Archive for May, 2011

Hawks for sale! Thrashers for sale! But only one stands to exit

At least one of the Spirit's teams is going to be here next year. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

At least one of the Spirit's teams will be here next year. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

According to esteemed colleague Tim Tucker, the Atlanta Spirit — corporate motto: Everything Must Go! — has entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with outgoing San Diego Padres owners John Moores to buy the Hawks and Philips Arena. This is major news. But here we offer a couple of caveats:

• Exclusive negotiating agreements aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, especially when it concerns the Hawks, the Thrashers and Philips Arena. the Texas car dealer David McDavid had one of those with Time Warner in April 2003, and you see what it got him. (Actually, it got him $281 million from Time Warner after the conglomerate sold the teams and the building to the Spirit instead.)

• That the Spirit has entered into a negotiating agreement with someone who would agree to keep the Hawks in Atlanta — and it’d be pretty hard to uproot Philips Arena and move it to Manitoba — shouldn’t be taken …

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A long lockout might leave the Falcons without a needed DE

Ray Edwards: New heavyweight champ? (AP photo)

Ray Edwards: New heavyweight champ? (AP photo)

The draft came, yielding Julio Jones and Jacquizz Rodgers, and then it went. The Falcons bettered themselves (by a lot) on offense, but not on defense. For that to happen, they need free agency to happen.

And it might. It also might not.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the NFL owners a permanent stay Monday in this bewildering game of negotiation-via-litigation, which essentially means the players, who were briefly unlocked-out last month, will have to keep organizing their own Organized Team Activities. The Court of Appeals set June 3 as the date for a further hearing, but since that hearing will be conducted before the same body that just voted 2-1 in favor of the owners, the players shouldn’t expect any relief.

The upshot: The players are in real trouble. They out-lawyered the NFL early, but the NFL, which is a league built on comebacks, fashioned a rousing courthouse comeback. The players now have two choices: …

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If the Thrashers leave, it won’t be because Atlanta failed them

Are the lights about to dim on ice hockey in Atlanta? (AJC file photo)

Are the lights about to dim on ice hockey in Atlanta? (AJC photo by Jessica McGowan)

The endgame has surely begun. It’s sad, yes. Given the way this franchise has been run, it’s also inevitable.

In the three months since Michael Gearon Jr., one of the team’s many owners, said the Thrashers were for sale, no credible buyer has emerged who’s willing to throw away money to keep the team in Atlanta. And now, reports esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore, the Atlanta Spirit has begun negotiations with True North Sports and Entertainment, which very much wants a hockey club for Winnipeg.

Some continue to hold out hope, thinking an Atlanta knight will appear to save the Thrashers. But here we need ask: Does this franchise merit saving?

Atlanta is on the cusp of becoming the first American city to lose two NHL teams, but this failure is more pronounced. The old Flames actually did well on the ice, making the playoffs six times in eight years. The Thrashers have been a continuing dud: One …

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The most familiar words in Atlanta sports: Chipper’s hurt!

Chipper Jones after Saturday's victory. He had a double that day. (AP photo)

Chipper Jones after Saturday's victory. He had a hustle double that day. (AP photo)

In his career, Chipper Jones has 1,518 RBIs. He has also undergone (loose estimate) 1,518 MRIs.

He had another Sunday, and it revealed a small meniscus tear in his right knee. That’s not to be confused with his left knee, which was surgically rebuilt last August. (The same left knee was likewise surgically rebuilt in 1994.)

Once again, we at the ol’ AJC got to trot out the most familiar words in the local sporting vernacular: “Chipper’s hurt.” And we Braves-watchers fell into our usual Chipper’s-Hurt calculations: Out for how long? Who plays third? Who bats third? What does this do to the Braves?

On the scale of Chipper Injuries, a meniscus tear isn’t up there with a torn ACL or even a tweaked oblique. (He’s had a slew of those.) If it responds to an injection, he said Sunday, he’ll be back fairly soon. If not, he’ll have arthroscopic surgery and maybe miss two weeks.

He knows because he the …

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Braves-Phillies: A fair fight that might last deep into October

A good start: Martin Prado leads off with a home run. (AP photo)

A good start: Martin Prado leads off with a home run. (AP photo)

They’ve played eight times, each winning four. They’re scheduled to meet 10 times more, and there’s a chance they’ll face off in the National League Championship Series. And what might happen then?

Said Chipper Jones: “In a seven-game series against them in October, I’ll take my guys over their guys. Meaning no disrespect.”

Moments earlier, Jones had offered this: “I have no doubt in my mind we’re as good a ball club as the Phillies.”

Then this: “My worry is not about Philadelphia — it’s about everybody else. [The Phillies] bring it every night, no matter who they’re playing. We don’t do that as often.”

We saw as much this week. The Braves needed a come-from-behind walk-off victory to keep from being swept by the Washington Nationals. Two days later they’re positioned to take a series from the team with baseball’s best record.

