Insider - August 25, Hawking the Hawks

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    Ford's Fixer Uppers: Hawking the Hawks
    By Chad Ford
    NBA Insider
    Send an Email to Chad Ford Monday, August 25
    Updated: August 25
    9:19 AM ET

    Are you a Western Conference team looking to keep up with the Joneses? Has the Lakers' addition of Karl Malone and Gary Payton got you down? Tired of seeing Mark Cuban steal away players just because he's crazy enough to overpay for them?

    Players like Theo Ratliff might be more valuable to other teams than the rebuilding Hawks.
    Still waiting for your team to make that one move that puts you over the top and into contention?

    Never fear. The Hawks are here.

    After the Mavs strip-mined the Warriors of much of their talent last week, several other Western Conference teams looking for a big offseason boost (all of whom were trying to cut deals with Golden State) began searching for another down-on-its-luck franchise willing to give up talented veterans for cap space and/or future prospects.

    By Friday, the vultures began circling over Philips Arena, hoping new Hawks GM Billy Knight would do the sensible thing and hand over his veterans, jump starting the rebuilding process next summer under new owner David McDavid.

    It appears they are right on target.

    The team actually tried to hold a fire sale in February, near the trade deadline, but couldn't find takers for players like Glenn Robinson, Theo Ratliff, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Nazr Mohammed. Ever since the Hawks shipped Robinson to the Sixers for a guy who was ready to retire, Terrell Brandon, the writing has been on the wall in Atlanta.

    Teams like the Rockets, Blazers, Grizzlies and Sonics have been working the phones hard all summer to try to keep up with the NBA's elite, but so far all four teams have struck out. In every case, what those teams need are veterans who can thrive in the paint.

    The Hawks just happen to have three -- Abdur-Rahim, Ratliff and Mohammed. With only a minuscule chance of actually competing for a playoff spot this year, the Hawks would be better off trading away their high-priced veterans for cap room in 2004 and several young prospects to begin building around.

    Can they make a deal before the season starts? Insider has some ideas on how the Hawks can help themselves in the long run and several Western Conference teams in the short run.

    Step One
    Shareef Abdur-Rahim
    Power Forward
    Atlanta Hawks

    81 19.9 8.4 3.0 .478 .841

    Trade Shareef Abdur-Rahim to the Rockets for Glen Rice and Eddie Griffin: Giving up on Abdur-Rahim will be the toughest pill for the Hawks to swallow. While he isn't a superstar, he puts up solid numbers every night and is a solid citizen off the court. The problem is, his contract doesn't jibe with the type of player he really is -- a complementary guy who's at his best when someone else is carrying the big load.

    Enter the Rockets. With Steve Francis and Yao Ming already in place, the Rockets are looking for the third wheel that pushes them into the playoffs. New head coach Jeff Van Gundy knows that owner Les Alexander has lost his patience with this team, and right now the Rockets' playoff hopes seem to swing on the development of Eddie Griffin. While Griffin has star potential down the road, the Rockets may not be willing to wait, especially if they can get their hands on a "young veteran" (he's just 26) like Abdur-Rahim. Put him on the floor with Francis, Yao, Cuttino Mobley and Maurice Taylor, and the Rockets are guaranteed postseason action for many years to come.

    Those moves would give the Rockets this opening-day roster:

    Point guard: Steve Francis, Moochie Norris

    Shooting guard: Cuttino Mobley, Eric Piatkowski

    Small forward: Maurice Taylor, Adrian Griffin, Bostjan Nachbar

    Power forward: Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Malick Badiane

    Center: Yao Ming, Kelvin Cato

    The trade gives the Hawks a promising, versatile young forward in Griffin and roughly $10 million in cap relief next summer when Rice's contract comes off the books.

    Step Two
    Stromile Swift
    Memphis Grizzlies

    67 9.7 5.7 0.7 .481 .722

    Ship Ratliff, Mohammed and Chris Crawford to the Grizzlies for Stromile Swift, Wesley Person and Brevin Knight:This one will be an easier sell in Atlanta. While Ratliff and Mohammed both are skilled, neither player seems to fit into the Hawks' long term plans. Ratliff is 30 and has a history of injuries. Mohammed is young enough, but hasn't been able to win the confidence of the coaching staff in Atlanta. Last year he played just 35 games because of a stress fracture. Even in the games he did play, Mohammed averaged a mere 12.7 minutes.

