Clearing cap space wasn’t easy. How many teams were lining up to absorb Joe Johnson’s gargantuan pay packet? But the harder part — harder by far — comes now. Danny Ferry, the Hawks’ general manager of 11 months, has to convince somebody really good to take his money.
Flash back to the summer of 2010, the summer of “The Decision.” The Chicago Bulls were considered the probable landing place for LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and they made an overture toward Dwyane Wade. Those three wound up in South Beach, and the Bulls were seen as the biggest loser in the Great Free Agent Bazaar.
The Bulls of 2010 had much going for them. Chicago had a nascent superstar in Derrick Rose and had just hired the highly regarded Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau as coach. Chicago also knew something about winning NBA titles, having snagged six in the ’90s.
The Hawks lack such luster. Since moving here from St. Louis, this franchise hasn’t won more than one playoff round in a given season. Not so long ago, the Hawks were known most around the league for their squabbling owners.
Hiring Ferry, who did good GM work in Cleveland and who served an apprenticeship in the model San Antonio organization, was a legitimate reason, the first in a while, to take the Hawks seriously. But the NBA, as coach-for-the-moment Larry Drew said Saturday, isn’t so much about management/coaching as playing. Said Drew: “Talent wins.”
Asked what the Hawks need, roster-wise, Drew said: “To get to that (championship) level, they certainly have to bring in more players. It’s not always about draft picks or (developing) players. It’s about veteran guys who know how to play.”
If the Hawks are to win a championship — speaking Saturday, Ferry said that was his intent — they have to find a superstar. How difficult is that? This team’s last superstar was Dominique Wilkins, who played at a time when there were a handful of greater stars. Wilkins’ final game as a Hawk: Feb. 24, 1994. Almost 20 years ago.
Rule of NBA thumb: You don’t trade for stars; either you draft them or buy them as free agents. Owing to Ferry’s roster culling, the Hawks have $33 million to spend this summer. It has long been speculated that the Hawks will make a hard run at the free-agent Dwight Howard, and such a run might entail first re-upping Josh Smith. (Would the former Atlantan look favorably on the Hawks if his old AAU buddy just left town?)
The belief here is that the combo approach — try to get two big names, at least one a superstar, to package with Al Horford — would be the proper course. The belief also is that neither Smith nor Howard should be targeted. Howard wrecked the Orlando Magic and didn’t endear himself as a Laker; Smith and the Hawks have been trying to make this work for nine seasons, and we saw, not for the first time, in Friday’s Game 6 that team and player have sailed past the point of diminishing returns.
My package deal is admittedly a long shot, but here goes: Al Jefferson, the excellent Utah center, and the other big-ticket L.A.-based superstar. It has been assumed that Chris Paul — the Chris Paul infamously not drafted by Billy Knight — will stay with the Clippers, but their playoff collapse might leave him open to offers.
To afford both Paul and Jefferson might mean cutting Jeff Teague, who was terrible against the Pacers and who’s a restricted free agent. (Another $3.5 million cleared.) Beyond money, it would require an impassioned bit of salesmanship by Ferry, whose pitch to Paul would be: “Come here and you’ll be working with Jefferson, Horford and Lou Williams. That’s not Miami’s Big Three, but it’s a heck of a front four.”
Asked about the need for a superstar and the difficulty in landing one, Ferry spoke of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement. “A team’s run might not be as long (because of salary constraints). … It could create more opportunities (for starless teams). How it unfolds is yet to be seen, but we’re in position to capitalize, be it with free agents or trades. We have the necessary tools to build a good team.”
They do. That doesn’t mean they will. The Bulls won 62 games the season after going 0-for-the-Big-Three in the summer of 2010 because they had Rose and Thibodeau — and Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, too — but were beaten in the Eastern finals by Miami.
Talent wins. If the Hawks don’t import star-quality talent this summer, they’ll be no closer to a championship than they are today. Which is to say: not close at all.