Would it be so terrible if the Spirit hung on to the Hawks?

"Hey! We never liked hockey anyway! We can still do this!" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

"Hey! We never liked hockey anyway! We can still do this!" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Let’s say the Atlanta Spirit sells the Thrashers, who move to Winnipeg or wherever. Let’s say the Spirit decides to keep the Hawks — perhaps with an infusion of cash from new co-owners, perhaps with just these same guys running one fewer franchise. Would that be the worst possible result for Atlanta?

Wait, wait. Don’t all scream at once.

The Spirit has done a lousy job with the hockey club. On this we can agree. But the Hawks have won a playoff series in each of the past three seasons. Alongside their Atlanta sports brethren, that should make them kings of our city. (Falcons: No playoff victories since January 2005. Braves: No postseason series victories since October 2001.)

Has the Spirit made strange decisions? Absolutely. It overpaid for Joe Johnson — overpaid twice, if you listened to Steve Belkin back in 2005 — and underpaid for Mike Woodson’s successor. But in March 2004 the Spirit took ownership of a team that would finish 13-69 the next season, and seven years later we deemed a 44-38 regular season a raging disappointment.

Esteemed colleague Tim Tucker reported yesterday that the Spirit has entered into an exclusive negotiating period with John Moores regarding the sale of the Hawks and Philips Arena. We stress that no deal is imminent, but we also need ask:  Would he be an upgrade?

Moores has owned the San Diego Padres since 1994. He has been forced to scale back his interest in the club because he and his wife divorced, and California law divides assets straight down the severed marital line. He’s still listed as chairman, but his ownership stake is being reduced over a five-year purchase plan. Moores has moved to Houston and is rarely seen around the Padres’ PETCO Park, the stadium he helped get built.

The Padres have had seven winning seasons and won four division titles over Moores’ 16-plus years as owner. They reached the 1998 World Series by beating the Braves. Under Moores, the Padre payroll has never ranked higher than 14th among the 30 MLB clubs, and 10 times it has been 20th or lower. (This according to USA Today’s handy salary database.) It was 29th in 2009 and 2010 and is 27th now. Fun fact: The Padres are paying $25 million less for their current roster than the Hawks spent on their 2010-2011 squad — and a baseball team has 10 more men.

Moores served as chairman of the board of Peregrine Systems, which filed for bankruptcy in 2003. He reportedly sold $600 million in Peregrine stock before the filing but was, as an outside director, found not to have had knowledge of a price-inflating scheme that led to sentences being brought against 13 others. Also: His gifts — from airline tickets to use of a vacation home — to San Diego city councilwoman Valerie Stallings led to her resignation in 2001 but resulted in no charges against the Padres owner.

How would you feel if the Spirit kept the Hawks?

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To his credit, Moores has shown a knack for hiring good baseball men: From Larry Lucchino (now of the Red Sox) as CEO and president to Kevin Towers (now of the Diamondbacks) as general manager to Bruce Bochy (now of the Giants) as manager. But Moores isn’t apt to throw money at a team to make it better, and even if he were the NBA has a salary cap.

For all the nits we can pick with the Spirit, spending for players isn’t among them. The Hawks had the NBA’s seventh-highest payroll this season. (The Chicago Bulls had the 26th-highest.) We can and will argue over whether the Spirit has bought the right players, but we must also note that this spending has been done without much help at the gate. The Hawks ranked 22nd in attendance.

As much as we love to lampoon the Spirit — I’m as guilty as anyone — its ownership of the Hawks hasn’t been wretched. If these owners hadn’t started suing each other over the Johnson sign-and-trade; if the resulting litigation hadn’t keep the Spirit from selling the Thrashers to a more interested buyer five years ago; if GM Billy Knight had only drafted Deron Williams as opposed to Marvin Williams … well, perception would be rather different.

Belkin is finally out of the mix, and the Thrashers might be soon. Left to run just the Hawks, the Spirit might not seem so ham-handed. This team could get better under John Moores, who’s said to prefer basketball to baseball, but there’s no guarantee. Sometimes we get carried away and insist the Hawks have stunk forever, but the cold truth is that they haven’t stunk for a while now. The Spirit deserves some credit, does it not?

By Mark Bradley

114 comments Add your comment

Hawk St8Talk

May 18th, 2011
4:05 pm

Yes it would. It would be terrible. They are part of the reason why Billy Knight selected Marvin Williams. They are the reason we kept Woodson too long and selected Drew as a cheap alternative. They are why we have a sub-par GM and no focus on cap space, draft picks, and the like. So, yes – it would be terrible if that happened. I give them credit only for paying market rate for player salaries, but isn’t that what an owner is supposed to do?

