Area codes may help. Pacific breezes and Hollywood on the West Coast, and South Beach and night life on the East may have served as advantages for the Los Angeles Lakers in their ability to land Dwight Howard and the Miami Heat in luring LeBron James.
But that’s really not what this is all about.
If Los Angeles, Miami and Boston always seem to land the best players, it’s not because of the scenery or the local cuisine or the proximity to Universal Studios. It’s because of what those franchises stand for. They chase titles. They don’t act satisfied when the team wins a playoff series. They don’t limit themselves to “safe” moves in the offseason to fill out the bench. They have a vision.
They don’t give elite-level contracts to players who couldn’t spell elite if you spotted them the e-l-i-t. (Joe: Brooklyn is that way.)
“History and tradition,” Hawks general manager Danny Ferry said when asked why the best players like Howard always seem to end up with the Lakers. “They’ve done a great job capitalizing on their tradition and what they’ve built there.”
So where does that leave the Hawks, a franchise whose tradition is not, shall we say, a selling point?
“We’re in the process of working to build a better image, a better program,” Ferry said. “I’m confident players will want to come to Atlanta. This is a city where players like to play — because they like to live here. But we are going to make it a great place to play. The players will know that we’re going to invest in making it championship-caliber team, on and off the court.”
It’s a great speech. It’s something every Atlanta sports fan would love to wrap themselves around. But Ferry never got a chance to make his pitch to Howard.
He approached the Orlando Magic about a trade for Howard in early July but was turned down. He never had the opportunity to share his vision with Howard and try to convince him that the dysfunction that Howard (an Atlanta native) was familiar with was a thing of the past. It never even got as far as being in position to convince Howard to sign an extension.
“We had discussions with Orlando about Dwight Howard,” Ferry said. “They were apprehensive to trade him within the division.”
That may seem to hard to fathom. Logically, the Magic should’ve been more concerned about acquiring strong assets for Howard than him playing for another Southeast Division team. But given the dumpster full of unspectacular players, bad contracts and lottery-protected draft picks the Magic ended up with in the four-player trade, maybe it’s not so hard to believe.
If Ferry was willing to take a calculated risk, without blowing up the team’s roster to get Howard, good for him. It shows aggressiveness and creativity. We’ll see where that takes him, and them.
He is convinced it can be done here. He came from San Antonio, which is a far smaller market than this one. The new collective bargaining agreement also should – should – start to work against some of the high-profile teams’ signings and trades that we’ve seen around the league. Teams over the luxury-tax threshold must pay steeper penalties and will be far more limited in player movement. The sign-and-trade that enabled the Lakers to acquire Steve Nash this summer would not be available to them in 2013 because of their tax situation.
The excommunication of Joe Johnson and his contract gives the Hawks flexibility. Now it’s just a matter of Ferry convincing players other than end-of-the-road guys such as Jerry Stackhouse and Tracy McGrady that there’s a reason to come here. Stars always will have leverage and desires, Ferry said, “But they can’t control the teams. That’s where the CBA comes in.
“We can succeed. You can be a small-market team and succeed – and we’re not a small-market team.”
It’s not just about L.A. The Dodgers haven’t even been to a World Series since 1988. They own two titles in the past 46 years. The Kings took 44 years to win a Stanley Cup. I watched enough Rams playoffs losses in the Coliseum growing up there to know championships didn’t magically flow to there. And eventually the team left for … St. Louis?
Players want to win, and they are drawn to teams with a strong image and tradition. But the Hawks aren’t nearly there yet.
By Jeff Schultz