It’s an Atlanta tradition, just like lousy weather for the old Peach Bowl was. The NBA draft rolls around, the Hawks make their first pick … and we all say, “Really?”
Yes, there have been exceptions. Namely, Al Horford and … er, Al Horford. But we only have to call the roll of infamy – Keith Edmonson, Dallas Comegys, Roy Marble, Adam Keefe, Priest Lauderdale, Ed Gray, DerMarr Johnson and the Williamses Marvin and Shelden – to feel bad all over again.
Most franchises look on the draft as the quickest way to improve themselves. More often than not, the Hawks’ draft has reminded us why we’ve come to distrust this organization. But this draft, I’m happy to report, had taken on a shiny glow long before Thursday night’s doings commenced. And by that I mean: In the grand scheme, this draft suddenly didn’t seem so important.
The Hawks announced Monday they’d hired Danny Ferry as their general manager. It was such a shrewd move you had to remind yourself that these were the Hawks who’d made it. In a perfect world, a team would like its GM to have more than four days to prepare for the draft, but the Hawks’ world has never been anything close to perfect.
Besides, what was the worst Ferry could do on short notice: Pick some guy from an ACC school named Williams? Been there. Done that. Twice.
Soon Ferry will have to make far bigger decisions that whether to exercise the draft’s 23rd selection on a backup guard or a backup center. (Because that’s usually the best you’ll do at No. 23 – find someone to flesh your bench.) Much more important will be the new GM’s take on the Core Four: Does someone need to go? (Yes, I say.) If so, who? (Start with Marvin Williams. Amnesty him if need be.) And what of Josh Smith?
The Hawks’ most talented player has asked to be traded enough times that the reported requests have run together. The not-exactly-hot rumor before this draft was that the Hawks had shopped him to the Lakers for Pau Gasol. (Who, under the heading of Small World, the Hawks had technically drafted in 2001. But they traded Gasol to Memphis for Shareef Abdur-Rahim.)
At best, this seemed an old rumor. At worst, it was a bad one. It’s hard to imagine a four-days-on-the-job GM trading away his best player. This isn’t to say Ferry won’t choose to trade Smith a month from now, but no basketball man of sound mind moves in such haste.
Instead the Hawks settled for making a fairly safe Round 1 pick: John Jenkins of Vanderbilt. He’s a great shooter, which isn’t the same as being a great player. Given time, Jenkins could become the new Jamal Crawford – an off-the-bench scorer who can change games.
Said Ferry: “He almost makes it a four-on-four game because you can’t leave him … He can space the floor for our core group.”
Nobody should be disappointed by this pick. That said, there was a more tantalizing option available.
Perry Jones III of Baylor is the kind of player – long of limb – that former GM Billy Knight made a habit of taking among the draft’s top 10. To have gotten such a talent at No. 23 would have been a risk worth taking. Does Jones always play to his gifts? Obviously not, or else he’d have been gone in the lottery. (There was also a late report of an unsound knee.) But a team that has Smith and Horford might have nursed Jones for a year or so and used him for cover in case Smith leaves – he’s a free agent at next season’s end – or Horford becomes the Hawk who’s traded.
But that, I should stipulate, is picking nits. There’s not much chance Jenkins will become an All-Star, but he also shouldn’t go the way of Ed Gray. He’s a worthwhile addition. The Hawks are a bit better today than they were yesterday. And now we stand back and watch Danny Ferry go to work and endeavor to make them a lot better soon.
“We’re going to be looking at a lot of things,” Ferry said, “whether it’s a trade or free agency — especially a trade. The roster at the end of the year may look a lot different.”
And that wouldn’t be so bad. This roster, at least at its top end, has looked essentially the same since 2007. This GM will be charged with doing many things, but he must be an agent of change above all.
By Mark Bradley