State of the Cap: Atlanta Hawks
2007/08 Atlanta Hawks Payroll: $48.4 million
2007/08 Estimated NBA Salary Cap: $55 million
Roughly: $6.6 million under cap
[img_assist|nid=3877|title=Joe Johnson|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=384]The Good: In a disappointing, injury-filled season for the Atlanta Hawks, they can at least find some encouragement in the improved play of Joe Johnson. Their highly-paid star missed twenty-five games with an injury, but when he did play he shined. Johnson catapulted his scoring average to 25 points a game and shot a career best 47% from the field. After playing in every game for four straight years, the normally durable Johnson was due for an injury. As long as he doesn’t make it a habit, he should be able to earn the three years and $42.5 million remaining on his contract.
The Hawk’s center, Zaza Pachulia, is still playing above and beyond his pay scale. The team only owes him $4 million a year the next two years and for that they get a hard-working 12 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Zaza may never be a great center, but his solid play brings stability to Atlanta’s front line for a very small price.
The Bad: It’s easy to see that Speedy Claxton was one of the worst free-agent signings of last year. For starters, he only played half the season as one of the Hawk’s many casualties. Then, when he did play, he was downright awful. 32% shooting is inexcusable at the pro level. The team still has to pay Speedy $17.2 million over the following three seasons and unless there is a major turnaround in his play, there is no way he can earn that kind of dough.
The rest of the point guards aren’t much better than Claxton. Tyronn Lue and Anthony Johnson both shot 41.6% and neither distributed the ball effectively. The only other point guard, Royal Ivey, barely had any impact at all. The lack of a good floor leader on this team is alarming. The emergence of Deron Williams means that Atlanta passed on not one but two playmaking point guards in the 2005 draft (Chris Paul being the other). Until they fix their situation, the selection of Marvin Williams over those two will always haunt this team.
The Future: Injuries obviously decimated what could have been a better year for the Hawks. Joe Johnson is playing like a star and some of their younger guys have shown real improvement. Josh Smith was second on the team in scoring and his phenomenal 2.9 blocks per game average was good for second in the league. He needs an attitude adjustment in a big way, but the physical tools are there. The other Josh, forward Josh Childress, would have been one of Atlanta’s success stories had he not missed 27 games due to injury. Childress set career highs in almost every category and he has a very efficient 50% shooting average. Marvin Williams even improved a little as he takes baby steps towards becoming a major factor for the Hawks. The talent is there for the 2, 3, and 4 spots, they just need to work on the 1 and 5.
Will Atlanta be able to fill both those spots in this year’s draft? A lucky bounce of a ping-pong ball could land them the center they covet in Greg Oden, an obvious help in the middle. They also own the 11th pick in the draft by way of Indiana from the Al Harrington deal, which means they would have a legitimate shot at Oden’s point guard teammate, Mike Conley. It would be a happy day in Hotlanta if they could pull off that kind of double-dip.
Unfortunately, the Hawks haven’t been that lucky lately and if they don’t jump into the top three, their pick goes to the Suns because of the trade for Joe Johnson. No matter what happens, the team should know by now that point guard is a top priority. If they don’t find one in the draft, free-agency is an option. They have a little cap space this summer and because of a lack of pricy, long-term deals, Atlanta has tons of room next year and beyond. They should take a long look at the Buck’s Mo Williams. He would easily fill that need and come in at an affordable price. Without a good point guard, the Hawks are just a ship without a sail.
Free Throw: When was the last time Atlanta made what could be considered a good pick in the lottery? Sheldon Williams is just getting started, but they passed up Brandon Roye and Randy Foye, both of which would have helped their backcourt. We all know who they passed up for Marvin Williams in 2005. While Josh Childress has played well, they could have had Luol Deng or Andre Iguodala in 2004. In 2003, the Hawk’s 8th pick belonged to the Bucks, who took T.J. Ford. The team’s only first round pick that year, #21, was spent on Boris Diaw. We all know how that played out.
You’d have to go all the way back to 1999 to find the last time Atlanta made a good lottery selection. That was Jason Terry at pick #10. With that kind of history, you can see why this team hasn’t had a winning season in 10 years.