Bob Dylan would be a big fan of the NBA right now, because the times they are a-changin'. The Miami Heat have firmly ushered in the era of the superteam, and it's going to take either one hell of an effort by a more traditional lineup or another superteam to dethrone them.
While the Los Angeles Lakers tried forming an amalgamation of superstars who would immediately morph into that second superteam, their efforts ultimately failed. Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol couldn't stay healthy, and they weren't particularly effective even when they avoided that pesky little injury imp.
So, let's try our hand at forming a different superteam. Fortunately, we get to start with an almost-clean slate. Danny Ferry saw to that.
When the Atlanta Hawks hired the former Duke star as their general manager, Ferry immediately began making changes. He shipped Joe Johnson off to the Brooklyn Nets and Marvin Williams to the Utah Jazz, racking up young players and expiring contracts in return.
Now the Hawks enter the 2013 offseason with only Al Horford, Lou Williams, DeShawn Stevenson, John Jenkins and Mike Scott under contract. Together, they're owed just $21,543,122 for the 2013-14 season (per Spotrac.com).
Let's go crazy-best-case scenario with the Hawks and see what type of superteam Ferry has the potential to assemble this summer—starting with the man patrolling the sidelines.
Finding a Coach
Larry Drew did a solid job holding the clipboard for the Atlanta Hawks, but he doesn't have the creative mind necessary to take this squad to the next level. The offense under Drew has been rather vanilla, for example.
Atlanta runs plenty of pick-and-roll sets at the top of the key, and shooters curl off screens in an attempt to get open on the perimeter. But that's about it. Drew's system has become stale and predictable, and the Hawks don't have enough defensive talent to compensate.
Ferry now gets to search for a new candidate, though. Rick Sund's hire is no longer under contract with the team, and it doesn't appear likely that he'll return.
One of the most intriguing options to replace Drew would have been Stan Van Gundy, but the Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi reported that the former Orlando Magic head coach may never return to the sidelines.
So instead, let's turn to his brother, Jeff Van Gundy.
JVG last coached for the Houston Rockets, bowing out in seven games during the first round of the 2007 NBA playoffs. He ended that portion of his coaching career with a lifetime record of 430-318—good for a winning percentage of 57.5.
With the team we're going to assemble, Van Gundy would certainly be able to bring that winning percentage up a few more ticks. He's well known for his ability to get along with his players, and his time in the ESPN broadcasting booth has informed just about everyone that he knows what he's doing.
Sometimes JVG can come across as rather opinionated and stubborn, but you can't doubt his knowledge of the game. Between that and his knack for raising chemistry in the locker room, he's the perfect fit for a team about to have a number of stars.
Finding the Stars
When you're building a superteam, you reach for the stars. And I mean that both literally and figuratively.
In this free-agency class, the stars are Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. So let's go get them. Atlanta has plenty of money to do so, after all.
Dwight and CP3 made $19,536,360 and $17,779,458, respectively, during the 2012-13 season, and those numbers are going to be even higher for 2013-14.
According to the collective bargaining agreement, a free agent's maximum salary in the first year of a new contract is never less than 105 percent of his salary in the last year of his previous contract.
For example, a 10-year veteran free agent who most recently earned $20 million has a maximum salary of at least $21 million, even if that is above the league-wide maximum.
A free agent does not need to remain with the same team in order to receive 105 percent of his previous salary, although the team that signs him is subject to the same salary-cap restrictions as with any other free agent.
If we apply that calculation to the two max-contract guys in question, we're giving them respective salaries of $20,513,178 and $18,668,431. Adding these two to the five players already in place, Atlanta now has $60,724,731 committed and five spots left to fill in the 12-man roster.
As a quick side note, I'm not particularly worried about overspending and losing the ability to re-sign Al Horford down the road because he's under contract through the 2015-16 season.
The 2013-14 salary cap has not yet been set, but there's a chance it could rise up above $60 million after hovering at $58.044 million for each of the past two years. Even if it doesn't, though, these moves are still possible because Mike Scott and DeShawn Stevenson's contracts are not guaranteed.
If necessary, Atlanta can opt not to bring back either the young forward from Virginia or the veteran one from Washington Union—instead saving the money and signing a minimum deal to fill the last roster spots.
Regardless of the manner in which these transactions are completed, Ferry has the financial means necessary to bring any two free agents to Philips Arena and surround them with a number of veteran role players.
I'm going to play it a little safe—assuming I'm allowed to even write that phrase, given the unlikely nature of this scenario becoming a reality in its full form—and have the Hawks let Scott go. Stevenson can stay because his defense is exactly what Atlanta needs at the 3.
At this point in the hypothetical process, we're now at the salary cap and looking at the following roster:
- Head coach: Jeff Van Gundy
- Point guard: Chris Paul
- Shooting guard: John Jenkins, Lou Williams
- Small forward: DeShawn Stevenson
- Power forward: Al Horford
- Center: Dwight Howard
Not a bad start, right?