Nick P

May 18th, 2011
4:05 pm

i’ve wondered exactly this. they are locals and love the team.

Josh Smith

May 18th, 2011
4:07 pm

Nick P

May 18th, 2011
4:09 pm

oops, they are mostly locals. thinking of Gearon/Seydel.

mike

May 18th, 2011
4:09 pm

I’m down for whoever makes the team better. The game experience is fun, prices are great (compared to rest of the league), and our players are not getting in trouble in the community (see: UGA Football). However, we cannot compete with the Chicago’s and Miami’s of the world. The basic pieces are there, just needs some tweaking. If (insert owner here) can do that, I am cool with them.

PMC

May 18th, 2011
4:11 pm

I don’t really think you want to open comments to “Would it be so lousy if the spirit……”

most of the things I would say would be unChristian.

Mark Bradley

May 18th, 2011
4:12 pm

Four locals in the Spirit: The Gearons, Seydel and Beau Turner.

PMC

May 18th, 2011
4:15 pm

The Fact that they let Billy Knight make so many outright buffoonish decisions and essentially guarantee mediocrity pretty much affirms that change would be good.

CJ

May 18th, 2011
4:15 pm

Mark, please don’t do this to me

mark louis

May 18th, 2011
4:18 pm

Yes. They are the definition of mediocrity.

Coach Dooley

May 18th, 2011
4:29 pm

I think the question should be do you think the Hawks will improve under current management. We need a better coach, a big man who can defend and score and we definitely need a better bench. With the money woes as they are do you really believe that these guys are going to bite the bullet and unload some of the cash cows and then have the good sense to bring in better talent in order to get to the next level? I don’t.

Bluestreak

May 18th, 2011
4:31 pm

Unfortunately, the Turner kin didn’t get any of their ownership skill from Ted. And the Gearons hitched their cart to the wrong horse.

There is no way they will EVER be taken seriously as owners.

The Hawks have improved, no doubt. But I think that occurred despite the idiocy of the ASG, not due to their skill.

GT Alum

May 18th, 2011
4:33 pm

The main problem with the ASG is the people they hire to run their properties – Waddell, Knight, Sund, none of them have been particularly good. Knight and Sund have had their victories, but BK’s were overshadowed by his misses, and Sund is in danger of suffering the same fate. I’m not a hockey fan, so I don’t know if Waddell had any victories, but I get the impression Thrashers fans have had to resist the urge to stone him with hockey pucks.

The current Thrashers GM seems to be the only guy they’ve hired that’s highly respected, and he only has minimal experience in a GM role.

Bluestreak

May 18th, 2011
4:33 pm

And I’m not saying that John M. would be a better owner, but I would say equal at least. (Not my choice. I’m still holding out for someone to buy all three, incl. the Thrashers, and give our winter sports support)

drmaryb *_-

May 18th, 2011
4:35 pm

They better NOT let those big burly MEN leave Hotlanta!!!

Whoever owns the team had better be be MANLY too, or I’ll put all my heat behind hockey or MEN’S football.

Oh my, I LOVE MEN!!!

michael033

May 18th, 2011
4:36 pm

Sorry Mark, but it’s well beyond time to CUT BAIT!

It doesn’t matter what reality is. Perception IS, that these guys would screw up a circle jerk.
They are going to sell the Thrashers no doubt and will never overcome the bad stigma of that situation. So continuing to own the Hawks would just be a PR nightmare that will not change.

It’s time for them to become fans again and lose the title of “owners”.

GT Alum

May 18th, 2011
4:40 pm

Bluestreak -

I don’t know about Ted’s ownership skill. I think his main asset was he loved owning these teams and was willing to dump money into them to not only for players, but to hire smart men to fill out the roster and coach the players. When Ted tried handling things directly, he often stuck his foot in it. But, he was a precursor to Mark Cuban as far as seeing owning a team as more than a financial investment and being a charismatic face for the teams.

[...] Would it be so terrible if the Spirit hung on to the Hawks?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)We never liked hockey anyway! We can still do this!" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin) Let's say the Atlanta Spirit sells the Thrashers, who move to Winnipeg or wherever. Let's say the Spirit decides to keep the Hawks — perhaps with an infusion of cash …True North, Manitoba in talks over ThrashersCBC.ca [...]

GT Alum

May 18th, 2011
4:43 pm

The main problem with the ASG is the people they hire to run their properties – Waddell, Knight, Sund, none of them have been particularly good. Knight and Sund have had their victories, but BK’s were overshadowed by his misses, and Sund is in danger of suffering the same fate. I’m not a hockey fan, so I don’t know if Waddell had any victories, but I get the impression Thrashers fans have had to resist the urge to stone him with hockey pucks.

