space and make a run at the big names everyone buzzes about. Rick Sund, an enthusiastic supporter of re-signing J.J., nonetheless did his due diligence and presented that option to ASG.
All parties decided to bring back J.J. at any cost. So, for now, they must hope that this group’s upper limit is not a six-game loss in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The reason why a lack of cap flexibility is particularly problematic under the new CBA is explained by Mark Cuban in an email to Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas:
The reality is that in the new system, cap room will have far more value than it had in the past. I realize that everyone is all freaked out about how and where free agents and future free agents are going, but it’s not just about getting one guy.
We are not saving cap room in hope of that one super special free agent being there. It’s about being in the position to improve every year and possibly add some significant, younger players next year and in future years.
What I don’t think people understand is that once a team hits the tax level the ability to improve our team is reduced dramatically. In addition, your ability to make trades is reduced. So basically, if we made the move to keep everyone together with five-year deals, the team we have today is going to be the team we have for the next five years. If we were a young team it would be one thing. But we are not a young team.
The Hawks are not as old as the Mavs but neither do they have anything close to an MVP candidate or a ring. Perhaps that changes this season, or maybe it doesn’t happen until they gain some cap space and start over.
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat