As early as next week, the Hawks will make an announcement on the status of Rick Sund. Maybe he comes back as general manager. Maybe he comes back as team president. Maybe he comes back as consultant, spiritual adviser, GM Emeritus and VP of Deflecting Blame for the Joe Johnson Contract.
Doesn’t really matter what he decides. It’s a problem.
Sund is considering retirement. Do you know what some say when an athlete is considering retirement? He already has checked out. The same belief should apply to coaches and team executives.
In all likelihood, no matter what Sund chooses to do, he will remain with the Hawks through the draft. He still has the downtown office on Marietta Street. He will attend an NBA draft combine this weekend. He will be the Hawks’ executive talking to other general managers about players who potentially might be available in trade.
Sund goes into this Hawks’ offseason as both a possible lame duck and their primary makeover artist — a bad combination.
This is not a bash Rick Sund column. To the contrary, given the budget constraints he works with — granted, constraints created by the Johnson contract that he endorsed — and the knucklehead ownership group that he works for, I actually think Sund did a pretty good job this season, particularly in the area of building the Hawks’ bench.
Is Sund a bold, think-outside-the-box kind of executive? No. But it’s not like every young, edgy, risk-taking GM hasn’t had things blow up in his face, too. Sund is solid, even if unspectacular.
But this is an important offseason for the Hawks. I know. They all are. But the thought of this team coming back with the same core again doesn’t excite the masses, and the most plausible high-level trade subject is Josh Smith. He has one year left on his contract, and he would prefer to be elsewhere.
Sund generally isn’t swayed by a player (or coach) having an expiring contract, but it doesn’t make sense to risk losing a player of Smith’s caliber for nothing on the free-agent market next summer.
The point is that Sund isn’t the one who should make the decision on trading Smith – or any decision. If he wants to return as a consultant/adviser, that’s fine. But the decisions over the next several weeks will shape the Hawks’ future, and it isn’t logical that the team would have Sund – who already has at least his toes into retirement – would be doing the shaping.
“I don’t even want to go there,” Sund said Wednesday when asked if he was coming back. “Going forward, I’ll take some time, talking to my wife, talking to the owners, and in time there will be resolution.”
Think about this: The Atlanta Spirit owners, visionaries that they are, have known about this since at least December. They approached Sund following the lockout about a contract extension. He put them on hold. A smart owner at that point might have started doing his homework on young executives around the league and made a move right after the season.
It has been three weeks since the Hawks played their final game. The draft lottery was Thursday night. Trade rumors have started. The draft is June 28. Trades involving veterans shift into high gear thereafter. Free agency begins July 11. How long before we know who’s pulling the strings? And shouldn’t that have been decided already?
For what it’s worth, Sund likes Smith. He likes this team. He believes that if Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia stayed healthy, “We would’ve gotten to that elite level,” which he defines as one of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.
He wouldn’t directly answer questions about Smith or potential trades, but said, “To get to [number] one or two in the East, I think we have to explore possible ways to get there, and hopefully not take a step back.”
It all sounds fine. But I don’t want a realtor who is moving several states away trying to convince me what neighborhood to build a house in. The Hawks need someone new calling the shots.
By Jeff Schultz