Hawks can’t afford to slide back (and why not Chris Paul?)

Are these the three players who will lead the Hawks again next season -- and is that your first choice? (Courtesy of Slam Magazine)

Are these the three players who will lead the Hawks again next season -- and is that your first choice? (Courtesy of Slam Magazine)

After consecutive years of first-round wins but second-round humiliations, the Hawks are in a precarious situation. They are mandating improvement at a time when their best — albeit sometimes unpopular — player, Joe Johnson, is entering free agency and owners have a death grip on their wallets.

The draft is Thursday. It’s safe to assume that the Hawks’ chances of taking the next step do not hinge on the 24th selection. It depends on almost everything else: Johnson’s re-signing; the front-office scramble if he leaves; the potential return or trade of expatriate, Josh Childress; any potential trade involving almost anybody else (save Al Horford, who might as well stick his feet in concrete because he’s not going anywhere).

As summers go, this one ranks up there in importance with any in Hawks’ history. If they take a step back, they potentially lose some of the goodwill they’ve built up. Even if they remain flat, there will be cries to blow it up again.

The team has made one move this off-season and it didn’t exactly jump start a season ticket campaign: Larry Drew’s promotion to head coach. Whether you believe that criticism was justified or not, it’s undeniable. How do the Hawks combat that? Or do they bother?

This is where general manager Rick Sund attempts to add perspective: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an off-season where people didn’t say this was an important year — and most years the media says, ‘It’s the most important year.’ I think every year is important. Last year was important. The year before that was important – you had Josh Smith and Josh Childress as free agents and they had just made the playoffs for the first time.”

Point taken. Here’s the counter-argument: Higher expectations bring greater demands. Sund set the bar himself when he decided to change head coaches.

Last summer, after the step up with the playoff series win over Miami, Sund re-signed three of the team’s free agents: Mike Bibby, Marvin Williams and Zaza Pachulia. It seemed big then. Doesn’t seem as big now. Bibby’s nose dive this past season didn’t help. Neither did another year of seeming underachievement by Williams. (The biggest move easily turned out to be the acquisition of Jamal Crawford.)

Sund will tell you draft plans are not impacted by Johnson’s impending free agency because, logically, the 24th pick won’t be on that level. Besides, nobody is sure where Johnson starts — possibly not even he. The Hawks can offer one more season (six years) on a contract than other bidders. But there’s also a sense Johnson might be fed up with fan and media criticism and prefers to start fresh elsewhere.

OK, so the Hawks trade for Chris Paul, sign LeBron James and then . . . never mind, dream over.

OK, so the Hawks trade for Chris Paul, sign LeBron James and then . . . never mind, dream over.

Even if the Hawks re-sign Johnson, they have to figure out how to re-market the All-Star, given the damage he caused with pedestrian playoff  performances and comments during the Orlando series. But they’ll worry about that later.

This could be a chance for Sund to remake the team, but he doesn’t have any desire to do so. The problem: if Johnson bolts, he’ll need more than Spackle.

Here’s one idea: Chris Paul.

The throw-it-against-the-wall rumor quotient in the NBA is higher than ever. In addition to the free agency class, there have been several reports that Paul, arguably the best point guard in the league when healthy, has been put on the trading block by New Orleans. The Hornets deny this. But what a way for the Hawks to make up for one of their biggest draft miscues in history.

Here’s a dream scenario: The Hawks deal Smith for Paul, re-sign Johnson and then convince LeBron James to follow Paul, his close friend, to Atlanta. Then the starting line up looks like this: Chris Paul, Joe Johnson, LeBron James, Al Horford and Some Guy Off The Street. Sweet! Wait until that goes viral on the Internet!

Sund is low-keying it for now.

“I like our team,” he said.

And this: “I don’t talk about hypotheticals.”

But don’t believe he hasn’t thought about them. This off-season is too important not to.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

Last five posts on replay (no charge)

Will Hawks draft player (Crawford) who dunked on LeBron?

It’s time for Braves to end the Kawakami experiment

Does Josh Childress fit into Hawks’ plans?

Bobby Cox doing one of his best managing jobs ever

LIVE: Braves go for sweep; Kawakami will take anything

143 comments Add your comment

Sid

June 22nd, 2010
3:30 pm

It doesn’t matter, the Hawks brass don’t want a championship bad enough.

HMMM..

June 22nd, 2010
3:32 pm

sign and trade Johnson for Chris Paul maybe? throw Bibby in?

