Monday, May 25, 2009

Hawk Talk

First of all, Happy Memorial Day to everyone. And, more importantly, thank you to all of you that have served our country both at home and abroad. We are all forever indebted to each and every one of you. I'm sure many of you have spent this day with friends and family, enjoying some burgers and hot dogs, and maybe even taking that first dip of the year in the neighborhood pool. Me? In typical exciting WAD fashion, I've spent the better part of today plowing through the NBA CBA, as well as the salary figures for the Hawks and each of the 29 other NBA franchises. After the past few weeks of listening to countless sports talk radio callers proposing impossible scenario after impossible scenario for the Hawks to pursue this off-season, and after ending too many of my own conversations about the Hawks with the words, "if that is even possible", I decided it was time to figure out what I would do this summer if I was Hawks' GM Rick Sund.

Before delving too deep, I have to concede that the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement is a very complex and confusing agreement, and the rules for trades and free agent signings are not easy to understand. In fact, it would be beyond disingenuous for me to hold myself out as an expert on these issues, and it is almost an absolute certainty that I've overlooked some obvious possibilities in my analysis. That, of course, isn't going to stop me from chiming in.

Let me start with a question. Have you ever traveled to Vegas with your boys, gotten off the plane, waited in the cab line for an hour, spent another hour checking into your room, and then raced down to the casino floor with a wad of cash in hand and visions of wealth in your head? Sure you have. We've all been there before, and we all know that unique excitement we feel when we walk into the blackjack pit for the first time. Unfortunately, however, we all also know how it feels when we hit the pit only to realize that there are no open spots at the table we want to play. You were seconds away from completing the cross country journey, sitting down, ordering your first Jack and Diet, and placing your first $25 bet. Now, however, since there are no seats at the $25 tables, you have three choices: 1) You can go kill some time at the craps table and patiently wait for a spot to open up; 2) You can try to convince one of your buddies to walk to another casino with you in search of a $25 table (this is only an option if you aren't staying at the Palms or Hard Rock); or 3) You can decide not to delay your gratification and somehow justify to yourself sitting down at the $100 table. If you've ever been in this situation and you've chosen option #3, you will understand when I say that you NEVER sit down at the $100 table just for the sake of placing a bet.

Now, you are probably asking yourself, "what the hell does any of this have to do with the Hawks?" Fair question. The answer is that, for the Hawks, this off-season looks and feels an awful lot like a full blackjack pit. In other words, we would all undoubtedly love nothing more than to run out this off-season with our wad of cash (counting our first round pick, the Hawks have only about $43 million in committed salary for next year with the cap likely to come in around $57 million and the luxury tax trigger likely to come in around $71 million) and make a big free agent signing or orchestrate a blockbuster trade that will vault us from a nice 4-seed to a legitimate contender along with Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando. This urge is completely understandable. The past two years, we have tasted a measure of playoff success, and now we want more. Unfortunately, however, we've walked right into probably the worst free agent class of the decade, which is full of potentially disastrous decisions. So, it's my belief that, much like the guy walking into the full blackjack pit, Rick Sund would be very wise to exercise some patience, go play a little craps, and wait it out until a spot opens up. Fortunately for Sund, his spot would open up in the 2010 free agent class, which, in complete contrast to this year's class, may be the best free agent class we've ever seen. Since most of you are aware of all the big names in the class of 2010, I won't bore you with all the details. Suffice it to say, however, that the class of '10 doesn't begin and end with Lebron and D. Wade. For a full listing, click here.

All that being said, just like there is opportunity to make a few dollars at the craps table while waiting for your blackjack seat, there is opportunity for the Hawks to better themselves this summer. I, however, don't think it's realistic to think that there are any free agent moves out there that will immediately vault us to the next level, and, with one wild and far fetched exception, I don't see any trades that will do the trick. In fact, I can only craft a single trade that made any sense for the Hawks that also remotely made sense for the other trading party that would make the Hawks markedly better. And, even this trade, doesn't really make sense for the other party and requires you to make some big concessions and assumptions. Let me explain.