The current Thrashers GM seems to be the only executive they’ve hired that’s highly respected, and he only has minimal experience in a GM role.

mark33

May 18th, 2011
4:45 pm

CUT BAIT!
nuff said.

joey1

May 18th, 2011
4:46 pm

hawk owner are a joke.. they just have money and are too cheap to go into luxury tax to actually make a team that can compete for championships… the hawks have been a top 8 the last 3 years we need a center and to trade marvin williams then this team will succeed..

imagine trading marvin williams and horford for andrew bogut, then sign free agent al thorton to small forward..

starting lineup teague,joe johnson, al thorton, josh smith, andrew bogut

Mike

May 18th, 2011
4:47 pm

I think it is terrible if ASG still had control of the Hawks. Besides, they cause too much damage right now and long as they still here, they wont make the moves to get to second round. They tried but it is time for them to move on.

Mike

May 18th, 2011
4:48 pm

I mean pass the second round.

Coach Dooley

May 18th, 2011
4:57 pm

I’m not sure that they do not see the handwriting on the wall about the corner they have backed themselves into cap wise and while they may believe they could overcome it with intelligent trades and lots of money, they have come to the conclusion that it is just far too much trouble to invest more of themselves into it. Like Trump, they can now claim “yeah but we could have been a contender for the championship if we had kept the team.

DB

May 18th, 2011
4:57 pm

What idiot would want to infuse cash and become a “partner” with this group. At best, they have been incompentent, at worst they represent the shady side of business. They haven’t met anybody they wouldn’t sue. They have insulted both the Hawks and Thrashers fans through their words and actions. They should be tarred and feathered prior to being run out of town.

Herschel Talker

May 18th, 2011
5:07 pm

MB:

To heck with these clowns. We need real owners who can bring us winners, not buffoons like these a-holes.

HT

Ben

May 18th, 2011
5:11 pm

Bradley, no offense, but this is might be one of your worst articles ever! The ASG has two fundamental problems… 1) they simply don’t have the money to be a professional sports owner, and 2) even if they had the money they haven’t shown the ability to spend it wisely. Point #2 is moot anyway because they’re broke, selling the Thrashers won’t even make their money back on what they paid for them, or lost on them. Their ownership has failed in every way, they’ve been competitive with the Hawks, but they weren’t able to make it sustainable, and success that isn’t sustainable is not really success at all.

Sherri (Thrashers Fan)

May 18th, 2011
5:14 pm

QUESTION:

How can you tell when an individual ownership member of ATLANTA SPIRIT GROUP is lying to you?

ANSWER:

His lips are moving, and there is not currently an unclothed male reproductive organ right next to them.

Paddy

May 18th, 2011
5:17 pm

You are right Mark, they have not been wretched. But they have been horrible. I know there is a silver lining there but for the life of me, I can’t get a handle on the seperation between the two. If we all just call them horrible owners then the majority will understand the difference!

B

May 18th, 2011
5:24 pm

You and Schultz both wrote a column on the same day? Are ad sales up?

I don't have Spirit

May 18th, 2011
5:27 pm

The Hawks got good from being terrible, just like the Bulls. If you play bad long enough and get a bunch of high draft picks, you’re bound to eventually have a good team. This is no credit to the owners, in fact the Hawks should be loads better if you look at those picks. Sheldon…Marvin….C’mon. The owners can’t claim much victory here.

Wait a Minute

May 18th, 2011
5:28 pm

The ASG have the mental capacity of 5 flies.

Bentley

May 18th, 2011
5:31 pm

Is this April Fools Day?? The ASG has been an unmitigated disaster, and will go down in the Hall of Atlanta Shame Giving Winterpeg the Thrashers will add to that embarrassment. And don’t get me started on Moores. His divorce fiasco with the Padres was Dodgers-like and almost unraveled that franchise. Didn’t they have to dump Jake Peavy because of it?

Bentley

May 18th, 2011
5:35 pm

and here is the answer to the Peavy question:
http://bleacherreport.com/articles/70340-jake-peavy-on-verge-of-becoming-victim-to-moores-divorce-settlement
The ASG with Moores would be about the dumbest sports ownership situation since Ted Stepien and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Mitun

May 18th, 2011
5:38 pm

hey Mark

would Atlanta be interested in Jason Thompson from the Sacramento Kings?

elroy

May 18th, 2011
5:40 pm

it would be as terrible as the ajc hanging on to Bradley & most of the other columnists. pretty terrible!

mark33

May 18th, 2011
5:41 pm

I’ve never seen more incompetent ownership in all of sports.

