Contract Grades: Atlanta Hawks
Welcome to a new series: Contract Grades. One at a time over the next bunch of weeks, we’ll take a look at each of the 30 NBA teams and grade their roster of contracts. We’ll come to our final grade taking into account the factors surrounding the original signing, the general outlook of the franchise, the production of the player so far relative to the salary, and whether or not the deal makes logical sense heading into a new – and more restrictive – salary cap era.
You know, whenever that comes.
But first we need to set some ground rules. Everything needs ground rules and each piece in the series will refer back to this one with regards to the ground rules.
The Ground Rules
1 – Each player who is under contract in 2012-13 or later will be reviewed. 2011-12 is going to be ignored for these purposes because who knows if there will even be a 2011-12 season, and even if there is filling out rosters is going to be a haphazard, rushed mess. Judging a franchise going forward based on that isn’t fair. Contracts listed will be for totals beginning in 2012-13.
2 – Changes in front office management and outlook will be noted. Was the player signed as part of a playoff team, and is the team no longer at that level?
3 – Available replacement value at the time of the signing will be taken into account, but not used as an absolute. Saying the Los Angeles Clippers could have signed LeBron James instead when they weren’t in his top three choices isn’t fair to a judgment of the Clippers, for example.
4 – Emphasis will be placed on judging the contracts against the backdrop of a more restrictive salary structure. Is that fair when they were signed under the old CBA? Absolutely. Teams knew these restrictions would be coming over two years ago, so if they knowingly handcuffed themselves, that should count against them. And if they did it unknowingly…well, too bad – that definitely counts against them.
5 – Length of contract counts. The longer into the new CBA a contract lasts the more it may hurt a team’s future, especially at large dollar amounts.
6 – The final grade given is based on how much value a given contract – or the team as a whole – will produce looking forward in a new environment.
On to the first team!
The Atlanta Hawks (team salary info)
The Hawks have only nine players under contract for 2011-12 ($66.5 million). Magnum Rolle and Pape Sy ($1.6 million combined) are fully unguaranteed. Rolle and Kirk Hinrich ($8.0 million) expire at the end of the 2011-12 season, leaving them with seven players ($61.4 million – Sy fully unguaranteed if not waived by 10/1/12) under contract in 2012-13. This marks them as a team over the cap but under most luxury tax calculations.
Rick Sund has been in charge of basketball operations since 2008, which covers all of these deals below.
Joe Johnson (four years, $89.4 million) – Johnson is the team’s leader, their best player, and their highest paid. Is he worth the money? Probably not, but consider the environment at the time he was signed. The Hawks were a playoff team looking to become a true contender. If they lost Johnson in the summer of 2010 contention wouldn’t even have been in the discussion. They would still have been over the cap if he walked (to Chicago, who would have paid him a max deal as well) and would not have been able to replace Johnson with the MLE. There were no other players they could acquire or pay at the time who brought what Johnson brings. Now their future doesn’t look as rosy as it once did and Johnson may start to slow down. At the time they had to pay him to keep any hopes of a good future together. They knew it could hamstring them in the future, and it probably will.
Josh Smith (one year, $13.3 million) – Smith ended up with his five-year, $58 million contract because as a restricted free agent in 2008 he signed an offer sheet with the Memphis Grizzlies the Hawks promptly matched. He does a lot of things well and he seems to be continuing to improve, as evidence by his career-high 33% shooting from three-point range last season. However, he isn’t a dominant player and doesn’t fit nicely as a three or a four. That doesn’t mean he isn’t important and productive – he is – but it does make it hard to gauge his value. Under the new CBA it seems unlikely he will make the same money, but given 2012-13 is the final season of his contract it won’t hurt the Hawks.
Al Horford (four years, $48.0 million) – The Hawks agreed to a five-year, $60 million extension over a year ago. Considering he is already a two-time All-Star playing out of position at center, that’s money well spent. Whether the future for Horford lies at center or power forward (his natural position), the flat rate (no annual raises in his contract) will prove to not only be a solid deal by the Hawks but ensure Horford’s salary doesn’t hold the team back.
Marvin Williams (two years, $16.9 million) – People questioned this five-year, $37.5 million deal when the Hawks offered it to Williams in 2009. No one else was making a similar offer – they were negotiating against themselves. To be fair, Williams has been a very solid complementary piece to the rest of the Hawks’ roster, but it’s still too much money. The reality is Williams is a glue player but he is not a star, and it’s hard to justify over $8 million per season to a player like that.
Zaza Pachulia (one year, $5.2 million) – Yes, it’s hard to find competent reserve big men. However, it’s not hard to find a player who can put up 4.4 points and 4.2 rebounds in 15.7 minutes a game. In fact, the Hawks could probably come up with a big man straight from college or the NBDL who can put up those numbers – for a minimum salary. Pachulia had some good years with the Hawks, but not recently. To be fair to the Hawks’ management, his four-year, $19 million was signed just after those good years and before Al Horford became an All-Star. Still, the sooner Pachulia’s contract expires the sooner he can be replaced with cheaper talent.
Jeff Teague (one year, $2.4 million) – This will be the final year of Teague’s rookie scale contract. If he becomes the full-time starting point guard, that price is a steal. If he is the backup point guard, it’s solid. The real interesting decisions will come in the summer of 2013 when the Hawks have to decide to stick with Teague long-term.
Pape Sy (one year, $0.8 million) – Sy’s third year is a minimum salary, so $0.8 million is an estimate based on the previous CBA. He is going to have to improve greatly from the four games he played in as a rookie to not be waived. If he can produce, he’s a steal. If he can’t, he can be waived at little or no cost.
Atlanta Hawks’ management has done an okay job setting them up for the future. With only two contracts lasting past 2013-14 – and those two being franchise cornerstones Johnson and Horford – they have flexibility to fill in the gaps. However, in the short-term the deals to Pachulia and Williams will restrict what they can and cannot do, and long-term Johnson’s contract has the potential – as soon as he is no longer an All-Star – to become a huge albatross on their salary cap.
Overall Grade Looking Forward: B-