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 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.