No matter who else you bring up to go against the ASG, the following question follows:
Have they been suing each other in court for their formative years? 9 of 11.

¡ʎɐM ƃuıʞɐǝɹℲ oN :ɹǝʍsu∀

Redneck Hawk

May 18th, 2011
5:44 pm

The Spirit DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING when it comes to contending for a title. Maybe making us “not-bottom feeders,” but nothing more.

Najeh Davenpoop

May 18th, 2011
5:52 pm

“But the Hawks have won a playoff series in each of the past three seasons. Alongside their Atlanta sports brethren, that should make them kings of our city.”

Yeah, if we live in the capital of lowered expectations.

If all we can get from our sports teams is winning one playoff series, there should be no king of our city. Our city should be a leaderless anarchy until conditions improve.

Unbelievable

May 18th, 2011
5:56 pm

Honestly this has to be some kind of joke. Are you kidding me? Joe Johnson max deal. Hired foolish people to pass on Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Brandon Roy. Trading a 1st, Bibby, Maurice Evans, and Jordan Crawford for Hinrich (when we already had Teague) and Armstrong (a bum). No elite stars on the roster. Yeah, ASG has to go.

Unbelievable

May 18th, 2011
5:57 pm

Good point Najeh. This team has pretty much the same core since 2007. Why aren’t expectations higher?? The team isn’t built for a championship.

Najeh Davenpoop

May 18th, 2011
6:01 pm

To be clear, John Moores comes across as a very underwhelming ownership candidate. But just because he wouldn’t be an automatic improvement over the DASG doesn’t mean the DASG doesn’t suck.

If being in the top 10 in payroll was all it took to be a good sports owner, Redskins fans must really love Dan Snyder.

When that top 10 payroll comes from severely overpaying people, and when the consequence is an unwillingness to spend the appropriate amount of money to hire a real head coach, and when the hand-picked GM has failed everywhere he’s been and actually thinks the team is elite just because they have lost in the second round three years in a row, the ownership deserves no credit.

mark33

May 18th, 2011
6:02 pm

How about we:
1.Sign and trade for a Free agent where we over trade and over pay.
2.Sue other ownership for about 9 of our first 10 years because of #1.
3.Then, keep a GM who is proven to be an idiot with his drafting ability. Passing on many players who could help this team.
4. Hire an inexperienced head coach for cheap.
5. Fire GM and hire another who is cheap and incompetent.
6. Said GM will resign players to ridiculously high contract extensions.
7. Trade two players for J. Crawford. (hey, it’s not a complete mess)
8. Not resign head coach who wants a raise.
9. Sign new inexperienced head coach on the cheap.
10. GM will resign same Free Agent as #1 to a max contract when everyone in league laughs. Further crippling franchise.
11. Trade elderly point guard (who he way overpaid) and a future guard prospect and a #1 draft pick to Washington for Curt Heinrick and a stiff.
12. Lose #8 free agent to free agency and get no return.
13. sign GM contract extension for a job well done.

Oh wait…. never mind. That’s pretty much it in a nutt shell.
Does this sound like an ownership that deserves anything but public humiliation for the next 100 years?
i say nope.

moorman

May 18th, 2011
6:03 pm

STOP, JUST STOP. the hawks been in atlanta 40 something years and are ranked 23rd in value by forbes. you know why??? cause hawks ownership has done NOTHING with this franchise. get real mark, you say some of the …………….

Najeh Davenpoop

May 18th, 2011
6:04 pm

Oh yeah, and let’s not act like the Hawks being 22nd in attendance has nothing to do with ownership. The Hawks are one of the most poorly marketed sports teams I have ever seen. Of course it’s hard to market a team that has no superstars and no shot at winning a title in a city whose sports fans only show up when the team has superstars and a chance to win titles, but even that is a problem of the DASG’s creation.

PMC

May 18th, 2011
6:05 pm

I have it on good authority they kick puppies and punch kids with cancer.

Just Me

May 18th, 2011
6:38 pm

Beau Turner is not local is he? He runs his dad’s Montana Buffalo Ranch with his wife, the daughter of Teresa Heinz Kerry. Need that Ketchup Queen to go with the Buffalo Burgers.

Just Me

May 18th, 2011
6:39 pm

Just Me

May 18th, 2011
6:42 pm

Beau Turner lives in Montana with his wife (daughter of Teressa Heinz Kerry) running Daddy’s Buffalo Ranch with the Ketchup Princess. I don’t think that makes Beau Turner a local.

Brian

May 18th, 2011
6:50 pm

The 3 major reasons we are where we are today: 1. Drafting Marving Williams 2. Drafting Sheldon Williams 3. Re-signing Joe to the 2nd highest contract in the NBA

Nough said!