@wbarker

June 22nd, 2010
3:37 pm

I think we’d have to get our own Russian billionaire owner before that dream scenario happened. Until then, that Hawks team will only exist in the world of my Xbox360.

@wbarker

June 22nd, 2010
3:39 pm

Agree with the sign and trade Joe for Paul. That was my first reaction when I heard of the Paul trade rumors. If we then got a center, would that allow for Horford, Williams, and Smith to all be on the floor at the same time?

Marcus

June 22nd, 2010
3:40 pm

Never happen. C. Paul might be an option if we traded J-Smoove and threw in the rights to J-Chill ….. but we don’t have the cap room for Lebron,. Plus CLE, just like us, can offer the max (aka kings ransom) for their own FA.
then we still have to develop Marvin Williams or draft a servicable rookie SF, then we also have a gap at the 4.
I know you are just joshing ………

Dr. Warren

June 22nd, 2010
3:43 pm

At least our writers have some imagination. That’s more than the ASG can say about itself. If Jeff’s idea could actually work, I say throw in Marvin, the draft pick, and Bibby with Josh Smith. Hell, toss in Larry Drew, as well. With Lebron and Chris Paul and JJ playing together, Schultz and Bradley could tag-team as head coach, and we’d still win 60.

Paddy

June 22nd, 2010
3:47 pm

Jeff, don’t go so fast. Did you say Labron in ATL. ASG must have signed up 4 or 5 of those minority owners they have been talking about last night while I was sleeping. When the dust settles the Hawks will blow it up and start over. Either here or some other town with new ownership. No money and no fans. Tough pair to draw to!

Count von Count

June 22nd, 2010
3:49 pm

I am missing the Countdown today – Tuesday!

Walker, Texas Ranger

June 22nd, 2010
3:51 pm

The Hawks have to re-sign Johnson. They aren’t gong to get anyone else and then swing a trade for a legit point. Our only hope is that Marvin finally plays up to his potential and Josh becomes a little more consistant. Otherwise, it will have to be blown up. This team was doomed to be mediocre the day we passed on Chris Paul.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by . said: [...]

JC

June 22nd, 2010
3:59 pm

I appreciate Sund’s every-offseason-is-big ploy, but isn’t an offseason where your franchise player is testing the free agency market a little bit bigger than most? Especially when you can’t say with confidence that he’ll decide to stay?

JC

June 22nd, 2010
4:04 pm

Also, isn’t Chris Paul kind of like the nerdy girl who liked you but you overlooked in middle school in favor for the girl who developed early, only to see her turn into a complete knockout in high school while the middle school girl gets knocked up and drops out?

ryan

June 22nd, 2010
4:16 pm

Yea Josh Smith and J Chill are the Hawks biggest trade nuggets they can get this done if they package in a draft pick as well.

Jeff Schultz

June 22nd, 2010
4:19 pm

Hmmm — Could be but I’m not sure Joe would be party to a sign and trade for Paul. He’d have no reason to go to NO if Paul’s not there.

Jeff Schultz

June 22nd, 2010
4:19 pm

@wbarker — Where’s another Russian billionaire when you need one?

Jeff Schultz

June 22nd, 2010
4:21 pm

Dr. Warren — I’m not tag-teaming with anybody. If I’m coaching, I’m calling the shots. Bradley can assist. And I’m sure as hell not talking to the media. Vermin.

Jeff Schultz

June 22nd, 2010
4:22 pm

Paddy — Great. 5 more minority owners. More fighting over the courtside seats.

LETS GO ATL

June 22nd, 2010
4:23 pm

sign and trade joe and teague for CP3

Jeff Schultz

June 22nd, 2010
4:23 pm

Count von Count — Sorry, I’m going on vacation at end of the week and The Count thought it was last week. He’s in Maui. I’ll scold him when he returns.

b.jones

June 22nd, 2010
4:24 pm

somebody saw my last blog cp3 and a resigned joe with all is the perfect core Jeff Schultz please tell me this is possiable

Daniel

June 22nd, 2010
4:25 pm

Do you even know what the salary cap is? Plus NO won’t trade Paul.

Here’s a hypothetical that would work though. Josh Smith for Al Jefferson. We get a center who is a legitimate post threat and can move Al over to his natural power forward spot. The contracts are basically the same. Plus the Wolves have been legitimately shopping Jefferson. Additionally should Joe not sign with the Hawks, we can run the offense through Jefferson and not have a huge offensive drop off.

Can I write your column now?

