Two are in their offseasons. Two are approaching their midseasons, one with a monumental decision to make. Three of the four are relatively new to their positions; the other is Teflon Don Waddell. Today’s assignment: Assess and grade the general managers of Atlanta’s four major sports teams. We start at the top.
Start date: January 2008. Recap: Two winning seasons in two tries, one playoff appearance, no playoff victories. Major achievements: Hired Mike Smith, the 2008 NFL coach of the year; drafted Matt Ryan, the 2008 offensive rookie of the year; signed Michael Turner, who rushed for 1,699 yards in 2008.
Assessment: Has brought precision and professional calm to a franchise roiled by the abrupt departures of Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino; made the absolute most of his first NFL draft, landing three starters — Ryan, Sam Baker and Curtis Lofton — with his first three picks; the 2009 draft was less successful, given that top two picks Peria Jerry and William Moore were lost to injury; might have overreached in trying to change nearly half the defensive starters in one offseason; landed Tony Gonzalez for a second-round pick in a trade that essentially enabled the Falcons to post consecutive winning records for the first time in their history.
Grade: A big fat A.
Start date: June 2008. Recap: One winning season, one playoff series victory; the Hawks are leading the NBA Southeast in Year 2. Major achievements: Bolstered the 2008-2009 team with deft (and cheap) acquisitions of subs Flip Murray and Mo Evans; held the Hawks’ core together by re-signing Mike Bibby, Marvin Williams and Zaza Pachulia over the summer of 2009, again on the cheap, and landed the excellent Jamal Crawford to boot.
Assessment: Started rather ingloriously by seeing sixth man Josh Childress leave for Olympiakos of Greece; made up for that by landing Murray and Evans; made the correct choice upon arrival by granting coach Mike Woodson a two-year contract extension; is risking distraction and Woodson’s lingering ire by refusing to renegotiate until that contract expires after this season; took Jeff Teague with the 19th pick of the 2009 draft, and even Woodson, who’s hard on rookies, says Teague “will run this team someday”; is more a nuts-and-bolts guy than a grand visionary; knows the NBA and its workings as well as anyone, having worked in it since 1979.
Grade: B-plus for technical merit.
Start date: October 2007. Recap: One winning season, no playoff appearances. Major achievements: Rebuilt the Braves’ rotation in one winter; lifted a club that had lost 90 games in his first season to 86 victories in 2009; presides over a farm system that just yielded Tommy Hanson and boasts top prospects Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman.
Assessment: Had to follow the estimable John Schuerholz; banked on aging starting pitching in 2008 and saw his team crumble due to injury; landed Javier Vazquez, Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami last winter, rendering the new rotation more durable; traded Vazquez to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera and two prospects in a deal that pretty much stumped the band; signed Troy Glaus, a career third baseman coming off surgery, to be the Braves’ 2010 first baseman; guessed wrong on the composition of the Braves’ 2009 lineup but made midcourse corrections by landing Nate McLouth and dumping Jeff Francoeur and Casey Kotchman; both he and Bobby Cox dismissed a Yahoo! Sports report of friction between the two; the next day it was announced 2010 would be Cox’s final season as manager; irked John Smoltz by not offering more guaranteed money last January and Tom Glavine by cutting him last June; gives the impression of being in too big a hurry; has no ear for public relations.
Grade: A loud and busy C-plus.
Start date: June 1998. Recap: Two winning seasons, one division championship, one playoff appearance, no playoff victories. Major achievements: Drafted Dany Heatley with the No. 2 overall pick in 2000 and Ilya Kovalchuk with the No. 1 pick in 2001; has spent more time as an Atlanta GM than the other three combined.
Assessment: Was hired to build a roster from the ground up; the Thrashers, now in their second decade, are 28th in a 30-team league in attendance and would not qualify for the playoffs if they began today; was handed a major setback when Heatley, who was driving in the crash that killed teammate Dan Snyder, demanded to be traded; managed to pry the best two-way player in Thrashers annals from Ottawa for Heatley but couldn’t persuade Marian Hossa to re-up in 2008, forcing a midseason trade to Pittsburgh; has had spotty drafts, although Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane show great promise; has had rotten luck with goaltenders, dating from Damian Rhodes to Kari Lehtonen; faces a Hossa-like dilemma with Kovalchuk, whose contract is expiring at season’s end and whom Waddell has worked hard to keep; hope for retaining Kovalchuk wanes with every day, and his loss could spell doom for hockey in Atlanta.
Grade: D, but it drops if Kovalchuk exits.