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Atlanta Thrashers Moving: How Will This Affect The Hawks?

With the Atlanta Thrashers headed out of town, what will happen to Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon's other asset: the Atlanta Hawks?

So the moving trucks are getting ready to line up at Philips Arena and the Ice Forum in Duluth and take away the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. That is -- as long as the NHL's Board of Governors rubber stamps the sale of the team to True North Sports and Entertainment and gives the green light to the move in their upcoming meeting on June 21.

That will leave the Atlanta Spirit with two assets: the Atlanta Hawks and the operating rights to Philips Arena.

Crocodile tears or not, there remains the specter that Michael Gearon, Jr. and Bruce Levenson could still be running the Hawks when the NBA emerges from its likely lockout sometime in December or early 2012. The combination of the purchase price of the Thrashers at $110 million coupled with the reported $20 million payday of the $60 million "relocation" or "breakup" fee that  Levenson & Co. received should be enough to substantially pay down the $120 million draw the Spirit took against the NBA's credit facility.

That means that if Levenson & Co. still wants to operate the Hawks, they can do so with an almost clean balance sheet.

It must be nice to be a multi-millionaire like Bruce Levenson.

There seems to be a split amongst the Atlanta media whether Levenson & Co. will hold onto the Hawks. That of course comes down to whether you believe that the ultra-secret (until finally exposed by the AJC) deal to sell the Hawks and operating rights to Philips Arena to San Diego Padres owner John Moores was a legitimate offer or if you think it was just a dilatory tactic to pretty much ensure a sale of just the Thrashers.

Here's to hoping that Levenson & Co. are railroaded out of town. Due to their incompetence and mismanagement, Levenson & Co. has lost a hockey team. And their basketball team faces serious cap-related challenges ahead with the albatross of a contract that Joe Johnson signed.

Suffice to say that Levenson & Co. takes Atlantans as fools if they don't think people will boycott the basketball team or at least will make life very uncomfortable for the Spirit clowns as they sit courtside at Philips Arena. Although there is not a complete overlap of the Thrashers and Hawks fan bases, there are enough disgruntled Thrashers fans to make life very miserable for Levenson & Co.

As they should.

The way this sale went down, this will not be a Tom Cousins situation, where Levenson & Co. could hold onto the Hawks for a bit after the Flames left town. Remember, Ted Turner bought the Hawks from Cousins in 1976 -- four years before the Flames bolted town for Calgary.

This is an entirely different situation.

If Levenson & Co. hold onto the Hawks, Atlanta's basketball team will be at a crossroad. Management is going to have to make a decision whether to blow up the team to get better in the future. They will be near the luxury tax threshold, which could be the hard cap limit after the lockout ends.

Barring a trade, that means the Hawks, who are also without a first round pick in this year's draft, will have very little latitude to make any sort of impact move in the offseason. It also means that Atlanta's basketball team will probably not be able to resign sixth-man Jamal Crawford.

If Levenson & Co. sees the light and disposes of the Hawks and the arena's operating rights, a new owner may be savvy enough to make the required moves to give this team a chance to get out of the second round. As we all know that under new ownership, the Hawks could conceivably go into the luxury tax -- something that Levenson & Co. has avoided.

If the league goes to a hard cap, new ownership could absorb a big contract or two and buy them out, just like many hockey teams did after the NHL lockout in '04-05. This would give the Hawks flexibility to get better and take that next necessary step.

The ball is clearly in Levenson & Co.'s court. No matter what happens, Thrashers fans and Hawks fans will be watching. Count on that Michael Gearon and Bruce Levenson. You'll just have to "deal with it."

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.