LC

June 22nd, 2010
4:34 pm

Daniel,

At least your scenario is actually plausible. However, I still don’t like it. Jefferson is injury prone and would give us another undersized big alongside Horford. Don’t really see how that solves much of anything. I credit you for actually pulling something out that makes sense though.

Shultz’s scenario is laughable and entirely implausible. You may as well have Joe Fan write columns for the AJC if that is the best he’s going to do. At least do some research and come up with something that they may actually have a chance in hell of happening.

My prediction: Joe Johnson leaves. We sign some mid level guy like Ray Allen to take his place. Win about 43 games with Crawford as the lead dog and continue the status quo of this franchise of either being good, mediocre, or piss poor. No reason to think otherwise with this pathetic ownership group and franchise.

b.jones

June 22nd, 2010
4:34 pm

daniel in case u havent been watching sport center the hornets are seriously thinking about it, plus biiby,marvin,evans,and crawford all could be in this puzzle to make this deal work why get al jefferson?horford can do the things he can do and cp3 is a all star point 4 the next 10 yrs horford,joe,and cp3 or jefferson,and al horford hmm do we really have to think about it???

That's a Pipe Dream Jeff

June 22nd, 2010
4:45 pm

While we could trade J-Smoove for Paul probably, I doubt we could sign both Joe and Lebron. Nowhere near enough money from our standpoint to go around.

That's a Pipe Dream Jeff

June 22nd, 2010
4:47 pm

LOVE the idea of bringing Paul in here though.

Stockdog

June 22nd, 2010
4:48 pm

Sell the team to LeBron James. He can be a player owner.

moorman

June 22nd, 2010
4:48 pm

i know horford will not be traded, but if they trade jamal crawford in ANY combination to get paul, im officially done with them forever. crawford, outside of horford, is the only hawk that shouldnt be traded. the hawks have NEVER, EVER had a true scorer of crawfords ability come off the bench. he does what he does. trade smith, williams and bibby for paul. keep the draft pick:

starters
pg paul
sg johnson
sf evans or whoever
pf horford
c zaza or whoever

bench
pg teague
sg crawford
sf whoever
pf whoever
c whoever

JC

June 22nd, 2010
4:50 pm

Shultz -fighting over courtside seats requires them to be in short supply, no?

LC

June 22nd, 2010
4:54 pm

NO is not going to trade Paul unless the receiving team takes back Okafor’s albatross contract as well. The Hawks are way too cheap to do that and hence have no chance at all. Plus, Smith Williams and Bibby is an awful package from their standpoint. The only way they would take that back is if we had a high pick to offer along with prob top 8(which we don’t) AND took back Okafor’s contract(which we won’t). Therefore, this is not even worthy of discussion.

ParkerPounder69

June 22nd, 2010
4:55 pm

I like the sign and trade of Johnson, but what sucks is reality. Sund sounds like a lethargic/Steady GM (don’t get me wrong, he’s miles ahead of Knight and Babs-y) and the ownership piece is just too screwed up. If you can get Paul and move some “dead-weight” do it! I still say the key is to sell the club to McDavid per the original plan. Or find another crazy Russian Billionaire, have Zaza suck up to him. Wait, that’s Georgia Vs. Russia, nevermind.

b.jones

June 22nd, 2010
4:57 pm

they coul trade crawford,za za, and the rights to j chills rights or even possiable put josh in the mix instead of za za that would cover paul and okafors contracts thats worth discussion

O'Brien

June 22nd, 2010
4:58 pm

Jeff,

Not to mention the fact that the Hornets already have an all star PF in David West, who makes less money than Josh Smith. So why would they want Josh?

Daniel,

No on Jefferson. He makes too much money, his knees are still a concern, and he is not a good defensive player.

JC

June 22nd, 2010
4:59 pm

LC – who is Smith Williams? Is he any good?

moorman

June 22nd, 2010
4:59 pm

paul AINT ALL THAT. come on now, smith, william and bibby OR a draft pick is pieces that new orleans can use. hell, it wouldnt shock me if they asked for teague in a package.

James

June 22nd, 2010
5:01 pm

Since Jeff posted the Slam cover, I will provide the link to Zaza Pachulia’s version. It is much better.

http://26.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l08m864U3B1qz5huso1_500.jpg

I can’t take credit for it, as I saw it the first time someone posted this cover as a blog picture. Check it out, it’s funny.

