Reader comments for my previous piece exploring the Atlanta Hawks' renewed prospects for pursuit of Dwight Howard indicated I should maybe stop daydreaming so much. Instead, I've decided to help you, the Hoopinion reader, get ready for the post-season by looking past it completely. In Part II of an occasional series, I hereby recommend that the Hawks pursue Steve Nash as soon as the present season concludes.
Indications are that Nash may have played his final game as a Phoenix Sun. Peter Vecsey reported in March that Nash was upset that the Suns had not more aggresively pursued Boris Diaw, who was bought out by the Charlotte Bobcats and later signed with San Antonio. Diaw's presense in Phoenix could have conceivably helped the Suns avoid missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year. Instead, Nash heads into the offseason as an unrestricted free agent likely seeking a multi-year deal with a contender.
Enter the Atlanta Hawks.
First question, can the Hawks contend? I'm sure some of our gentle readers will have a chuckle at that thought. But ask yourself this. With a 3-guard rotation of Nash, Joe Johnson and Jeff Teague (basically this year's rotation with future Hall-of-Famer Nash replacing the under-performing Kirk Hinrich) combined with a healthy front-court rotation of Al Horford, Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson, would you then find the question laughable?
Second question, would Nash's perception of the Hawks be more favorable than his current perception of the Suns organization? The answer is obvious. If the Hawks wish to be seen as aggresively pursuing the talent needed to contend, the first step should be to aggressively pursue Steve Nash.
The sexy destinations for Nash such as the Heat, Knicks and Lakers all have formidable salary cap constraints. The Hawks do as well, but with some creative math and a willingness to take risks, I think the Hawks could get it done. I'm neither a cap expert nor a mathematician, so feel free to audit my results in the comments.
Next season, Kirk Hinrich's $8 million salary will be coming off the books. However, scheduled salary increases for Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Smith, Horford and Teague totalling $4,653,478 will cut into the cap room created if the Hawks let Hinrich walk. The Hawks are presently in the luxury tax and would do well to avoid it next season due to increased penalties for repeat taxpayers. Why are the Hawks in the luxury tax? Because of the luxurious additions of Jerry Stackhouse and Erick Dampier. Had the Hawks not made the decision to carry the maximum of 15 players for the entire season, the tax (and the need to sell off a draft pick to pay for it) could have been avoided.
Looking at the minimum salary veterans who will finish the season on the Hawks roster (Damp, Stack, Tracy McGrady, Jason Collins, Vladimir Radmanovic, Willie Green, Jannero Pargo), I think it's safe to say the Hawks can survive next season without at least two of them. Personally, I would only retain T-Mac, Pargo and Green, but I'm sure Rick Sund has other ideas.
Nevertheless, should the Hawks decide to keep the roster minimum of 13 rather than the max of 15 next season, that could potentially save two veteran's minimum salaries of around $1.3m each, creating additional cap space. The real trick is what happens with Ivan Johnson, who will be a restricted free agent subject to the "Gilbert Arenas Rule." This rule stipulates that the most other teams can offer Ivan is the midlevel exception around $5m per season. Assuming that no other team signs Ivan to an offer sheet, the Hawks could retain him for one more season at the qualifying offer of just under $1m. I think chances are good that Ivan will receive an offer for the full midlevel exception. The Hawks would either have to match or see their diamond-in-the-rough go to another team.
If the Hawks are forced to throw up to $5m a season at Ivan Johnson, that eats up a chunk of the space created by Hinrich's departure and carrying fewer players. A little bit more blood could be squeezed out of the turnip by replacing a couple veteran's minimum salaries with undrafted rookies making less than $500,000, as Ivan is this year. But that still doesn't get us anywhere close to the $8m or more a season Nash is sure to command in his final productive years. Where do the Hawks find that money?
Well, you may have noticed in the healthy front court rotation I mentioned above, there was no mention of Marvin Williams. If the Hawks were to use the Amnesty Clause on Marvin, they would have enough money to match any offer to retain Ivan Johnson AND offer Nash a multi-year deal around Marvin's roughly $8m salary. I don't actually believe this is the wisest course, as I feel it's very important for the Hawks to save the Amnesty for Joe in a couple of years. But the Hawks, if they know Nash will sign if the money is there, can find the money. Remember the Hinrich trade? Throw in a couple first rounders and the Hawks can surely find Marvin a nice home.