Atlanta Spirit Group Ownership Lawsuit Settled: Will It Have Ramifications For The Hawks And Thrashers?

Steve Belkin appears to be MIA from the press release announcing the end of the legal wrangling that he began. Is he finally out of Atlanta Spirit, and can the organization move on?

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Atlanta Spirit Ownership Lawsuit Settled: No Likely Changes With Hawks

It was merely coincidence that Atlanta Hawks SG Joe Johnson, the original reason for the rift between Steve Belkin and the Atlanta Spirit, went off on the night that the long and tedious ownership drama in Atlanta finally came to a close.

Ironically, the Hawks, who appeared destined for a disappointing loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers perked up and went on a run as word of the confidential settlement started percolating through Philips Arena.  Johnson lead the way with 23 points in the 98-84 win.

Contrary to common lore, while the ownership dispute was definitely messy and while the ownership dispute was definitely public, it really never affected the quality of players on the Hawks roster or unnecessarily tied the hands of former GM Billy Knight and current GM Rick Sund.

The Spirit after all really likes its basketball team and had no problem throwing money at players once they had an established core.  Winning allowed the Hawks to raise their payroll to nearly $70 million this year, sign Al Horford and Josh Smith to long-term extensions and give Johnson that max-contract in the off-season.

And while the bank vault hasn't been emptied for Jamal Crawford just yet, ownership conceivably could sign him to an extension and go into the luxury tax next year if they believe they have a legitimate shot at the NBA crown or an Eastern Conference title.  That's always been the mantra of the Spirit in all of its years of owning the team.

Unfortunately, the Hawks as presently constituted are unlikely to contend for an Eastern Conference title or an NBA crown with teams with the talent of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat or Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics in the highly-competitive East.

However, keep in mind that it was a rift between Belkin and the other seven owners of the Hawks over whether to boost the payroll of a then-struggling Hawks team by adding Johnson that caused all of this.  The seven guys who still own the team some five-and-a-half years later are the ones who wanted to invest the money to make the team better.  That other guy is gone for good.

All that the settlement may do is allow the Spirit to finally find more investors.  Uncertainty is bad for business -- especially uncertainty about what could be a court judgment that ultimately could end up with eight zeros attached to it.  

With the legal case finally over, investing in the Spirit becomes more tenable.  Perhaps the Hawks and their hockey equivalent the Atlanta Thrashers, are ready to rise from the ashes to new heights now that this mess is behind the organization.


Now That The Atlanta Spirit Group's Lawsuit Is Settled, How Will This Impact The Thrashers?

Time for a goodwill tour of the seven remaining members of Atlanta Spirit, LLC. Regardless of their abilities to run the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers, the constant perceived fighting amongst the ownership group by the fans has led many to trace every franchise faux pas back to them. Bad trades by the Hawks? Distracted ownership. The Thrashers have one of the lowest NHL payrolls in the league? Trying to lower the team’s value.

Occasionally Atlanta Spirit have shown that they’re prepared to spend money, as when they offered Ilya Kovalchuk $101 million to stay in Atlanta – but that could be seen as the group being concerned about losing a marquee player. Having a cheap franchise is better than none at all. There also have been instances of the team’s ownership telling then GM Don Waddell to win at any cost during the playoffs, pressuring him to trade young assets for older players who promptly petered out after the season was over. This, also, devalued the franchise due to the decreased number of fans who came out.

Bruce Levenson attends Thrashers games regularly and is obviously interested in the team and their success, but without the stability that the ownership group needed, he was unable to green light any large trades or large payouts to players. The Thrashers are an example of a team run on the cheap – luckily, this season, it’s talented. There’ve been many years in the past when it’s been significantly less so.

As Jeff Schultz points out, it’s bad when a league commissioner has to come sit you down and talk to you, but that’s exactly what NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had to do. No one in the league wants another Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy/ownership search that could have been the stuff of TV reality shows (or, I believe was in Australia – one involving a failing rugby team that the fans bought). The Thrashers have enough rumors swirling around regarding relocation to Winnipeg or Quebec City without their owners fighting in court and ignoring the on-ice product.

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