Saturday, August 30, 2008


Sekou Smith has either lost his mind or is mining an extreme satiric strain this morning by suggesting that the Atlanta Hawks are winners in free agency.
Even with the departure of Josh Childress to Greece, the Hawks made out like bandits on the free-agent scene. They kept Josh Smith in the fold for a mere $58 million and added much needed veteran help in Mo Evans and Flip Murray at crucial backup backcourt positions at minimum prices. A six-year deal for Smith with the same annual salary would have ended up being around $72 million, which is a bit more than the Hawks were willing to pay their starting power forward. But the Memphis Grizzlies did the heavy lifting for them by presenting Smith with an offer sheet the Hawks matched within hours after receiving it — making good on their promise to do just that when Smith turned down a $45 million offer before the start of his fourth season.
I like Sekou Smith. He takes his job seriously, writes well, and deserves all our sympathy for having to read even some of the comments left on his blog. But I'm not buying this.
  • Josh Childress's departure is, in and of itself, seriously damaging. Factor in that Childress was a restricted free agent and the Hawks lost him for nothing and it was, as international media attention would lead you to believe, an historical blunder by the franchise.
  • Josh Smith is a relative bargain financially but that figures to be off-set by Mike Woodson's inability/disinterest in maximizing Smith's on-court contributions.
  • Maurice Evans should be a slight positive addition. He is not capable of replacing Josh Childress's value, however.
  • Flip Murray is a bad basketball player who figures to take minutes away from Acie Law IV, who might be a useful basketball player. Rick Sund signing Murray to play basketball will prove to be worse a worse allocation of resources than Billy Knight signing Speedy Claxton not to play basketball.
That's not a winning slate of free agent decisions.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Season Review: The End of the Bench

A quick wrap-up of those who played few minutes last year and should (with one possible exception) play even fewer minutes this season concludes the player-by-player review of the 2007-08 season.

Mario West

West didn't play much; his 270 minutes were spread over 64 games with 20 appearances consisting of less than one minute of playing time. West's effort was always obvious even as he displayed skills useful to winning basketball games less frequently. Part of the problem lay not with West but with Mike Woodson utilizing a player poorly (Shock! Horror!) . Rather than using West's energy to disrupt the opposition's second unit for a couple of minutes every so often, Woodson decided that Mario West was a defensive stopper who should guard the other team's best wing player for one half-court possession at the end of a quarter. West usually responded to this assignment by committing a foul at the first opportunity.*

*Mario West scored 59 points, grabbed 48 rebounds, and committed 61 fouls in his 270 minutes of playing time.

West played fairly well in the two games he started, scoring 11 points and grabbing 7 offensive rebounds in 31 minutes. If you put him on the court with good players the other team may forget about him long enough for him contribute positively. If he hopes to stay in the league as an energy guy for a another season he'll have to learn to defend without fouling. If he hopes to stay in the league for any significant length of time, he'll also need to start knocking down jump shots. He made 2 of 12 jump shots in his rookie year. If he didn't spend the summer working on his lateral movement and shooting thousands of corner three-pointers he'll find Jeremy Richardson or Thomas Gardner holding down his old roster spot.

Solomon Jones

Jones looked every bit the project in his rookie season but there were a few skills (shot selection, free throw shooting, shot blocking) that looked as if they might serve as a foundation for a career coming of the bench and providing useful minutes.

None of those skills were evident in Jones' second season. His field goal percentage fell from 50.8% (128 attempts) to 40% (30 attempts). His free throw shooting dropped from 78.7% (75 attempts) to 55% (20 attempts). He blocked almost half as many shots per minute while committing fouls slightly more frequently. He also managed to turn the ball over on 22% of the offensive possessions he used.

