State of the Cap: Atlanta Hawks

Fri, 06/13/2008 - 11:31am

By Josh Redetzke

[img_assist|nid=1123|title=Al Horford|desc=Icon SMI|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=429]2008/09 Atlanta Hawks Payroll: $51.7 million
2008/09 Estimated NBA Salary Cap: $58 million (estimate)
Roughly: $6.3 million under cap

The Good:
The Hawks made the playoffs for the first time in eight years and leading the charge was a healthy Joe Johnson. After an injury shortened season a year ago, Johnson suited up every night for Atlanta and played well. His scoring was down to 21.7 points per game, but his assists were up, which meant he was getting his teammates more involved in the offense. He also kept up a nice 38% average at the three point line. The kind of leadership Johnson displayed in the Boston series is exactly the sort of thing that will make the two years and $29 million left on his contract worth it. He’ll need to step up even more if Atlanta wants to do better than the 8th seed.

Rookie forward Al Horford was another reason for the Hawk’s good vibrations this season. Horford was a rebounding machine, averaging 9.7 per game (10.4 in the playoffs) and added a respectable 10.1 points on 50% shooting. The All-Rookie first teamer will only get better the next few years. It’s hard to believe, but the Hawks actually made a smart draft choice for once.

Marvin Williams may never become the kind of superstar scouts thought he might be, but he is starting to show some real talent as a scorer. The former second pick in the 2005 draft improved his shooting to a more respectable 46% and set career highs of 14.8 points and 5.7 rebounds. Williams still has one more year under his rookie contract for just $5.7 million. If he keeps improving like he has, Williams will be a definite keeper and worth a raise in salary next summer.

The Bad:
Will Speedy Claxton ever earn any of the millions Atlanta has and will be paying him? Claxton missed the entire season to injury and collected a cool $6.3 million. He only played in 42 games the year before. His contract will give him $5.7 million next season and $5.2 million after that. Lucky for the Hawks, the dollar figures decline as the years go by instead of increase. At this pace, Claxton will have to put up some incredible numbers to make his addition worthwhile.

The Future:
The trade for Mike Bibby was both good and bad for the Hawks. At $15.2 million for next season, Bibby is highly overpaid for the 14.1 points, 6.5 assists, and poor shooting that he provides. However, that is the final year of his contract and Atlanta didn’t give up anything of value in order to add the veteran point guard they needed. Sheldon Williams was a huge bust and Anthony Johnson, Tyronn Lue, and Lorenzen Wright weren’t contributing anything. Even if Bibby takes a turn for the worse next season, he’ll be a heck of a trading chip with that huge expiring contract. The Hawks turned their scraps into a player that helped them win a playoff berth, which makes it a good trade on their part.

Truth be told, Atlanta did achieve the 8th seed in the playoffs with a 37-45 record. That is kind of like being the best looking geek at a sci-fi convention. This team still needs to improve if they expect to make the playoffs again next season, but they showed a lot of heart and grit in their series against Boston. An experience like that can really improve team chemistry and bring them closer together. If the Hawks can keep this group intact, they will get better every year.

With no picks in this year’s draft, the team’s biggest transactions this summer will be re-signing Josh Childress and rising star Josh Smith. Childress lost some minutes to Al Horford but he is a very efficient player who rebounds and takes good shots. He’ll be much easier to afford than Smith. The high-flying forward cemented himself not only as one of the league’s best shot blockers but also as one of its most versatile players. He was second in the league with 2.8 blocks per game and filled up the box score by averaging 17.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.5 steals. Smith’s price might be so high that they won’t be able to afford Childress. Is Atlanta willing to go over the cap for a team that was eight games under .500 last year? With a glut of forwards on the roster, it would be a smart move to use Childress (in a sign-and-trade deal) or Marvin Williams to try and land a better center or improve their bench. The Hawks must also think about a point guard for the future since Bibby might not be around after next season. The organization should be proud of their accomplishments, but there is still some work to do if they expect to climb the playoff ladder in the East.

Free Throw:
While Greg Oden and Kevin Durant hogged all the hype at last year’s draft, Al Horford slid under the media’s radar. There was a reason why teams like the Celtics and Bucks were so devastated to fall out of the top three; they knew Horford was a real player and could contribute right away. The Hawks didn’t fall for the allure of Yi Jianlian or the practicality of Mike Conley. They ignored the fact that they already had plenty of forwards and selected the best one in the draft anyway. It turned out to be a wise choice, which usually doesn’t happen to Atlanta on draft night.

Grade: B+

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