Analysis: Ferry wields power to retool Hawks
Jul 2, 2012 at 8:28p ET
In what will go down as a historic day in franchise history, new Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, celebrating one week on the job, drastically re-made the team's roster.
According to multiple reports, Ferry has agreed to ship out leading scorer and six-time All-Star Joe Johnson, who has the second-most dollars remaining on his contract of any player in the league at $90 million, and Marvin Williams, the second overall pick in 2005 who never lived up to his billing. In return for Johnson, according to Yahoo! Sports and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks will get four players with expiring contracts from Brooklyn, plus DeShawn Stevenson in a sign-and-trade and a lottery-protected 2013 first-round draft pick. For Williams, a trade first reported by ESPN.com and confirmed by the Journal-Constitution, the Hawks received veteran guard Devin Harris from Utah.
On draft night last Thursday, Ferry said he expected to use trades to create “flexibility" going forward and with these proposed deals, he has done exactly that. (The NBA has a trade moratorium, which does not end until July 11, so the trades cannot become official until then.) In announcing Ferry's hiring from San Antonio last Monday, Hawks partner Bruce Levenson admitted to past mistakes — the team went through a high-profile lawsuit (now resolved) among the ownership that incidentally sprang from the acquisition of Johnson from Phoenix – and acceded to three months' of Ferry's haggling to get the powers he thought necessary to retool the team.
And now, Ferry is putting those powers to work on a franchise that has made the playoffs for five straight seasons but was perceived to have hit a ceiling. The Hawks could not get past the second round for three straight years until, finally, this season, they failed to get past the first. In moving the two players, Ferry will eventually free up $28 million alone at the conclusion of next season. Johnson, 31, whose production has steadily declined as he has battled more and more nagging-type injuries, is scheduled to earn $19.7 million in 2012-13 and Williams $8.3 million.
Now, if Ferry can win over top free agents, such names as Chris Paul, Atlanta native Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum will be on the market. For years Hawks fans have salivated over the prospect of reuniting forward Josh Smith, an Atlanta native who is a friend of Howard's since childhood, with Howard, who starred at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy before turning pro out of high school.
Previously, reports have surfaced that Smith has asked to be traded, but that was under the regime of former general manager Rick Sund. Smith, who was the Hawks' best player last season with averages of 18.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end. If Ferry's radical changes can persuade Smith to stay and Howard to come home, Philips Arena might truly be able to live up to the nickname that the organization's marketing staff has bestowed upon it: The Highlight Factory.
However, the Hawks could find themselves in a battle with the Nets for Howard's services, although the Nets could have difficulty fitting Deron Williams (a free agent reportedly down to the Nets or Mavericks as his landing spot), Johnson and Howard all under the NBA's salary cap. In his own right, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire, is attempting to make his own splash by landing Johnson, as he attempts to take a larger slice out of the basketball-mad market that is the Big Apple with his team's relocation to Brooklyn in the coming season.
After the trades, the Hawks' core would consist of two-time All-Star center Al Horford, Smith and young point guard Jeff Teague along with reserve center Zaza Pachulia, who averaged 7.8 points and 7.9 rebounds last season when thrust into a larger role after Horford suffered a pectoral injury that shelved him for most of the season.
Ferry has a six-year deal and, as a result, he will not have to produce instant results. In keeping with the philosophy he learned during two stints in the front office with four-time NBA champion San Antonio, he looks as if he will scout and develop talent, asking ownership for investments in scouting and analytics. In addition to the cap room — which balloons to more than $41 million when Smith comes off the books — Ferry could be armed with two first-round picks to wrangle a sign-and-trade. Last week, Ferry drafted sharpshooter John Jenkins out of Vanderbilt and power forward Mike Scott out of Virginia.
With Harris (who averaged 11.3 points per game last season) and former Georgia Tech standout Anthony Morrow (12.0 points) and Jordan Farmar (10.4 points), two of the players that will come from the Nets, the Hawks might have enough firepower from their backcourt to replace Johnson's 18.8 and Williams' 10.2 points per game. The Hawks will also reportedly receive Johan Petro and Jordan Williams from Brooklyn.
The Hawks certainly will have some roles to figure out. Harris might have to be convinced to play a back-up role to Teague. Morrow and Jenkins also are roughly the same height and are known for three-point shooting. So it could be that Ferry is not done dealing yet. Teague, Harris and Farmar, in particular, are all similar sized with similar skillsets.
If nothing else, Ferry has spiced up the offseason, helping to create a buzz and sense of anticipation that the Hawks had palpably lacked. But not anymore.