Given that Rick Sund only went one-for-two on keeping last summer’s key free agents, the inclination is to think he might pull a Jeff Francoeur and bat .250 (or worse) this time around. But I’m thinking Sund will do better. I’m thinking the Hawks have a real chance to keep this team together, provided two things happen:
1. The economy stays bad.
2. Nobody gets mad.
“I like the core of this club,” Sund said this week. “I’d like to keep as much of it together as I can.” His endorsement is a major factor: It means he likes what he has and wants to add, not subtract.
Sund inherited last summer’s free agents, and it’s no secret he valued Josh Childress less than ownership did. The fractious Atlanta Spirit actually gave the new general manager permission to exceed the salary cap on Childress – you can do that to keep your own free agents – and Sund declined.
Sund has a clear idea as to what he feels guys are worth. He took a media hit, in this space and others, for letting Childress leave, but Sund stuck to his numbers. (Note also that Sund didn’t offer Mike Woodson, whom he says “did a good job this year,” a contract extension Thursday.) If it’s reasonable to assume this GM doesn’t see the 32-year-old Mike Bibby as worth $15 million, which is what he made last season, it’s reasonable others won’t, either.
A lot of real money has been lost these past nine months, and even the millionaires who own NBA teams aren’t worth what they were. If the economy doesn’t spike upward the next five weeks, Free Agency 2009 isn’t apt to be a flurry of free spending.
Is another club apt to see Bibby as its missing piece and hand him, say, $10 million a year? (At his age, there’s no way he gets $15 million from anybody.) Is any team apt to see Marvin Williams, who made $5.6 million last season, as worth $9 million? (Remember, Josh Smith got $58 million over five seasons last summer, and that was because the economy cratered. And Smith is clearly the better player.)
A bad economy favors the Hawks, who have committed only $40 million for 2009-2010. (The salary cap was $59 million in 2008-2009.) A bad economy would allow Sund to say, “You can take a bit more cash to go lose games in Minneapolis, or you can stay where you know something good is happening. Your choice.”
Sometimes that pitch works. It didn’t with Childress because he saw playing in Greece as a life experience, not just a career move, and it didn’t because what GMs called “the spite factor” kicked in. Childress thought he was worth more and got mad when Sund disagreed. Bibby might do the same. So might Williams. More than money, spite will be the determinant of this offseason.
Two guesses: Flip Murray will re-sign with the Hawks – no GM likes Flip, who has played almost everywhere, more than Sund – and Zaza Pachulia will leave. The destinations of Bibby and Williams seem more a coin flip, but the Hawks do have this working for them:
The coin in question? It’s no longer a silver dollar. It’s one thin dime.