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What The NBA Lockout Could Mean For The Atlanta Hawks

The NBA has entered a dreaded lockout -- that could last a while. How will the showdown impact the Atlanta Hawks?

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NBA owners have taken the keys to practice facilities away from those pesky players that drive revenue to their little basketball game.

While the NFL lockout is mainly a dog-and-pony show, where billionaire owners are fighting with millionaire players over a slight piece of an ever-expanding pie, that NBA lockout is real. There are serious structural issues in the game, which, much like they did with this lockout's NHL predecessor, could wipe out an entire season.

NBA Commissioner David Stern and the rest of the NBA folks are looking to get rid of the Larry Bird exemption and implement a hard cap, much like they have in the NHL and had in the NFL up until last season. They also may be looking to do away with guaranteed contracts.

Rumor has it that the hard cap will be right about at the level where the luxury tax threshold kicks in -- basically right at the Atlanta Hawks year-end payroll for the 2010-11 campaign.

If the league is successful in implementing that cap change, it's expected that -- much like in the NHL lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 campaign -- the NBA owners will be able to buy out certain players out of their contracts.

That could enable Atlanta's basketball team to buy themselves out of Joe Johnson's big money deal -- theoretically at least.

Of course, those pesky Hawks owners -- the Atlanta Spirit -- claimed that they were so poor that they couldn't even afford to pay attention when they ended a legitimate six-month search for owners and dispatched the Atlanta Thrashers to wintery Winnipeg.

While the $110 to $130 million they pocketed from the quick sale of the Thrashers could give the Spirit a/k/a/ the least honest ownership group in North American sports* some sort of liquidity in the short term, conventional wisdom is that they do not have enough money to buy out a big contract and get nothing in return.

Instead, the Hawks will likely go into the new NBA year (albeit in 2011 or 2012) without the ability to sign sixth-man Jamal Crawford.

Another side effect for the least honest ownership group in North American sports* is that there is a huge gap in the Philips Arena schedule if the Hawks join the Thrashers on hiatus in the arena. There's a question as to whether the least honest ownership group in North American sports* will be able to meet their obligations under the terms of their bond agreement with the Atlanta and Fulton County Recreation Authority or AFRCA.

For those like NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman who are not aware, AFRCA is the actual owner of Philips Arena. The least honest ownership group in North American sports' arena wing, Arena Operations, LLC, simply manages and operates Philips.

If the least honest ownership group in North American sports* doesn't meet certain arena revenue numbers equal to 1.5x the value of a yearly bond payment, they will be forced to fork over $15 million in cash or line of credit.

The money lost to the Spirit owners will pale in comparison to the percentage actual disposable income lost by everyday Joes that work at Philips as ushers, ticket takers, security and concessions folks. Those hard-working employees, who will definitely miss out on 44 more days of work in the Thrashers absence, could be sent home until the NBA players and owners come to some sort of a solution.

Prior to the lockout, rumor had it that the least honest ownership group in North American sports* was looking to do an honest thing and sell the Hawks.

But the lockout may change things. If the Spirit ownership has a brain, they won't be selling this Hawks team for a while now.

It makes almost zero economic sense for any group -- yes, even the Spirit -- to sell their basketball team now as opposed to after the lockout ends. If the owners win the labor dispute -- which they are very well expected to -- franchise values will go up.

And let's face it, if the least honest ownership group in North American sports* knows anything -- it's how to take the most amount of money and run.

At the end of the day, this NBA lockout could go on for a while and make the NFL one look like an amiable chamber of commerce meeting. So sit back and enjoy barbs like this one from Hawks center and union rep Zaza Pachulia to WSB Sports Director Zach Klein.

"The stuff the owners want sounds ridiculous to us. We are very, very, very far apart."

Yep, folks, strap in; it's going to be a bumpy ride.

*- The Atlanta Spirit while operating the Thrashers was named the nation's least honest ownership group, No. 121 of 121 in an survey. They fared a little better with the Hawks, finishing a whopping 114th.

Stay tuned to SB Nation's StoryStream for more NBA lockout news, updates and explanations.

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