NBA PM: NBA Lockout Poster Child?
Let’s start today’s discussion by making one thing perfectly clear: there is no one NBA team or player to blame for the current state of the league’s economy. There are some tipping points we can look to, like the record rookie contract signed by Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson that resulted in the rookie salary scale; there’s the ludicrous contract the Atlanta Hawks have Jon Koncak, who signed for $2 million a season at a time when Michael Jordan made $3.25 million and David Robinson made $2.24 million. In the modern NBA it’s the Hawks, again, who managed to create the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
Last summer the Hawks signed free agent guard Joe Johnson to a contract worth $20.5 million over six years, a move that raised the eyebrows of even the most committed Hawks fans. Johnson is a great player, to be sure, but he’s not Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Amar’e Stoudemire good. Johnson’s contract will pay him more than Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Paul Pierce, and Chris Paul, to name a few. If you lined that group up on Sesame Street, even a five-year-old could tell you one of these things is not like the others.
Joe Johnson is not a $20 million player, and his is precisely that kind of contract that has the NBA and its players at an impasse today.
For their trouble and their money the Hawks got a pass to the second round of the playoffs, where they were dismissed by the Chicago Bulls. Not a great outcome for a team that spent $15 million over the salary cap (and therefore $15 million more in luxury tax) last season. Ironically, they were only cheap when it came to hiring a new head coach, which might have been the difference in their postseason failure.
So what’s next for the Hawks? They’re already well over whatever the cap will be for the 2011-12 season (assuming there is one), and they only have seven players under contract. Are the Hawks as we know them doomed? HOOPSWORLD’s Lang Greene is based in Atlanta and offers up this analysis:
We need to be careful with using the word “doomed” when discussing the Atlanta Hawks.
“Gatekeeper” a term commonly used in boxing circles is probably more relevant.
For example, whenever a boxing manager wants to know if their young charge has the goods to fight at an elite level they match them up versus a gatekeeper.
A gatekeeper is simply a fighter strong enough to remain ranked in the top ten for a long period of time, but not good enough to ever become a champion. In essence, a very solid contender. The elite guys beat them and move on to title contention, the pretenders don’t and are left scurrying trying to regroup.
As is stands right now the Hawks are strong enough to hover around 45-50 wins each season and reach the playoffs, possibly even advancing to the second round. However, Atlanta is not an elite team in the sense they’re truly not a title contender. The elite teams (Dallas, Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, etc.) are expected to beat Atlanta, while the Hawks are expected to handle teams such as Milwaukee, Indiana, Memphis and Houston.
A team with two All-Stars (Joe Johnson and Al Horford) and another possessing that level of talent (Josh Smith) aren’t doomed when trying to analyze future wins/losses.
But the Hawks are doomed in the sense the current structure of the team will never catapult them into the realm of true title contention.
A lot of people like to point to Johnson’s contract when mentioning what’s wrong with the Hawks. I disagree. Johnson is still right at or only slightly past his prime. The Hawks may eventually regret the deal in 2-3 years, but not at this moment because he’s still arguably the No. 3 shooting guard in the game behind Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade.
Horford hasn’t even reached his prime and he’s already earned two All-Star selections playing out of position at center.
Sadly, the piece who likely has to be moved for the Hawks to acquire the missing piece(s) is Smith, who based on his potential alone will garner interest throughout the league.
It does seem as though Josh Smith will be the piece sacrificed to make the roster work next season. The Hawks have gauged interest in Johnson, but teams have been understandably reluctant to take on that kind of contract. What the Hawks really need to do, assuming a significant reduction in salary cap is coming, is to deal Smith for a true small forward and another player or two to help them fill out their roster.
One way or another, the Atlanta Hawks as we know them are finished. Whether or not you blame Joe Johnson’s contract for the situation the team now finds itself in, that contract will certainly be a thorn in the team’s side long-term. They also have their work cut out for them in trying to be contenders while paying a great complementary player as if he’s the championship foundation of the team.
A Word To The Wise
Every day seems to bring another headline about another NBA player who is close to a deal to play basketball for a FIBA team while we wait out the NBA lockout. It sounds great, too. If you’ve never been to Europe, as many NBA players have not, it sounds amazing to go play basketball in Greece, Italy, Turkey, or one of the budding global hotbeds of basketball. And for any normal person it would be amazing, but for the highly pampered and spoiled athletes of the NBA, playing in Europe might just be a nasty wake-up call.
Just ask Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings, who started his career in Italy because he was too young to enter the NBA after high school.
“I don’t think they know what they’re in for,” Jennings told Yahoo’s Marc J. Spears. “It’s different. It’s a different type of basketball. You’re out of your comfort zone. The way we live life is different than how they live life. It’s not about that one person on the team, it’s about the whole team and winning.
“We flew commercial. We shared a room with our teammates – unless you want to pay for your own room. You eat meals with your team. There is no going out by yourself and getting something to eat. We eat together – breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Fly coach??? Share rooms??? <gasp!>
On second thought, perhaps playing overseas would be a great experience for athletes who have become all too used to the red carpet treatment. Fans are no longer willing or able to support that kind of lifestyle, most teams can’t function while shelling out the money it requires, and the NBA will have no future at all unless owners and players alike can put the wellbeing of the league ahead of their own individual fortunes.
NBA players might come back from a month or so overseas and find themselves much more willing to negotiate a new deal to get the NBA back up and rolling.
Timberwolves Coaching Search Founders
Recent reports out of Minnesota suggest that the Timberwolves have narrowed their coaching search to two names: Sam Mitchell and Larry Brown.
What? Not excited at either prospect? Mitchell spent a little over four seasons at the helm of the Toronto Raptors, winning just 45% of this games, and has been working as an assistant with the New Jersey Nets. Brown, of course, has a reputation for walking away with his job half completed. He managed to work with the young Charlotte Bobcats fairly well, but has a career-long reputation for benching young players in favor of vets . . .which wouldn’t work out too well in youth-laden Minnesota.
Sources close to the situation say reports about Brown and Mitchell being the frontrunners have caused similar apathy from those in team president David Kahn’s inner circle. Even understanding that the best names are mostly spoken for, neither of these two candidates inspire confidence. Some have even suggested that hiring either Mitchell or Brown might turn out to be Kahn’s kiss of death.
The overwhelming favorite among Timberwolves insiders is former Houston Rockets head coach Rick Adelman, but the belief is that the organization is unwilling to shell out the $4-5 million per season it would take to bring Adelman to town.
It seems it’s gut-check time for the Timberwolves. Do you want to win, or do you want to hit the lottery against next season? Adelman might be expensive, but he is also the key to the team’s emergence from the Western Conference basement.