Upon further review, Billy Knight wasn’t that bad. He actually was pretty good. The Hawks are using several of those “long and athletic” players that he acquired as general manager to soar higher than they have in more than a decade.
It sounds like somebody deserves an apology. Either that, or a hug and maybe a whispered, “Thank you.”
Knight paused over the phone from his Atlanta-area home before saying, “Well, I’m not really getting into talking about the team and things of that nature. You guys can write it however you want to, but I’m not commenting on the team or the players I put in place or anything like that.”
Then Knight said after a longer pause, “I’m just choosing not to say anything at all about it.”
So I will. Knight was better than we thought during his five years with the Hawks, but with an asterisk.
There was his aversion for the longest time to gifted point guards (Did he really pass on Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the draft?). He also urged Hawks ownership last spring to fire Mike Woodson, the same coach that he hired four years before.
The same coach who later helped the Hawks nearly shock the eventual world champion Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last season.
The same coach who is leading the Hawks during their current renaissance.
Soon after Hawks ownership ignored Knight’s recommendation to whack Woodson, Knight said his resignation was effective that summer.
“We didn’t fire Billy,” said Michael Gearon Sr., of Atlanta Spirit, the Hawks’ eight-member ownership group that hired Knight to fix the dysfunctional and expensive mess created by former GM Pete Babcock. First, Knight quickly blew up the Hawks roster when few thought it was possible. Then he kept adding significant pieces. Josh Smith. Marvin Williams. Al Horford. Mike Bibby.
Most famously, Knight ignored public howling and acquired Joe Johnson in a sign-and-trade from Phoenix. That move triggered the ongoing legal squabble between Steve Belkin, who didn’t want Johnson, and his Atlanta Spirit partners, who did.
Now Johnson is an established star for the Hawks and the league.
“The only club I know that tried to do what Billy did with us was Chicago,” Gearon said. “They hit the jackpot after Michael Jordan, but they didn’t hold onto their players. As fast as they got them, they’d play two years, and then they’d ship them out. We held the group together. Billy did a good job of setting a game plan and of going after guys that were logical to go after, and it’s worked.”
That means Knight is two for two. He spurred a revival for the Vancouver/Memphis franchise with the likes of Pau Gasol, but Knight was replaced by Jerry West. So guess who just shrugged after the Grizzlies began to prosper? “Billy is a nice guy, and he’s also not a PR guy,” Gearon said. “He’s Clint Eastwood, who is going to give you ‘yep’ and ‘nope.’”
For instance: What are you doing these days? “Just taking it easy,” said Knight, before politely ending the call.