Finding the Roster Fill-Ins
At this stage, we're using the minimum player salary exception. Actually, we're using it a few times—five to be exact.
Under the rules of the current CBA, once a team is over the cap, it can sign players to contracts for either one or two years as long as said player agrees to the minimum salary.
With three stars (Paul, Horford and Howard), a scorer off the bench (Williams), a great perimeter defender (Stevenson) and a rookie with potential (Jenkins), there's a very specific set of needs for this version of the Hawks.
First, let's look for a veteran floor general who can spell CP3. Nate Robinson, C.J. Watson, Jose Calderon, Jarrett Jack and Mo Williams are all going to be a bit out of the price range, but Chauncey Billups is certainly a strong possibility.
Mr. Big Shot is 36 years old, and a run at one more championship would be more than a little tempting. He's still got some quality ball left in the tank, after all.
Next, we need to find a veteran sharpshooter. John Jenkins has potential down the road, but he's certainly not ready to play a major role at this stage of his career. Lou Williams isn't a starter either, because he's far better suited for his traditional role as a spark plug off the bench.
While it would be great to bring Kyle Korver back, he's going to be too expensive. He was that good at shooting during the 2012-13 season. Instead, targeting a three-point shooter such as Daniel Gibson is more realistic.
Gibson struggled immensely during the 2012-13 season, and a fresh start would do him wonders. Playing alongside LeBron James back in the day allowed him to thrive, and he'd play a similar spot-up role on this squad.
But are we done adding shooters yet? No, of course not!
Richard Jefferson is another formerly potent sniper who could use a new team. It's been a long time since he averaged over 20 points per game for the New Jersey Nets, but Jefferson still has a sweet stroke when he actually manages to make it off the bench.
The small forward has a player option for the 2013-14 season, and he'd be leaving a lot of money on the table by opting out. But remember, we're talking about the crazy-best-case scenario, so the possibility that he actually wants playing time again is coming into play here.
That leaves us with just one spot to fill, since the Hawks have two first-round draft choices to play with. For those two picks we're rolling with B/R's resident draft expert Jonathan Wasserman and adding Jamaal Franklin and Gorgui Dieng to the roster.
The last spot must be dedicated to a frontcourt member, because there's a rather significant lack of size at the moment. Dwight is the only true center, and there's no backup for either him or Horford. And given the amount of offense already in place, we're looking for a defensive specialist.
Elton Brand is the logical choice.
The big man made just over $2 million with the Dallas Mavericks during the 2012-13 season, and it's now time for him to start chasing a ring. At 34 years old, he's allowed to take a pay cut and pursue a championship. And since he's never won a championship, it's well within the realm of possibilities that he does exactly that.
So after these signings, we're looking at the following:
- Head coach: Jeff Van Gundy
- Point guard: Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups
- Shooting guard: Daniel Gibson, Lou Williams, John Jenkins, Jamaal Franklin
- Small forward: DeShawn Stevenson, Richard Jefferson
- Power forward: Al Horford, Elton Brand
- Center: Dwight Howard, Gorgui Dieng
How Good Is This Team?
We've learned from the Lakers not to judge the superteams too early. But what the heck, let's do it anyway.
The big question is: Can this squad beat the Miami Heat?
And while the answer isn't by any means a definite one, this team absolutely has the ability to take down the defending champions—and current title favorites—in a seven-game series. There's plenty of star power and a whole bunch of quality role players.
A Dwight Howard-Chris Paul pick-and-roll combo would be absolutely devastating, especially when joined by Al Horford, who would essentially play the Chris Bosh role for the Atlanta Hawks.
Remember, Paul is the best point guard in the NBA, although Tony Parker is giving him a serious run for his money during the postseason. Behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant, he's the third-best player in professional basketball.
And this might be even harder to remember, but Dwight is still the best center in the league when healthy. Marc Gasol and Tim Duncan outperformed him during the 2012-13 campaign, but a functioning back would allow Howard to reclaim his spot at the top of his position. He's also another top-five player if every part of his body is working properly.
Joining CP3 and D12 (CPD15?) is a whole bevy of three-point shooters: Chauncey Billups, Daniel Gibson, John Jenkins and Richard Jefferson.
There's also a lockdown perimeter defender (DeShawn Stevenson) and two big men who could form one hell of a defensive frontcourt (Elton Brand and Gorgui Dieng).
What more could you want?
While discussing this potential offseason plan with a good friend of mine, one who happens to be an Atlanta Hawks fan, I had the pleasure of reading the following quote: "I would convert to Ferryism as my official religion if he pulls of Paul and Howard."
Can you imagine what his reaction would be if all the veteran role players signed on as well?
The scary thing is that there's actually a chance.
It's a long shot, but every player involved has a reason to make the decision I've made for them in this article, and Ferry has enough money at his disposal to convert the hypothetical into a reality.
We're in the era of superteams now. Could this be the next one?