I’m not sure if there is an award for Atlanta Spirit Employee of the Year (and actually the old Groucho Marx line comes to mind: “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”)
But doesn’t Rick Sund deserve at least some kind of trophy?
This isn’t to suggest the Hawks are going to win the NBA title next season. But the team’s second-year general manager significantly improved his team with the acquisition of Jamal Crawford, is close to having every major player from last season under contract and is about to come in under budget.
With the recent signings of point guard Mike Bibby (three years, $18 million) and center Zaza Pachulia (four years, $19 million), a possible agreement soon with small forward Marvin Williams (possible 2009-10 salary: $7.5 million) and projecting Mario West signing a qualifying offer ($1 million), that would give the Hawks 10 players under contract for a total payroll of about $62 million.
That means Sund can fill out the bench with a few more players and still come in well below last season’s payroll of $68 million.
And as an added bonus, Aetna lowered their health insurance premiums now that Speedy Claxton is gone. (I’ll let you know when I think Speedy jokes get old.)
The Spirit owners should give a portion of the payroll savings to Sund. General managers don’t have to be popular with players. They just have to stick to budgets, build winning teams and try to work in concert with their head coach. Sund has done all that.
Bibby’s $6 million annual average is a big drop from last season’s $14.983 million. But Sund recognized the point guard wasn’t going to get a significantly better deal elsewhere. Clearly, so did Bibby. He also knew Bibby wanted to come back.
As a safety net, Sund acquired Crawford from Golden State. That had to make Bibby think. That’s called leverage.
Pachulia made $4 million a year in his last contract. He will make $4.75 million in this one. It’s not much of a raise. Pachulia surely wanted more. But who was going to give it to him?
There’s no guarantee Williams will sign a long-term offer tendered by the team (potentially five years for between $38 million and $40 million). But at worst, he’ll probably stay for the qualifying offer at $7,355,165 and take his chances. Injuries have prevented his marketability from being higher this summer, and as a restricted free agent he has minimal leverage.
This off-season figured to be one of the most important in franchise history for the Hawks. Three of the top six players (Bibby, Williams, Pachulia) had expiring contracts. Decisions related to the draft had to be made. But Sund has handled everything without panic and with seeming relative ease (or at least, quietly).
What a refreshing change of pace from a local team’s front office.