Without changing anything, the Atlanta Hawks couldn't have remained a playoff team forever. Joe Johnson was aging out of his prime, Josh Smith is entering a contract year and their over-reliance on minimum salary veterans isn't enough to fill holes any longer. They needed to change the formula, and they brought in the best GM available to facilitate that change.
Over the last two years, I pegged Danny Ferry as a prime candidate to replace Joe Dumars in Detroit's front office. He built a remarkably effective team around LeBron James in Cleveland and he did so with savvy trades, late round draft picks and by careful restraint in free agency. He never had much to work with, but he got a lot out of it. Then, having spent two years as RC Buford's number two in San Antonio, he takes a job at the top in Atlanta.
Within two weeks, he trades Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams for a bunch of expiring contracts, some of which actually have on-court value, and a 2013 first round pick just for fun. Giant Brass Balls. As it stands now, the Hawks will have only $22M in salary on the books next summer-- ironically the same amount Brooklyn will be paying Joe Johnson next year. These trades are likely the first of many for Atlanta between now and February, but the moves of the summer probably won't show up in the win column until the new look Hawks arrive in October of 2013.
2012-13 Atlanta Hawks Offseason Recap
Draft Picks: John Jenkins, Mike Scott
Free Agents: Lou Williams, James Anderson
Trade Acquired: Jordan Farmar (waived), Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, Jordan Williams, DeShawn Stevenson, Kyle Korver, Sofoklis Schortsanitis (an STD that you catch from dry humping)
Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Jason Collins, Erick Dampier, Willie Green, Kirk Hinrich, Ivan Johnson, Tracy McGrady, Jannero Pargo, Vladimir Radmonovic, Jerry Stackhouse
The bold moves Atlanta made this summer were not designed for immediate payoff, they were designed to provide the flexibility of a complete roster redesign. For the first time in six years, Atlanta may find themselves in the lottery instead of the playoffs-- but it is sure to be a very short vacation. Their own pick could fall anywhere between 10th and 20th, and they have a second pick courtesy of Brooklyn that is lottery protected. These might add some nice value next June, but it's also likely they'll be used to bring talent to Atlanta via trade.
On the trade market, this might be one of the most active teams in the league in 2012-13. Josh Smith is in the final year of his contract, and until Danny Ferry arrived the rumors of Smith's unhappiness were nearly ubiquitous. You've got to imagine that Ferry will look to trade Smith before his 27-year-old athleticism begins to wane. The cost to retain him might be beyond what Ferry is ready to spend on a diminishing return. So if Atlanta is going to be active on the trade market, what kind of value can they offer in addition to an expiring All Star in Josh Smith?
Two first round picks, the expiring-yet-productive Devin Harris, the expiring-yet-productive Zaza Pachulia, the expiring-yet-productive Anthony Morrow and the (you guessed it) expiring-yet-productive Kyle Korver whose contract is only partially guaranteed. Each of these players has played on par with their contracts for 2012-13 and teams might look to them for salary relief and the production that will come along with it. Add any of these and one of those draft picks to Josh Smith, and Atlanta could bag a big buck for their new foundation.
In free agency, Ferry has a history of frugality, and it continued in the summer of 2012. His only move of note was to sign Lou Williams to a sub mid-level contract for three years. Lou Williams was one of the best isolation and pick-and-roll players in the league in 2011-12. Despite his size, his defense is seriously underrated, having contributed to the Sixers top-3 defensive effort. It might be difficult to determine where he sits in Atlanta's lineup in 2013, but I imagine he'll maintain the 30 mpg first-guard-off-the-bench role he does almost as good as James Harden. (I said almost, Buddahfan)
In the draft, Atlanta added Vanderbilt sharpshooter John Jenkins who isn't much of a fan of missing the hoop. He attempted nine threes per game in his junior year, connecting at 44%. Of the four shots per game he attempted inside the perimeter, he converted 54% for the second year in a row. This shooting performance is reminiscent of two of Jenkins new Hawks teammates Kyle Korver and Anthony Morrow, players which prove that if you can shoot lights out from three, you can build a long career on the wing in the NBA. This has also been a sticking point for Danny Ferry-- teams associated with Ferry have been the top two 3-point shooters in the last four NBA seasons.
My partiality to Danny Ferry is obvious, so take this with a grain of salt-- but I'd give Atlanta and A+ for their moves in the summer of 2012. That said, they likely won't pay off on court this season. Ferry is likely to push a quick transition from the Hawks of the last six years to the Hawks of 2013-14. The interesting point to watch will be what Ferry designs without a central superstar. Will he acquire one with his new-found assets, or will he build a winning 5-man team in the mold of the Pacers/Nuggets/Grizzlies? With the assets at hand, that kind of team is not far out of reach for Ferry.
It's amazing what a fresh set of eyes can do for a franchise. This was an explosive offseason for Atlanta, but they've still got a long way to go. As we Pistons fans are well aware, it's one thing to light the dynamite for a world of flexibility-- and it's another to use that flexibility properly. Good luck, Hawks, here's to hoping you rebuild right.