Furthermore, he looked every bit as bad as his numbers would suggest. His lack of basketball awareness or game-readiness rendered his athleticism largely useless. I've no idea why the Hawks have chosen not to send Jones to the D-League so he can get some practice playing basketball. Of course, the bigger question is why they wasted the 33rd pick of the draft of the 2006 Draft on Jones in the first place, other than to demonstrate what can be accomplished when Billy Knight's drafting acumen combines with Mike Woodson's facility for developing young players' skills.

Despite his desperate need for anything approximating game experience, Jones declined to play on the Hawks' summer league team, a decision which should make it more likely that the Hawks trade him for someone, anyone willing to take on his guaranteed contract.

Jeremy Richardson

Over the last two years, Jeremy Richardson has played 152 minutes of NBA basketball across 33 games for 4 different teams. It would be folly to try and derive any meaning from his NBA stats.

He's scored effectively and efficiently in over 1000+ D-league minutes. He deserves a chance not just to make the 2008-09 Hawks roster but to earn some minutes in the rotation (If only due to Josh Childress's massive absence.) as either a shooter or scorer, essentially serving as second-unit insurance for both Maurice Evans' jump shot and Acie Law IV's dribble penetration.

Salim Stoudamire

Salim will be missed by those of us prone to forever believe in his potential to serve as a (likeable) Jannero Pargo type. Rarely used in any way that made sense during his final season in Atlanta, Stoudamire compounded matters by shooting the ball often and with very little success in his rare appearances setting career lows in two-point, three-point, and free throw shooting. Still, I'll root for him wherever he ends up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Season Review: Zaza Pachulia

Depending on how valuable you feel signing Stephen Jackson, getting one good year out of him then trading him straight up for Al Harrington was, Zaza Pachulia stands as either the best or second-best (Readers are likely all too aware that there is no third choice for this title.) free agent signing of the Billy Knight era. Not that Zaza has become a fan favorite simply for not being Jason Collier, Esteban Batista, Lorenzen Wright, or Speedy Claxton. I've no doubt more people took note of his productive play than his reasonable contract, though the latter didn't hurt nor did his clear disdain for favorite fan target, Head Coach Mike Woodson.

Pachulia largely escaped criticism last season which was largely fair. He was hurt. His absence was obvious but he wasn't very good even when he played. Limited to 943 minutes last year, Pachulia was far less effective than expected: attempting fewer shots while making a lower percentage of them, matching that diabolical double (fewer attempts/lower percentage) in terms of free throws, not lowering his turnover rate, grabbing fewer offensive rebounds, and appearing even more limited than usual defensively. I believe it's fair to speculate that the drop from getting 2000+ above-average minutes out of Pachulia to getting less than 1000 poor minutes from him cost the Hawks 1 or 2 wins last season even before considering who (Shelden Williams, Lorenzen Wright, Solomon Jones) picked up some of those lost minutes*.

*Josh Smith (possibly) and Al Horford (almost certainly) picked up some extra playing time in Pachulia's absence so 1 or 2 wins may well be the extent of the damage.

A return to the form (if not the volume of minutes played) displayed during his first two seasons with the Hawks falls quite heavily on the reasons-to-be-optimistic side of the 2008-09 expectations scale. A healthy Pachulia would help in the half court offense (both by scoring efficiently and as an offensive rebounder), provide the opportunity to play Al Horford at the 4 should matchups necessitate doing so, and allow Randolph Morris to be brought along slowly in the wake of his wasted 16 months with the Knicks.

On the other hand, even having access to a healthy, productive Pachulia for 15-18 minutes a night likely won't be enough to keep the Hawks in the playoff hunt past the All-Star break at which point his reasonable, expiring contract and ability to be a useful role player will quite possibly make him a desired piece for inclusion in a trade wherein Rick Sund gets someone to take on the remainder of Mike Bibby's contract. Or Marvin Williams' contract. Or, if the right offer were made, Joe Johnson's contract.

Zaza may not be long for Atlanta but I'd like to see him go out on a high, healthy note and solidify his time here as having been mutually beneficial. And, hey, there's no law against trading a guy at the deadline and then re-signing him once he's officially a free agent.

