Hinrich era in Atlanta didn’t pan out

With former Hawk Kirk Hinrich agreeing to a two-year contract reportedly worth $6 million on Sunday with Chicago, Atlanta fans might look back on the trade that brought the guard here in February 2011 and scratch their heads.

What, exactly, did the Hinrich Era represent?

Hinrich played 72 games with the Hawks over two seasons, averaging 7.3 points, 2.9 assists and 2.1 rebounds per game over 26.7 minutes per game.

For that, the Hawks traded former starting point guard Mike Bibby (which turned out to be the best part of the deal, but more about that later), rookie guard Jordan Crawford, veteran forward Maurice Evans and what ended up being the 18th overall draft pick in 2011. In the deal, the Hawks also received forward Hilton Armstrong, who averaged 1.3 points and 1.4 rebounds in 6.3 minutes per game over 12 games before being cut before the 2011-12 season.

Hinrich was acquired to a large degree because former general manager Rick Sund was in love with him from the time he entered the league. Sund raved about Hinrich’s defense – which is not as easily illustrated by statistics and which Sund and head coach Larry Drew lavished praise upon – and the steadying influence he would provide to the team. Sund said that during Hinrich’s draft year in 2004 he desperately wanted to pick him (Sund was Seattle’s general manager at the time), but Chicago took him first.

By the time Hinrich arrived with the Hawks, he was 30, past his prime and battling injuries. In joining a team with a core that had been together for a long time, he hardly seemed to be able to make much of a mark in the locker room with his quiet style, especially as a newcomer and, in the end, short-timer. Hinrich proved himself most valuable in the 2011 playoffs, helping the Hawks to avenge the previous season’s embarrassing ousting at the hands of Orlando by averaging 10.2 points in six games to help the Hawks eliminate the Magic. However, he injured his hamstring in the final game of that series and, as a result, missed the entire second round against his former team (Chicago), the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

If the Hawks had had a healthy Hinrich for that series, they might have pulled off something truly memorable. The Hawks won the first game of that series on the road and, after losing the next two, tied it at two games apiece before falling in six games. For a franchise that has never advanced to the conference finals, knocking off the Bulls and playing Miami in the conference finals would have electrified the city.

But it wasn’t meant to be and we are left to ponder what the trade meant to the franchise. With Sund’s four-year tenure at an end, he easily falls into view as something of a placeholder between two eras. Billy Knight tore down the Hawks and built them up with bold moves – not all of them always the correct ones, especially drafting Marvin Williams over Chris Paul and Deron Williams — to a team capable of advancing to the second round of the playoffs, which the Hawks did three times under Sund’s leadership.

Yet, as noted before, Sund could not get the team over the hump. Particularly toward the end of his tenure, Sund seemed to contemplate retirement, which resulted in short-term moves – like dealing for Hinrich.

By including Crawford in the trade, Sund surrendered a player who is a born NBA scorer. In his second season with Washington in 2011-12, Crawford averaged 14.7 points in 27.4 points per game — only about two more than what Hinrich averaged this past season while providing more than double the scoring, albeit on a team that was much worse than Atlanta. Crawford is more of a volume scorer – he shot 40.0 percent from the field and 28.9 on three-pointers last season, which were lower than Hinrich’s – but bench scoring is something the Hawks will need in the future and Crawford definitely will be able to supply that.

The first-round pick Washington received was used on Florida State’s Chris Singleton, who will have some developing to do before he turns into a solid NBA player and Evans might have been helpful in the postseason but, in the long-term, is replaceable.

Finally, there is Bibby. He was moved because, with plenty of mileage at 32 when he was traded, he was still a key offensive contributor but he could not guard anyone anymore. Hinrich was brought in to do that, but he couldn’t with an injured hamstring in the ’11 playoffs and a shoulder that required offseason surgery and which kept him out for the early part of this past season and limited his effectiveness once he returned.

At the start of the 2010-11 season, Drew practically begged Jeff Teague to beat out Bibby for the starting point guard job. It didn’t happen. Perhaps Teague held the veteran in too high of esteem to want to take his job, but once Bibby was gone, Teague finally flourished. He has turned into an effective starter who has shown flashes of brilliance (14.0 points, 4.2 assists, 3.7 rebounds per game in the playoffs this spring) and now appears to be part of the Hawks’ core moving forward. The bonus  of his emergence was provided by the law of unintended consequences.

Under new general manager Danny Ferry, who has a six-year contract and who has dramatically remade the team’s roster by trading six-time All-Star guard Joe Johnson and Williams, the Hawks will no longer  make moves like the Hinrich trade for the short term. On draft night a few weeks ago, Ferry said he does not believe that teams are ever “one player away.”

For now, those words seem a fitting way to describe his approach and philosophy. In bringing Hinrich to Atlanta, the Hawks, perhaps shortsightedly at the time, seemed to think that they were that one player away.