DeepDiver

June 22nd, 2010
5:03 pm

Love you Jeff but bless your heart you still have no clue. See, there’s this thing called the salary cap…

JC

June 22nd, 2010
5:05 pm

Haha, “Zaza Pachulia want a ring… Now!” That sounds like something he’d say.

JC

June 22nd, 2010
5:17 pm

moorman, Paul is in fact greater than or equal to “all that.”

Paul = Three all-star appearances, two All-NBA teams, two All-NBA defensive teams, ROY in 2006, gold medal in 2008 and 108 consecutive games with at least one steal, the most in NBA history.

Smith + Williams + Bibby = 0 All-star appearances, one All-defensive second team (Smith, 2010) and one Slam Dunk champion (Smith, 2005). Probably the most impressive superlative between the three is that Bibby is the last active NBA player to have played for the Vancouver Grizzlies.

Jerry West

June 22nd, 2010
5:19 pm

Teague/ resigned Chillz for Collison/ Posey is about the best I think we could get outta NO. they ain’t trading CP3 for anything on the Hawks roster.

Daniel

June 22nd, 2010
5:19 pm

b.jones,

I have been watching sports center, and that’s how I know that several teams have attempted to trade for Paul but that the Hornets have rejected all offers. Further this is from Yahoo, “Bower hasn’t made calls offering Paul, sources said, nor do the Hornets plan to initiate conversations on him.” ESPN is merely throwing it all out there to get fan bases (such as ourselves) excited and give sports writers (such as Schultz) something to write about. Paul is not going to be traded.

Now how about some trade scenarios that would bring back a SG to potentially replace Joe or a center? Iguodala anyone?

blackprix

June 22nd, 2010
5:20 pm

I’ve lived in Atlanta for 36 years and I’ve only seen a Hawks organization committed to making the playoff and the NBA Championship and Hubie Brown was the coach.

It was probably more about Hubie than ownership.

TROTTINGHOME

June 22nd, 2010
5:23 pm

Where’s the basketball writer at?

GO DAWGS!

June 22nd, 2010
5:30 pm

This is what’s most likely going to be the starting lineup PG TEAGUE, SG JJ, SF WILLIAMS/SMITH(if we draft a center) PF HORFORD/SMITH (depending on above statement) C HORFORD/DRAFT PICK the ownership is to ignorant to make any big moves except sign JJ another medicore year pisses me off!!!

b.jones

June 22nd, 2010
5:48 pm

Daniel i agree u have a valid point but the fact that they feel great about there back up point and there owner is finacially strapped makes a lil fire to all this smoke never said it was gone happen just wondered if possiable and maybe how, and Igodala a good fit at shooting guard but that makes to much since for the spirt too do that look for theam to go after ray allen if jj departs

Big Ray

June 22nd, 2010
5:52 pm

Everywhere I look, there are people suggesting that we replace Al Horford at center…with another 6′10″ guy.

Too funny. First it was Amare Stoudamire. Then Emeka Okafor. Then Al Jefferson. Please…stop the madness. Jefferson and Stoudamire don’t even want to play center (Amare refuses), and Okafor is not better than Horford.

Big Ray

June 22nd, 2010
5:55 pm

And no, we don’t need a 35 year old SG to replace our 28 year old one if he bolts.

And no, we aren’t getting Lebron. Not now, not ever. EVER.

We had our shot at CP3, but between Billy and Woody, they FUBAR-ed it up, and then did even worse the next year in Shelden Williams…

Jeff Schultz

June 22nd, 2010
5:56 pm

Daniel — I agree that NO probably won’t trade Paul. But Josh-for-Paul is cap friendly.

Jeff Schultz

June 22nd, 2010
5:57 pm

That’s a Pipe Dream — Yeah, I know. Hey, I said it was a dream. But hey, if there really is a chance to get Paul and LeBron — and safe to say there probably isn’t — forget Joe.

Snoop1717

June 22nd, 2010
5:57 pm

A couple of things are wrong with this picture. Josh Smith had a built in no-trade clause for the first 2 years or the Hawks would have to pay him 5 million to deal him. We know the Spirit is cheap and will not pay that bill. Second problem even if you could pull off Smith for Paul LeBron would still be a long shot because of cap concerns ultimately you would have to dump 18 Million in Payroll (Bibby, Williams (who has the same trade clause as Smith) and Crawford. Why would Cleveland be a willing participate to take Bibby for 2 years and Crawford for 1?

Jeff Schultz

June 22nd, 2010
6:00 pm

James — Haha. That’s pretty funny.