Up Next: The rest

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Subtraction by Addition: Hawks Sign Flip Murray

I thought signing Jannero Pargo was a bad idea but leave it to the Atlanta Hawks to take an unappealing hypothetical transaction and do one worse by making an unexpected actual move that's far more dispiriting: signing Flip Murray to block Acie Law IV.

Rick Sund:
"By signing Flip, it provides us with another experienced player who has the ability to play multiple positions for us. Because of his versatility, he will be a valuable asset for us as a reserve, and we look forward to the contributions he'll bring this season."
Here's looking forward to Murray playing both guard positions (badly), embodying the inverse of Josh Childress (Murray dominates the ball and scores only by taking lots of low-percentage shots.) on a nightly basis, and providing Josh Smith with some healthy competition for hoisting the most cringe-inducing three-point attempts.

Murray's managed to attempt 616 three-pointers over 332 career games despite making just 27.9% of those attempts. For his career, he scores 15 points per 36 minutes but needs 14 field goal and 3.8 free throw attempts per 36 minutes to get those points. He has been more willing to pass the ball recently, having raised his assist rate to something resembling a point guard's the last two years. I'm skeptical that he'll maintain that rate as he transitions from playing with his Piston teammates in Flip Saunders' offense to playing with his Hawk teammates in Mike Woodson's "offense," but he did deign to pick up some assists during his time with the Pacers last year.

If your not sufficiently sated by my encompassing pessimism, Micah Hart offers a far more positive reaction to the signing here.

UPDATE: There's also an interview with Flip Murray now up on the official site: The Hawks have lacked guys who can create their own shots in the past. Is that something that you see as part of your role with the team?

FM: Definitely. I had a conference call with the team when we were negotiating the deal, and I got a chance to talk to Coach Woodson. I asked him exactly what role he was looking to fill, and he said he was looking for a combo-guard, a guy who could create his own shot and make plays happen on his own. Hearing that opened my eyes and made the decision that much easier for me.

Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha.


Quietly chokes back tears.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hawks Sign Thomas Gardner & Othello Hunter

The news, in short, from the team's release:
The Atlanta Hawks have signed free agents Thomas Gardner and Othello Hunter to contracts, it was announced today by General Manager Rick Sund. Per team policy, terms of the agreements were not disclosed.
Thomas Gardner could fill Salim Stoudamire's (shooting) shoes, but, unlike Stoudamire, there's no reason to expect Gardner to make many shots. Disappointment pre-empted, I guess. Gardner's much bigger than Stoudamire but unless he added some skills while playing in Belgium, he's no better a defender.

Othello Hunter, I like. Given the opportunity, he could go a way toward replacing some of Josh Childress's offensive rebounding contribution. Though undersized (6-7, 220) even as a collegiate post player, Hunter grabbed 15.7% of possible offensive rebounds on Ohio State's 2007 NCAA Runners-up team and 11.2% of possible offensive rebounds on Ohio State's 2008 NIT Champion team.

Hunter should be capable of backing up Josh Smith on nights when the opposing team does not make it necessary for Al Horford to playthe 4 much, if at all. Even better, unlike recent, previous iterations of energy guys (Shelden Williams, Lorenzen Wright, Solomon Jones, Esteban Batista) on the Hawks' bench, Hunter both comes at relatively little cost and provides actual energy rather than mere plodding or awkwardness.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sanity Prevails

The Hawks match the offer sheet and pay the man his money.

Next step: build a team around Smith and Horford.

Mark Bradley needs to get on that particular trolly. His otherwise reasonably critical column regarding the organization's decision-making process refers to Smith as the team's "third-best player."

Sekou Smith's reaction blog entry quite rightly focuses on the future: Smith and Horford. (He also floats the idea of signing Jannero Pargo which I doubt will come to pass but should it will result in endless whining in this space. Signing Shaun Livingston, on the other hand, is exactly the sort of risk this franchise should be taking.)

