Analysis: Ferry wields power to retool Hawks

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 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

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.