If you are willing to concede that Al Horford is never going to give us more than we've already seen, and if you are willing to concede that we've seen the best of Joe Johnson (two concessions I'm not sure I'm willing to make), then you might consider offering Al, Joe, and Acie Law to New Orleans for Chris Paul, David West, and Julian Wright. Now, you are probably asking yourself, "why would New Orleans even let you finish making this offer before they hung up the phone?" Well, if you believe what you hear and read, the Hornets are in dire financial straights and will have no choice but to dump salary wherever they can this off-season. And, you have to imagine that a salary dump will inevitably lead to Chris Paul consulting with Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury on the best way to escape a sinking ship of a franchise. So, if New Orleans is completely honest with itself and recognizes that its window with Paul has already closed before it even opened, they should jump at the chance to unload the $24.9 million they've committed to West through the '11-'12 season and the $63.7 million they've committed to Paul through the '12-'13 season for $21.5 million of Joe, Al, and Acie that all come off the books after next year. Right? Even better for New Orleans is that if Al takes the leap, they can exercise a team option in '10 and keep him for only $5 million. Honestly, when I started typing this, I actually thought this would be a horrendous deal for the Hornets, but the more I type, the more I am talking myself into this. Again, if New Orleans was honest with themselves, this deal makes a lot of sense. But, it's never going to happen. Why? Well, no matter how dire it's financial situation is, the one thing New Orleans can sell its fan base on is Paul. When you have a special player like CP3, you are going to put butts in the seat on that alone, not to mention that you can still convince your fans that you are trying to win, even if you aren't. If the Hornets trade Paul, they will have 2,000 fans/game next year, and they might as well pull the moving truck up to the front door. And, there isn't a deal the Hawks could put together that would allow the Hornets to unload Tyson Chandler's deal, and the Hornets aren't going to make a deal unless they can rid themselves of that contract. Oh, and for the record, if I was Rick Sund, and if this deal were actually possible, not only would I do it in a heart beat, I would help Joe and Al pack. And yes, I love Joe and Al, but it's just business, baby.

Okay, so with the unlikely blockbuster trade discussion out of the way, in a nutshell, if I were Rick Sund, here's what I would do while I was waiting for the blackjack table to open up:

1) I'm a big Mike Bibby fan, but he made $15 million this past season. He will undoubtedly sign for less, but how much less? $10 million? $8 million? Frankly, it doesn't matter to me. The first thing I'm doing is signing Jarret Jack to an offer sheet at the qualifying amount of $2.9 million. With T.J. Ford on the books at $8.5 million through '11, are the Pacers going to match? I just don't see it. Then, I take some cash, and I take a real gamble. Specifically, I give Stephon Marbury a chance to redeem his career. Sure, he was a disaster in New York and Boston, but he's a 32 year old former all star that has averaged 19.3 points and 7.6 assists/game in less than 900 total games. The real question here is not whether Steph is worth taking a risk on, it's how much will it cost us? Well, the league minimum for a guy with 10+ years is $1.352 million/year. I simply can't imagine anybody paying Steph more than twice that amount. Plus, he has strong ties here in Atlanta, so it's a natural fit for him. So, at the end of the day, you can have two Georgia Tech point guards for around $6 million. And, at least in theory, you have two guys that can attack the rim, draw defenders away from and create open looks for Joe, while also creating easier offensive opportunities for Al.

2) We have to re-sign ZaZa. We need his size and intangibles, and he is cheap. This is a no brainer. If you look at the big men on the free agent market, you will understand. Then again, you can grab Rad Nesterovic or Adonal Foyle if you want! No? Yeah, I didn't think so.

3) Also, you have to re-sign Flip Murray. If you let Bibby go, you can't afford to lose Flip's shooting ability. Plus, in this economy, Flip isn't going to command an unfair wage.

4) Finally, Marvin is a restricted free agent, and somebody will sign him to an offer sheet at the qualifying amount of $7.355 million. You absolutely have to match this. I'm not even going to argue about this. Marvin has improved every season, and while he will never be Chris Paul (deal with it, Hawks fans!), $7.355 is a fair price for what he brings to the table.

As I conceded up front, there may be deals or signings out there that I'm overlooking, and if so, I would love for you to bring them to my attention. However, given what I see on the free agent market, and given our current roster situation, I think the above plan is a prudent way to attack this off season. If you bring in JJ and Steph, you have a real chance of upgrading the PG position, and you stand pat everywhere else. You win 50 games next year, and most importantly, you position yourself beautifully for the summer of 2010 when you can make a run at a big time free agent and when you have to make a decision on whether to try to keep Joe around for the remainder of his career.

I'm the first one to concede that this isn't an exciting plan, but we will be a lot happier after showing a little patience when we sit down at the $25 table and play all night instead of blowing all our cash in the blink of an eye at the $100 table. Trust me, I've been there.