Atlanta Hawks: How to NOT Run a NBA Franchise

Steve O Speak

By Guest Blogger Geoff Nelowet:

The Atlanta Hawks sit at 44-32 after tonight’s win over the Boston Celtics. Their record is good for fifth in the Eastern Conference. They’re a physical, defensive-minded team, and they’re coming off the heels of a major in-season trade that upgraded their starting point guard. Sounds like a good situation, right?

Wrong. The Atlanta Hawks epitomize the way in which an NBA franchise should not be run. They have the seventh highest payroll in the NBA – most of which is locked up for the next three seasons. They’ve maximized their roster’s current potential. They have no chance of winning a title with this roster. So what exactly are they doing? What is their plan? Well, this is the unanswerable paradox that only Rick Sund, the Atlanta GM, has any slight grasp of.

Let’s start with the 2010 playoffs. The Hawks made it to the second round of a top-heavy bracket, and they were promptly swept in an entirely uncompetitive four-game series by the Orlando Magic, currently the fourth best team in the East. So what was Atlanta’s response to the thrashing they received from a mid-rank playoff team? Move all-in!

The Hawks threw a maximum six-year $126 million dollar deal at Joe Johnson last summer to solidify their status as a low-end playoff for the next five years. They’ve pushed all their chips to the center of the table. They’re all-in with their current roster. They no longer have any cap flexibility. They’re committed to the Joe Johnson era.

It’s difficult to illustrate precisely how horrendous that Johnson contract is, but let me put it this way: when a player who is generally perceived as maybe the 25th best player in the game (this is generous) receives money that a top-ten player should be making, there’s an obvious inequity there. Atlanta management now has their hands tied behind their back – they’re locked in with this roster. Let’s move on.

When the 2010-2011 season began, it became painfully obvious to Atlanta (this was already obvious to everyone else) that this team had absolutely no shot of winning anything now or in the future. So what did they do? They traded away their first round pick and a rookie who has proven he can score 15 ppg out of the gate in Jordan Crawford for a 31 year old point guard who is at best average – and is at best a marginal upgrade over Mike Bibby. Here’s a stat: Since Atlanta has traded for Hinrich, they’re 9-8. Well, this was undoubtedly a great trade for the Wizards.

Nothing frustrated me more about the NBA than General Managers’ idiotic propensity to dole out bad contracts. There is absolutely no justification for Joe Johnson’s contract other than to sell tickets. There’s no way that the Hawks can claim that they’re seriously working to contend for a title. That deal alone signifies that they’re happy with fifth place because their roster is only getting older. That, compounded with the mystifying trade for Kirk Hinrich can only point to two things: either Hawks’ management is completely clueless and borderline moronic or they simply want to sell tickets for the next five years. End rant.




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