Joe Johnson is a good player but not a franchise player. The Hawks need to explore his trade value in an effort to acquire assets to go along with their 2009 lottery pick. Rick Sund also needs find out if Mike Bibby's expiring contract is worth more to another team that it is to the Hawks. If another team wants Zaza Pachulia or Acie Law IV or will take Marvin Williams in a deal for Bibby or Johnson, the Hawks need to suck it up and make the deal. This team isn't going to make the playoffs as currently constituted and coached. I'm not sure the difference between 20 and 30 wins is worth anything. A 20-win season might shock the decision-makers into confronting the reality of the franchise's situation.

Ultimately, this season will let us know whether they want to continue to field an incompetent but sort-of competitive team or they're willing to build a team that has a chance to make a playoff run at some point in the next 3-5 years. Smith and Horford plus annual or bi-annual lottery picks should make the former possible with minimal effort. The latter requires both long-term planning and the willingness to take a hit in the short-term. I'm not especially optimistic but I do believe that at one's core is a desire to win. I hope Atlanta Spirit LLC begins to demonstrate some human ambition.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Grizzlies Offer Josh Smith $58 Million

There's little information beyond that included in the post's title. Report comes from the Memphis Commercial Appeal (HT: Micah at Hawks BasketBlog). The Hawks have seven days to match the offer.

For those interested in contemplating a sign-and-trade, here's the Memphis roster with salary information though the Grizzlies have sufficient cap room to sign Smith without giving anyone up.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

2008-09 Schedule Released

The version of the 2008-09 schedule up at the official site is not perfect at the time of this writing (a game listed as @Seattle, and games against Miami in Boston and Memphis in Madison Square Garden) but the dates and opponents appear to be accurate.

Quick thoughts...
  • An 0-8 start appears possible.
  • With 14 of the first 22 games on the road, I may need to adjust downward the remaining length of tenure with the hawks of both Mike Woodson and Mike Bibby.
  • The season could be over for all practical purposes before the new year should the Hawks struggle during their eight-game homestand from December 13-29.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Nick Fazekas Is Available

No real news transpired during my brief vacation so I'll get the proverbial ball rolling this week with a free agent suggestion for the fine folks sitting in their offices on Marietta Street this morning.

Nick Fazekas is available.

I advocated signing Fazekas immediately following the Mike Bibby trade. Dallas had released Fazekas as part of the machinations necessary to acquire Jason Kidd. The Hawks did not sign Fazekas and went with Solomon Jones as their fourth big man for the remainder of the season.

Fazekas signed with the Clippers and was effective in limited minutes. Effective in limited minutes is the most one should expect from Fazekas but effective in limited minutes would be a great improvement relative to recent end-of-the-rotation contributors. The prospect of a Fazekas/Pachulia frontcourt tandem is frightening to ponder, at least when the other team has the ball but I think Fazekas would complement both Al Horford and Josh Smith* on the court.

*Despite the majority of the content of this post, the Hawks really should be focused on re-signing their best player; the consequences of not doing so being something I'd rather not contemplate unless I must. Hence this post about Nick Fazekas.

Fazekas is limited athletically but I feel that is either overstated or his college career is under recognized. He was a far mroe effective player at Nevada than other athletically limited college stars who fell into guaranteed lottery money.

The Hawks do not appear to be in the market for anybody who would dramatically improve their frontline talent. There remains a significant opportunity to improve the bench. Replacing guys who cannot contribute to winning NBA games with even decent role players could be worth a win or two to the Hawks (or about half as many wins as I assume they could gain by replacing Mike Woodson with someone competent).

Nick Fazekas makes shots. Nick Fazekas rebounds. Nick Fazekas would probably work cheap.* Rick Sund, the ball is in your court.

*Know your audience.

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