For a moment, it appeared the pleas of most Hawks’ fans would be met in one swell foop — the team would add Shaquille O’Neal while shedding the unloved Marvin Williams. But esteemed colleague Michael Cunningham has since written that the Shaq-for-Marvin sign-and-trade “appears to be a non-starter,” and this morning Chris Tomasson of FanHouse reports the Hawks “are ruling out the possibility of signing [Shaq].”
At issue here isn’t whether Shaq would have fit the Hawks — my belief was that he wouldn’t have — but the reasons Tomasson identifies for the team’s non-interest. From his report: “A source close to the situation said Thursday that Atlanta’s ownership doesn’t want to exceed the luxury-tax threshold of $70.307 million.”
And this is where it gets maddening to follow the Hawks. The Atlanta Spirit insists it will spend whatever it takes to assemble a first-class team, and then we discover there’s a ceiling on “whatever it takes.” The Hawks said money wouldn’t be a deterrent to signing the best coach available to replace Mike Woodson, but lo and behold they wound up with Larry Drew, who figures to be the lowest-paid coach in the NBA in 2010-11.
The Hawks just worked a sign-and-trade with Phoenix for Josh Childress, considered a prime bargaining chip, and they reaped this windfall: A second-round draft pick next summer and a monetary credit to be used on some future trade. (You’ve heard of the player to be named later? This is money to be spent later.)
It’s hard to criticize the Hawks for not spending in a month where they’ve made Joe Johnson the NBA’s highest-paid player, but with Johnson they had no choice. Credibility, both in the local marketplace and across all of professional basketball, was the overriding concern. But the Hawks entered the summer saying they wouldn’t stop with keeping Joe — they would aggressively pursue other big-name free agents.
Mr. Cunningham heard the same sentiments, but now he writes: “After [post-Johnson] indications that the Hawks were willing to push their payroll above the luxury-tax threshold of $70.3 million, it’s becoming increasingly clear ASG wants to avoid paying the tax.”
This, alas, is the way of the Spirit. These owners talk a decent game, and sometimes you start to believe them. But there’s no follow-through, and again you stop believing.