Friday, December 23, 2011

Hawks Waive Keith Benson, Plan To Start Season With 15 Players

Second-round pick Keith Benson didn't make it to the regular season, either.

Surprisingly, given the team's proximity to the luxury tax line, the Hawks will start the season with 15 players on the roster. Starting with the good news, quality D-League products Ivan Johnson (an active, if undersized, four who could be able to score off the bench) and Donald Sloan (a young, cheap, and legitimate third point guard*) will start the season with the team. The bad news is that neither figures to play as long as thirtysomethings Tracy McGrady, Willie Green (whose contract is guaranteed), Jannero Pargo, Vladimir Radmanovic, and Jerry Stackhouse** are around. Both are more likely to be cut than any of the guys whose best*** days are behind them.

*I'm counting Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich as point guards. Pargo might bring the ball up at times while Hinrich recovers from surgery but Pargo isn't going to play point guard in any traditional sense of the term.

**Jerry Stackhouse is 37 years old and has played 162, 855, and 50 sub-replacement level minutes in each of the past three seasons, respectively. I can't see why the Hawks would keep him around in a non-coaching capacity, further flirting with the luxury tax, unless Larry Drew intends to put him on the floor in games that count. Furthermore, I fear that he's on the roster because he scored 10% of his total regular season points over the last three seasons in the three games he played for Milwaukee against the Hawks in 2009-10.

***Best not being synonymous with either good or productive in some cases.

The Hawks are going to be in serious trouble if any of their top seven guys get hurt (as the scramble to deal with the short-term loss of Kirk Hinirch, in 2011, demonstrates) regardless of which freely available players fill out the back end of the roster but they've taken the least interesting path* in completing that task. Young guys who can't play will always inspire greater interest than an old guys who can't play. For a not-especially-successful franchise committed, in the important ways, to more of the same, in perpetuity, it seems the least they could do to stoke fan interest around the margins rather than import re-treads en masse.

The odd thing is I'm optimistic about many things this season: Joe Johnson shooting better than last season, Jeff Teague playing regular minutes, Josh Smith weighing 225 pounds, Marvin Williams being healthy, not having Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford on the court for a single possession when the other team has the ball. But last year's team was somewhere between a 38- and 44-win squad. Will all those improvements by the starters (should they even come to pass) make up for the guys who will be on the court after a starter picks up two first half fouls, needs a rest due to the compressed schedule or, heaven forfend, gets hurt?

*So the Hawks waived Pape Sy because he couldn't play point guard. The Venn diagram of people who have seen Pape Sy play professional basketball and people who think Pape Sy could ever play point guard in the NBA would consist of a small circle in the center of the page in front of you representing the former and a dot on a piece of paper in a drawer in the attic representing the latter.

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