    Ratliff and Mohammed's size are huge commodities in Memphis, however. Jerry West has been working the phones all summer trying to find a real center to patrol the middle. He got close on several occasions, only to watch deals for Michael Olowokandi and Erick Dampier crumble at the last minute. Neither Ratliff or Mohammed have the upside of the Kandi-man or Damp (that's a depressing thought) but together, they greatly improve the Grizzlies problems in the middle.

    Ratliff led the the league in blocks per game last season (3.2 bpg) and is an above average rebounder. Mohammed is a good offensive rebounder and gives the Grizzlies something they long for, muscle in the paint. The big question from the Grizzlies end? Would they really give up Swift? West has been insisting all summer that the team likes Swift and isn't shopping him. Will the allure of two big men be enough to pry him out of their hands?

    Those moves would give the Grizzlies this opening-day roster:

    Point guard: Jason Williams, Earl Watson, Troy Bell

    Shooting guard: James Posey, Michael Dickerson, Dahntay Jones

    Small forward: Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Chris Crawford, Ryan Humphrey

    Power forward: Pau Gasol, Lorenzen Wright, Theron Smith

    Center: Theo Ratliff, Nazr Mohammed, Cezary Trybanski

    For the Hawks, the swap gives them an athletic big man who can play both power forward and center. Swift was very solid after the All-Star break last season, averaging 13.7 ppg and 8.2 rpg in the month of March. Person and Knight are included as salary cap dumps. Both of them come off the books next summer, clearing another $12.7 million in cap room.

    Step Three
    Jason Terry
    Atlanta Hawks

    81 17.2 3.4 7.4 .428 .887

    Re-sign Jason Terry: Now that the Hawks know they'll have plenty of room next summer, they should feel much more comfortable re-signing Terry to a long-term deal. Terry really started to come around at the point last season, ranking seventh in the league in assists at 7.2 apg game. While he'll always be a bit of a tweener, the addition of good ball handlers, like first round pick Boris Diaw, will give the Hawks some flexibility to play Terry at the two and use Diaw to run the team as a point forward.

    What is Terry worth? Considering he can't secure an offer sheet from anyone else, the Hawks are in a good bargaining position. Why not offer him the same deal that Philly offered Kenny Thomas -- seven years, $50 million? That would give Terry a starting salary of $5.5 million and keep the Hawks in a good cap situation next summer.

    Step Four
    Sign free agents Stephen Jackson and Donnell Harvey: The key here is getting Jackson to agree to a three-year deal with a team option for year three. To do it, the team would probably have to offer him something close to their full mid-level exception -- like a three-year, $13.5 million dollar deal. It's a good deal for both parties. Jackson can't get that type of money anywhere else. The Hawks need help at shooting guard, and it would allow them to audition Jackson for two seasons. If they like him, they can always pick up the option. If they don't, he comes off the books after the 2004 season, along with Alan Henderson, freeing up even more cap room.

    Harvey can't find a home anywhere. He was once ranked as the top high school prospect in the Class of 1999. What happened? Harvey averaged 7.9 ppg and 5.3 rpg for the Nuggets last season in just 20.9 mpg. He's still one of the better rebounders in the league per minute, but his lack of size and any semblance of an offensive game hurts him. The Hawks can afford to give him a one-year deal and see what he does.

    Those moves would give the Hawks this opening-day roster:

    Point guard: Jason Terry, Dan Dickau, Brevin Knight

    Shooting guard: Stephen Jackson, Wesley Person, Travis Hansen

    Small forward: Glen Rice, Boris Diaw

    Power forward: Eddie Griffin, Donnell Harvey

    Center: Stromile Swift, Alan Henderson

    This is a very versatile lineup. Terry, Jackson, Diaw, Griffin and Swift can all play multiple positions, giving coach Terry Stotts lots of flexibility. You could even argue the Hawks would be better off with this lineup than the one they currently plan on fielding. It certainly would be more exciting.

