Initial warning: This will be a highly technical team construction explanatory blog post. Serious love of the NBA is required to continue.
The Atlanta Hawks went into the draft with 6 players under contract for next season and left with 7, assuming the John Jenkins contract negotiations go swimmingly. Second round draft pick Mike Scott does not receive a contract guarantee like first round picks do. Per Hoopshype.com, the Hawks payroll of Jeff Teague, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia totals almost $61 million. The important number here is not the salary cap figure, which was slighty over $58 million in 2011-12 and is projected to be $60-$61 million for 2012-13, since the Hawks have surpassed that cap frequently in previous years. The luxury tax, projected to be no less that $70.307 million for 2012-13, is the line that the Atlanta Spirit, LLC has avoided by any means, even if it means selling draft picks to do so. John Jenkins and the rest of the rookies drafted in the first round have specified salary slots, and the 23rd slot will net him a little over $1 million this year. This means, the Hawks have somewhere around $10 million to spend, but with certain restrictions due to being over the cap limit.
Regarding the free agent options for the club, due to being over the salary cap, most free agents are unavailable frankly, due to their money demands. Only players that are unable to get more than a veteran’s minimum, an exception that allows teams give a minimal salary to veterans for one season despite being over the cap, will be looked at if the current roster holds. One stipulation is the mid-level exception (MLE) that would allow the Hawks to sign a player to a $3 million a year contract for three years or a $2.5 million a year for two years. Teams that didn’t pay the luxury tax last year are eligible for a more luxurious MLE but the Hawks are neither able for luxury-tax avoidance reasons and because they exceeded it in 2011-12 with the signing of Erick Dampier (there is no explanation for that signing). Another stipulation is the Qualifying Offer the Hawks can extend to Ivan Johnson as well as signing players that survive the training camp and are second round picks, undrafted free agents or NBDL players, but those salaries would each be less than $1 million.
Larry Drew and Mike Woodson before him have been able to get career years out of shoot-first guards like Ronald “Flip” Murray, Jamal Crawford, Jannero Pargo and Willie Green so look for the backcourt to be filled accordingly. Kirk Hinrich with Pargo and Green helped comprise the backup guards to Jeff Teague and Joe Johnson. However, Hinrich would have to take a huge paycut and either take a previously described MLE or a veteran’s minimum contract, about $1.4 million for 10 years or more of NBA service, to stay in Atlanta. Pargo has stated his pleasure for playing for the Hawks in 2011-12 and will probably be back on another minimum contract. With John Jenkins being drafted, it leaves Willie Green’s return to Phillips Arena in question as the two players on the team would be quite redundant. Tracy McGrady has a somewhat rocky relationship with Larry Drew and will most likely not return, and hopefully neither will Jerry Stackhouse, leaving the Hawks in the market for two and maybe three wing players to sign to a minimum contract. Randy Foye, Terrance Williams, Donte Greene, Michael Redd, Deshawn Stevenson, Keyon Dooling, Bobby Simmons, Jamario Moon and…well the list goes on in terms of possible backcourt scrapheap players that the Hawks could employ in 2012-13. Anyone in the bottom half of each position on this list has as good a chance as any to team up with Joe, Josh and company unless a piece of the core is traded.
Regarding the frontcourt, hopefully Vladimir Radmanovic, Jason Collins and Erick Dampier are replaced with younger, more able guys. Refer to the above list if you need ideas of veterans but searching through the numerous NBDL and UFDA players might present the best opportunity for improvement. The need for a defense-first 7 footer residing mostly on the bench may be alleviated if Dwight Howard moves to the Western Conference, but at this point, the Hawks are simply in need of able-bodied post presences. Due to the large pool of young available players, speculation about who could end up an Atlanta Hawks is impossible. One thing for certain is that the Hawks are in a bind as described above to try to put together a quality 15 player team for under the luxury tax. Good luck to new General Manager Danny Ferry this offseason. He will certainly need it.
Thanks for reading.