Over the next month or so, Hawks general manager Rick Sund will make decisions that set the team on a path headed decidedly north or south. A case could be made that a sports GM does this every off season. But seldom does a franchise have so many significant issues at once.
Sund needs to hire a coach, resolve the Joe Johnson issue, do something to fix the rest of the roster (Mike Bibby? Marvin Williams? Center?), ease the Josh Smith headache and get this team to win a game in the second round.
All of which is why Sund’s Atlanta peers — Frank Wren, Thomas Dimitroff and Rick Dudley — all must be thinking the same thing: Glad I’m not him. Here are the four, listed in order of current job difficulty:
SUND/HAWKS: He could try to make a splash at coach and hire Avery Johnson. Or keep it in house with Larry Drew. Or hope to get somebody excited with Dwane Casey. Then he needs to convince Atlanta Spirit owners of his recommendation, and we’ve learned not to assume they’re in agreement.
Sund likes to take his time but he can’t wait too long. Six NBA teams are looking for coaches. That list could grow by as much as four: Boston (Doc Rivers is considering step down), Orlando (Stan Van Gundy could get fired if the Magic lose), Los Angeles (Phil Jackson’s future is uncertain) and Charlotte (Larry Brown hasn’t said definitively that he is coming back).
The coach hire figures to influence Johnson’s decision on whether to stay, leave in free agency or agree to a sign-and-trade (and then how up in the air is roster?). Forward Al Horford represents the lone real sign of stability.
♦ FRANK WREN, BRAVES: He has three starting pitchers (Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens) who aren’t going anywhere and two others (Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami) who are sucking the payroll dry. The biggest problem is the everyday lineup.
Outfielder Jason Heyward — yeah, he’s a keeper. Catcher Brian McCann is great when he can see. Second baseman Martin Prado has become an unexpected player to build around. That’s it. Chipper Jones is breaking down. Yunel Escobar is enormously talented but has regressed to the point that he’s a question mark now. Almost everybody else is either a stop-gap (until a prospect develops) or duct tape. Wren made it no secret that his focus has been starting pitching. Now his focus needs to be the lineup.
♦ RICK DUDLEY, THRASHERS: Dudley probably has more to fix than any of the four GMs. He certainly inherited the most baggage. But owner apathy had led to fan apathy, and the byproduct of that is a low expectation level. So in a strange and unfortunate way, that diminishes the pressure on a general manager. The Thrashers are consistently ranked among the NHL’s bottom five in total payroll. That is not likely to change with this ownership group, whose priority is to limit hockey losses and give most of their attention to the Hawks.
Dudley has to hire a coach. He seems to have zeroed in on Chicago Blackhawks assistant John Torchetti. It’s a low-budget hire, but at least Torchetti would come with slightly more cache than John Anderson. On the ice, the Thrashers have a few pieces (Evander Kane, Niclas Bergfors, Zach Bogosian, Ondrej Pavelec). But they lack a big time goal scorer and much else.
♦ THOMAS DIMITROFF: After three drafts, several early high-profile roster cuts and the hiring of a new coaching staff, Dimitroff has shifted into touch-up mode. In 2008, he had the hardest job. In 2010, he’s mostly letting things grow. His major acquisitions this offseason — cornerback Dunta Robinson (free agency) and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (draft) should help the defense. Things are unlikely to go south this season, but there are two players in particular to keep an eye on: quarterback Matt Ryan, who was less efficient in year two, and running back Michael Turner, who also was disappointing and now admits he was carrying too much weight.
If either Ryan or Turner fizzle, Dimitroff’s job gets exponentially more difficult.