    Step Five
    Wait for your cap room next summer: By making all of those moves, the Hawks would put themselves in a great position for next summer.

    First, the team will be in contention for the overall No. 1 pick in the draft. With so many young big men headlining the top prospects in 2004 (like Emeka Okafor, Dwight Howard, Peja Samardziski and Pavel Podkolzine) the Hawks should be able to walk away with a nice player to help them in the middle.

    Second, assuming the Hawks draft and pay a top-four pick, and assuming they made the moves we just talked about, the team's payroll will come in at around $28 million for 2004-05. Assuming the cap stays at $43.8 million, Atlanta would have roughly $16 million to play with next summer. That should be enough to re-sign Swift (who will be a restricted free agent) and another top-tier free agent.

    In 2005, the team should also be able to clear another $12 million in cap room (at least) when Henderson and Jackson both come off the books. They'll have to use some of that money to re-sign Griffin (who will be a restricted free agent in 2005), but there still should be enough cash to give the Hawks room to bring in one solid player in free agency.

    Put all of that together and the Hawks, Rockets and Grizzlies all have something to look forward to next year. The Rockets should be a playoff lock, the Grizzlies should be good enough to battle the Blazers, Sonics and Clippers for the eighth playoff seed, and the Hawks will have a nice young core to begin building around when they hit the free agent market in 2004.

    Around the League

    Mike Dunleavy Jr. believes the Warriors will be better than last season now that the team has added two veterans -- Nick Van Exel and Cliff Robinson -- and will be giving him big minutes at small forward.

    Mike Dunleavy Jr. says he's gotten stronger since last season.
    "I definitely believe that," he told the Contra Costa Times. "We've got some guys who are real experienced. Cliff (Robinson, whom the Warriors acquired in a trade with Detroit on Thursday) has been around forever. He knows how to play. Nick Van Exel takes and makes big shots down the stretch of games. Anytime you get some veterans, it's a big help."

    We know what Van Exel and Robinson bring to the table. But what will Dunleavy give them?

    "I can't tell you what's going to happen," Dunleavy said. "When I look at Antawn and me, I see completely different players. It will be hard to compare. I'm not going to be able to score 25 points a night. I just can't. That's not me. But there are some other things that I can do out there. It's hard to compare the two of us as players, and therefore I'm not going to worry about that. The only thing I'm going to compare is 38 (the number of wins last year for the Warriors)."

    Dunleavy did admit he's gotten stronger this summer. That's a big plus. Last year he was just abused defensively because of his lack of strength. Offensively it should make a difference too.

    "I don't know what I've gained, but it's helped," he said. "Last year, one of my biggest weaknesses was strength down low. A lot of teams posted me up. I don't think that will be as easy now. Grabbing rebounds and stuff like that, I think of all of the times I had balls knocked out of my hands. I just couldn't finish things off. I feel stronger now."

    Expect more veteran help to come soon. The Contra Costa Times is also reporting that veteran swingman Calbert Cheaney is expected to sign a contract with the Warriors today.
    Kenyon Martin
    Power Forward
    New Jersey Nets

    77 16.7 8.3 2.4 .470 .653

    The Portland Oregonian is reporting the proposed trade of Kenyon Martin and Dikembe Mutombo for Rasheed Wallace and Ruben Patterson is still alive and kicking.

    It's hard to see how that's possible, considering the big push by Paul Allen to cut payroll in Portland. Mutombo has two years and $37 million left on his contract.

    Martin isn't talking. "I'm not here to talk about that. Period," Martin said. "I'm here to talk about USA Basketball."

    Will Michael Jordan finally find an NBA home? The Winston-Salem Journal is reporting that Charlotte Bobcats owner Bob Johnson has given Jordan one week to either join the organization as team president and part owner or officially turn it down.

    Johnson wants to begin assembling the team's front office and can't do it until Jordan tells him what he wants to do. If Jordan joins the team, he'll begin making the hires -- including the new GM. If he doesn't, those tasks fall to Ed Tapscott, the team's executive vice president.


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