As the Minnesota Timberwolves were on the clock with the 23rd pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, there was plenty of reason to be excited. There were several men that the Hawks and their fans still liked on the board, including Hassan Whiteside, Dominique Jones, Quincy Pondexter, Jordan Crawford (obviously), and lastly, Damion James-whom I gave a slight endorsement to in my own draft preview. When Peachtree Hoops selected him during the SBN Community mock draft, it was a much stronger endorsement of the selection since it would fill a need and possibly improve the team's defensive rebounding. It also seemed to give them a player ready to contribute immediately. As Minnesota opted to take Trevor Booker, it seemed the Hawks were in a position to make their choice.
So it seemed everything had fallen out nearly perfectly when the Hawks did indeed make James the 24th pick of the 2010 draft. It was a promising sign-taking a safer player rather than one of the high risk, raw bigs like Daniel Orton demonstrated reasonable expectations for the future, and it addressed the lack of anyone who could defend at the small forward position while Marvin Williams is off the floor. However, it was very shortly announced that the Hawks were involved in a trade down with the New Jersey Nets, which became a certainty as the Nets selected Jordan Crawford. The initial excitement over James turned to a bit of outrage at seeing him so quickly sent out of town, but then a more fair analysis of the deal seemed promising. The Hawks would be able to take a solid, legitimate scorer and could still draft a project big with the first pick in round two, which had longer-term implications. From comments made by Rick Sund (to Jeff Schultz) it seems it may have been the plan all along to take James and then swap with the Nets. This may be a bit of revisionist history to sell their new draft selection, or it may have been a legitimate strategy; it is difficult to tell.
That very quickly collapsed, first with the seemingly curious selection of Daniel Orton by the Orlando Magic, and then baffling selection of Tibor Pleiss by the New Jersey Nets in the Hawks' spot. It was shortly after that we received news that the Hawks would be selling the pick to Oklahoma City. At this point, the concept of a "new era" for the Hawks was squashed beneath the reality that this team looks for financial shortcuts where few others would. This falls right in line with the decision to hire Larry Drew over Dwane Casey or even Mark Jackson, spending less on his deal than they ever did on Mike Woodson's. As the Hawks, almost predictably, drafted Pape Sy (Trust me, you will not find any draft information regarding him prior to the Hawks' having brought him in for a workout), it only reinforced the point. Rather than draft someone who might, conceivably, become a part of the roster, they took someone whom, like Sergiy Gladyr last draft, could be stashed in Europe for free. Much like David Andersen was drafted by the Hawks and never brought into the league until his rights were sold to Houston, it's all too likely we won't ever see these two in a Hawks' uniform. The Hawks under Rick Sund seem so much more concerned with avoiding paying players in the second round than actually finding talent.
Now, naturally, I can't say for certain how cashed strapped the Atlanta Spirit Group is. By all accounts, the Atlanta Hawks are a bit of a money pit for them (though having reached the playoffs in three consecutive season has to have provided some financial windfall). Selling the rights of Tibor Pleiss to the Thunder did net them close to $ 3 million, and over the next three years, another $300,000 was saved by taking Jordan Crawford with the 27th pick instead of the 24th pick. In the abstract, it looks like a great financial night. Many of us may never seen $3.3 million in our lifetimes. Here's a bit of perspective, though. Before the season, Joe Johnson was offered a 4 year deal rumored to be worth $60 million. In order to retain him in the future, they may offer somewhat more than that. If the ASG are so financially devastated that $3.25 million is required to keep the team afloat, perhaps they would be better served by not making an attempt to resign Joe Johnson. Just last year, the Hawks paid the very ineffective Joe Smith and the barely-used Jason Collins a combined $2.488 million. $3.3 million is very minimal in terms of NBA assets.
They manner in which the Hawks choose to save money is concerning. One of the most cost efficient ways to stockpile NBA talent is through the draft, where rookie scaling determines the pay for each player rather than their true worth, and where they're generally making less than comparable veterans. Instead of utilizing the opportunity to select a pair of players who might both contribute in the future, the Hawks instead sold off assets. A team which was held back by a remarkably shallow bench should be exploring every avenue where they could attain cheap players with value to fill that void, and there's a great deal of value to be found early in the second round. In recent years, players like Mario Chalmers (33), Carl Landry (31), Glen Davis (35), Brandon Bass (33), Ersan Ilyasova (36), and Anderson Varejao (31) have all be taken very early in the second round. It's definitely not a guarantee, but when you look at the upside, it's certainly worth the risk since their contracts are very near the league minimum, and it's well below the minimum for aging veterans that the Hawks preferred last year. If the team's moves were financially motivated, and it's hard to make the case that they weren't, then avoiding low risk/high reward options is only more infuriating for its fans.
It's especially difficult to make sense of how this fits with the Hawks' roster construction. Jordan Crawford is, by all means, a very talented player and a great shooter. He's a classic offensive oriented 2 with a great jumper, who can create his own shot, and can drive to the basket. There's no reason to think that he can't be a solid NBA player, lest I be accused of dismissing him in my assessment. However, he's very redundant at the 2-guard for the Hawks. Jamal Crawford and Mo Evans (trust me Atlanta, he's really not a SF) are already ahead of Jordan Crawford on the depth chart, not to mention that Mike Bibby's role has been nearly relegated to being a spot-up shooter as well. He also effectively removes the possibility of Sergiy Gladyr or Pape Sy being included anytime soon, despite the news that Gladyr will play on the Hawks' summer league team. It's hard to make a case that he's insurance in case Joe Johnson leaves, if all that business was about saving money. If Joe Johnson does leave town, all that work to save $3.3 million seems pointless since they've already demonstrated a willingness to pay him at least $15 million next season. If the plan is to let him leave town, the Hawks would have best been served both keeping whomever they selected at no. 31, as well taking another player with the 53rd pick who actually might play in the NBA this season.
The total incoherence of these decisions leaves the possibility that there is another move in the works for the Hawk beyond the Joe Johnson front. It might be a trade involving Jamal Crawford and his expiring $10.08 million. It might also signal something on the Josh Childress front. In case you missed it, the Hawks did extend him the qualifying offer last night. Although it's mostly been speculated that we'll see Childress traded, if he does return next season then he would render Damion James very redundant. Though it's hard to say that the Draft qualifies as anything other than an inauspicious start for the Hawks' offseason, it's too early to rule out chance that more action might be in the offing.