Are Hawks suffering from buyer's remorse?
By Chad Ford
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Tuesday, February 17
Less than a week after the Hawks traded Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Theo Ratliff to Portland for Rasheed Wallace, the verdict from NBA GMs on the trade is overwhelmingly in. . . the Hawks didn't get enough.
Will they, in the course of the next three days, reverse course and try to get more for 'Sheed?
"Cap room is great as long as you have a concrete plan how to use it," one GM told Insider in L.A. "They aren't getting Kobe. No way. And when you look at the rest of the board? There isn't another player available as good as Rahim. Atlanta could, like Utah last year, strike out this summer. That's not good."
Everyone understands the Hawks' desire to blow things up. The team was going nowhere and new management wanted a fresh slate. But as the team positions itself to have nearly $20 million in cap space this summer, you have to wonder . . . are any free agents really willing to come to Atlanta?
Several GMs were shocked that the Hawks didn't get at least some talent back in return -- perhaps a first-round pick or a young prospect. After trading Nazr Mohammed to the Knicks on Sunday, the team's core is now Jason Terry, Boris Diaw and second-round pick Travis Hansen.
Considering that management would prefer to unload Terry this summer when his base-year compensation status expires, the Hawks sure don't look like a very desirable free-agent destination for either a marquee free agent or a top-flight coach.
Young players like Kenyon Martin, Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson
and Stromile Swift could probably be had for the right price on this summer's free-agent market. But given the Hawks' no-existant nucleus, will any of them make a real difference?
That's led to growing speculation that the Hawks will now try to see, over the next few days, if they can get cap space and a prospect or two from another team interested in Rasheed.
The problem with the speculation is that there are actually very few teams with that type of cap room or expiring contracts to make a deal. The Nuggets, Pistons, Kings, Spurs and Jazz are the only teams in a position to offer the Hawks similar cap room, plus picks or prospects in return. Complicating matters even further, with 'Sheed telling everyone who will listen that he's playing in New York next season -- barring some huge financial windfall elsewhere -- why would a team give up anything in order to get him?
The Pistons and Spurs are the only teams with any motivations. With the Knicks, Nets and Pacers all looking strong in the East, you've got to believe that Larry Brown is pushing hard for an inside scoring presence in Detroit. The Pistons offered the expiring contracts (Bob Sura, Zeljko Rebraca, Lindsey Hunter), and an extra first-round pick (from Milwaukee) to Atlanta. But contrary to published reports, the Pistons also were insisting that the Hawks take either Corliss Williamson or Chucky Atkins. That pretty much kills that deal.
The other problem is that the Pistons don't really have the resources to re-sign 'Sheed this summer. Dumars is intent on making Mehmet Okur part of the long-term future in Detroit. They need all of the cap room created from those expiring contracts to get far enough under the cap to re-sign Okur, who is a restricted free agent. While the Pistons could rent 'Sheed for the rest of the year and then say good bye . . . it seems like their first-rounder could get more value somewhere else.
The Spurs are in a similar boat. They could package Ron Mercer, Robert Horry, Hedo Turkoglu and one contract with one more year left (like Bruce Bowen's) to make a deal make sense for the Hawks. But it would cost them Emanuel Ginobili in the end.
Like the Pistons, the Spurs need the cap room from their expiring deals to re-sign Ginobili this summer. Even if they didn't, the Hawks would certainly insist on Ginobili being part of the package for Horry. While 'Sheed would be a great fit in San Antonio, the cost is too high for the Spurs.
The other teams that are really interested in Sheed -- Dallas, New York and Houston -- just don't have the goods to get a deal done with the Hawks.
The bottom line -- the Hawks took a big risk last week with little chance of reaping rewards in the open market. The best hope may be to use their space to broker a trade with a team desperate to get under the cap in July. Several teams like the Grizzlies and Suns will be in hot pursuit of Kobe Bryant this summer and may be willing to trade away significant assets if they get an agreement from Kobe's people that he's willing to play there.
The Hawks would be in a position to reap the benefit in such a situation. But short of that? Iraq may be rebuilt before the Hawks are.
Around the League
With Vin Baker now kicked to the curb, Celtics GM Danny Ainge has turned his attention to the Celtics' glaring hole at the four. Using Chris Mills and Chris Mihm as bait, sources told Insider on Monday that Ainge has made numerous offers to teams and is waiting for someone to come back and say yes.
2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
At the top of the Celtics list? The Magic's Juwan Howard. Howard's reasonable (albeit long) salary, selflessness and hunger to play on a good team all appeal to Ainge. Howard got great reviews in Denver last season and the Celtics believe he can help. To make the deal work, the team would likely also have to swallow the salary of Pat Garrity, who's out the rest of the year with an injury and either Steven Hunter or Gordan Giricek (who the Magic seem to want to keep) in return.
That's not the only team the Celtics are talking to. The Pistons (Corliss Williamson) and the Blazers (Dale Davis) are also potential partners. Ainge's willingness to take on guaranteed salaries make him an unusual player at the trade deadline. The Celtics are confident they'll win in arbitration on the Baker situation, putting their cap number at a more reasonable number. It won't be enough to make a huge splash in free agency, which is why Ainge is determined to move Mills and Mihm now before they slip away for nothing.
What does the wholesale dumping of talent get the Magic? Wiggle room. The team would have only $37 million in guaranteed salaries next season, but with a high lottery pick and several cap holds, there won't be much cap room left to work with unless it also finds a way to move Andrew DeClercq and Reece Gaines off the roster by July 15th.
This really speaks to the problem the Magic are facing. Even with just three guaranteed contracts -- Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill and Drew Gooden -- the high lottery pick and the cap holds the Magic are still nearly capped out.
Several other teams, including Detroit, Philly, Chicago and the Warriors, have been trying to work out their own deals with Orlando, but according to sources, the Magic really don't know what to do. Do they try to add a veteran or two in an area of need (like Eric Snow or Erick Dampier) or do they strip the team down to nothing?
The chances of adding a veteran who can really turn things around in Orlando are slim. But stripping down will surely push McGrady to opt out of his contract after the end of next season. Either way it looks like the Magic are hurting unless, that is, Hill retires (still, his contract wouldn't be of the books until January 2005) or the team's able to trade McGrady for another superstar with more years. Right now both event look unlikely.
Add yet another Knick to the trading block. Several sources told Insider on Monday that Isiah Thomas has brought up Dikembe Mutombo
's name in several phone conversations.
New York Knicks
2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
With Nazr Mohammed and Kurt Thomas on board, Thomas feels like Mutombo is expendable . . . especially if he can get another younger, more athletic player in return. Who'd be crazy enough to pick up the last year and half of Mutombo's deal? Thomas is targeting the Mavs, Spurs and Grizzlies -- all of whom need a big man for a playoff run.
The Bucks may not be done dealing either. Rumors are swirling that the Blazers have approached the Bucks about a Dale Davis for Toni Kukoc swap. Kukoc is in the last year of his deal and the Blazers want the cap relief. Why would the Bucks do it? Davis has one more year worth nine million left on his contract. With Bucks suddenly looking like serious playoff contenders with the addition of Keith Van Horn, adding another solid post presence like Davis could really increase their chances in the East. He also comes with minimal risk. The Bucks don't have cap until the summer of 2005 anyway -- when Davis comes off the books.
According to reports, the Bulls won't pay Jamal Crawford more than the mid-level exception next year, which makes you wonder . . . why aren't they moving him now? Crawford will get more on the market with so many teams now under the cap. Is John Paxson really willing to lose Crawford for nothing in return?