Jones again: “The thing that bothered me about that Washington series is that we looked …

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Live from the ballyard: The Braves try to even a big series

The ceremony honoring stars of the Negro Leagues was most moving. (Photo by M. Bradley)

The ceremony honoring stars of the Negro Leagues was most moving. (Photo by M. Bradley)

I’m here at the ballyard. About to watch Jair Jurrjens, who hasn’t lost this year, oppose Joe Blanton, who could lose at any moment.

The Braves missed a chance last night. They came from 3-0 down to take a lead against Cole Hamels, only to spit it back. Sunday’s game offers Roy Halladay against Tim Hudson, so that won’t be easy. Today’s the game you figure the Braves should win. But sometimes figuring doesn’t pay.

As I type, the Braves and MLB are honoring former stars of the Negro Leagues. Of the eight, four are in wheelchairs. This is the weekend of the Civil Rights Game, and the Braves will wear replica uniforms of the Atlanta Black Crackers in today’s game; the Phillies will wear replicas of the Philadelphia Stars. And Ludacris and Jermaine Dupri will perform afterward.

And with that — I’m not feeling loquacious just yet — I open the floor for questions, comments and moaning about Dan …

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The Hawks proved they aren’t a mess, but they lack a mesh

Even the usually splendid Al Horford wasn't himself in Round 2. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Al Horford wasn't himself in Round 2. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The fun part ended four minutes into Game 6. The serious stuff starts now. The Hawks must decide if 12 playoff games, half of which they won, were enough to override a regular season of diminishing returns. They must decide if winning two games in Round 2, as opposed to getting swept, constitutes the kind of progress that can be sustained.

The Hawks did a nice salvage job. Had they bombed out in Round 1, there’d have been no compelling reason to hold this team together or to keep this coach. Larry Drew’s job now seems safe — he did all he could in the playoffs, and much of what he did was inspired — but the question of the Hawks’ core remains.

Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Marvin Williams have been together since 2007. They’ve won three playoff series but never two in one spring. When they play well, as happened against Orlando and for three of the six games against Chicago, they’re an imposing …

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A stirring Hawks’ playoff run dissolves in a familiar collapse

Another year, another head-in-a-towel ending. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Another year, another head-in-a-towel ending in Round 2. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

If they’d done nothing else this past month, the Hawks made us recall how it was in 2008, when they took the champs-to-be to a Game 7 in Boston. They’ve reminded us what fun having a good NBA team in this town can be. They’ve allowed us to say the words “playoff basketball” without cringing.

Three years after that improbable Celtics series, the Hawks had again smacked into the East’s No. 1 seed and refused to retreat. They stole Game 1 in Chicago on a flurry of shooting, outfought the Bulls over the final minutes of Game 4 to draw even in the series. And the Hawks’ loss in Game 5 shouldn’t have perturbed them — down 15 early, they seized a fourth-quarter lead before succumbing.

Thursday brought the series back here. Many of these Hawks had done bravura duty in a Game 6 victory against Boston in 2008. The Celtics took a 15-point lead, and that seemed that. But the Hawks converted 17 …

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Live from Game 6: The Hawks look to book a Chicago return

Nobody figured it would be this tough for the Bulls. But it has been. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Nobody figured it would be this tough for the top-seeded Bulls. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

It’s win or go home, except that the Hawks are already home. But you get the picture.

The series in quick review: Hawks shot great, played hard and won Game 1; Hawks did neither and lost Game 2; Hawks appeared ready to succumb in Game 3; they refuted such a notion in winning Game 4 and in clambering from 15 points down to take a brief lead in Game 5.

Larry Drew on his Hawks, speaking a few minutes ago: “I think people saw us as a team that would make the playoffs and wouldn’t do well … [What his men have done] is truly a testament to their commitment.”

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau on his by-now-familiar opponent: “This is a quality team. They have quality depth. They have a lot of guys who can put it on the floor.”

This was reminiscent of what Dwyane Wade said after the Hawks beat his Heat in a Game 7 in 2009: “They’ve got five guys they can throw it to and have them make a play.”

Along …

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An ESPN-fueled buzz gathers around the Georgia Bulldogs

Isaiah Crowell hasn't yet played a down but casts a long shadow. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Isaiah Crowell hasn't played a collegiate down but casts a long shadow. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

More and more folks are thinking warm thoughts about the Georgia Bulldogs, and some of those folks work for ESPN. (Which makes their thinking significant, given that ESPN runs the part of college football Mike Slive doesn’t.) Citing cases:

Bruce Feldman of ESPN Insider lists Georgia as his No. 8 best-value choice to win the BCS title. (Link requires registration.) Not the SEC East, not even the SEC — the BCS.

By “value,” he means getting long odds in Las Vegas on a team that has a legitimate shot. Feldman notes that Georgia opened at 40-1 to take the BCS but is down to 25-1 already. Feldman’s rationale for including UGA:

If the Dawgs were still at 40-1, they’d probably be a spot or two higher on this list. I’m on record as picking them to win the SEC East. I expect QB Aaron Murray to emerge as a star and for Isaiah Crowell, the nation’s top-rated RB recruit, and a healthy …

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