Today, we are going to take an in-depth look at how the Hawks screwed up their re-building process. Rather than simply say, “How can you pass on Chris Paul?” we are going to look at the rosters and examine how absurd some of Billy Knight’s decisions were.
My 1st season having season tickets was 2004-2005, and we are going to start there. The organization realized going into this season that the Shareef-Terry-Crawford-Jackson-Henderson-Sura-Dickau nucleus was not headed in the right direction. So, they blew it up and brought in guys that are “Billy Knight” guys (the ideal height, 6’8).
The 2004-2005 team has a new feel to it. The team is led in scoring by 6’9 Al Harrington and 6’8 Antoine Walker. Both are solid NBA scorers at this point in their careers and can play both forward spots. The team also has 2 1st round picks that season that are in the rotation, Josh Smith (6’9) and Josh Childress (6’8). They also have a young forward in Boris Diaw (6’8), who has shown flashes but still is a little raw. This team has 2 clear weaknesses, no point guard and no center.
Here are the “point guards” that played on the 2004-2005 team at some point:
And, here are the centers:
Jason Collier (RIP)
Clearly, there is a drastic need to upgrade these two positions ASAP. Knight gets the idea during the season that he should trade Walker. Excellent choice! Harrington is younger and has more upside and you have 3 other young players that are forwards that need playing time. In fact, Knight does pretty well with this trade getting expiring contracts (Gugliotta, Payton, Stewart) and a 2006 1st Round pick.
So, heading into the off-season after a 13-69 record, Knight has a young core of forwards that have a lot of upside, cap space, and the #2 pick in the draft.
The draft came first in June of 2005 and with the #2 pick Knight selected 6’8 Marvin Williams. With a core of Harrington, Diaw, Smith, and Childress, he took another 6’8 guy? There was certainly not a way to fix the issues at center unless Milwaukee passed on Andrew Bogut. Andrew Bynum and Channing Frye were also lottery picks that year, but not worthy of a #2 pick. But why not fix the point guard issue? I wanted Deron Williams with the pick and most fans cry about not getting Chris Paul, but even Ray Felton would have been more forgivable than another forward.
Billy then surveys the free-agent market and not surprisingly focuses on a guy that is 6’8 in Joe Johnson. Since Joe is restricted, Billy works out a sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix where the Suns get the 2006 1st round pick he acquired for Walker, a 2008 1st Round pick, and Diaw. A lot to give up, but in the state of the Hawks franchise, they weren’t in a position to swing-and-miss on a free agent. Essentially, they didn’t have enough chips to call the Suns bluff.
Well, there goes the cap space. I liked the transaction because it was the only way to get someone who had the potential to be a top 25 player in the league via free agency.
Knight uses some more of his available cap space to sign ZaZa Pachulia to a 4 year deal that worked out quite well also.
Now it is the 2005-2006 season and the depth chart looks a little better (considering there is still no PG or C)
This team goes 26-56 and shows a little bit of life at times. Joe starts every game and averages 20+ points and 6.5 assists per game. Smith averages 11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and almost 3 blocks per game. Even 19 year old Marvin averaged 8.5 points and 5 rebounds a game.
However, the 2006 off-season is even more of a disaster than 2005. With the #5 pick, the Hawks took 6’9 Sheldon Williams. What made this worse is that EVERYONE knew that was the pick and EVERYONE hated it. Knight figured that he could upgrade his point guard and center situation in free agency and couldn’t pass on a 6’9 forward.
Point Guard FA acquisition: Speedy Claxton
Center FA acquisition: Lorenzen Wright
Maybe the worst free agent signings in history. Four years and $25 million were paid to Speedy for his 44 games of service as a Hawk.
Sheldon became the 2nd best player in his marriage and has become a career backup worth 5-8 so-so minutes per game. Meanwhile, 2007 ROY and 3-time all-star Brandon Roy went with the next pick.
And to rub things in even more with the point guard debacle, the pick Knight acquired in the Walker trade that was sent to Phoenix was used to draft Rajon Rondo in that same draft.
Most know the story of the last 3 seasons from this point. Horford and Law are drafted in 2007 and the team later acquired Mike Bibby and made the playoffs that year. Then, after consecutive winning seasons and quick 2nd round playoff exits, the team is now at another crossroads.
However, this isn’t the time to rebuild again. The way the salary cap is set up, you can’t let Joe leave and sign anything close in return. Now is the time to become creative and give yourself a chance to compete again in 2010-2011. There is no cap space to lure free agents and no top 5 pick to acquire Evan Turner, John Wall, or Derrick Favors.
The league is set up for teams to re-sign and keep its good players. Either sign-and-trade Joe or pay the money to keep him. Smith and Williams are extended and Al’s is on the way. There is unlikely to be an impact rookie at #24 in the draft, but go find some depth.
Let’s see what Rick Sund does. If the 2010 off-season ends with his “Strike 1,” we may be in for another run of futility. And I don’t want to be rooting for ping-pong balls any time soon…