Atlanta Hawks' Front Office Stumbling in the New Millennium

David CohenSenior Analyst IJuly 23, 2008

Until this season, the Atlanta Hawks had the longest playoff drought of any team in the NBA, missing the playoffs for eight straight years.

They haven’t finished a season above .500 since the 98-99 year, and that was in a 50-game shortened season.

And while taking the NBA champs to seven games looks good on paper, the fact is that the Hawks were never in contention to win a game in Boston, and a makeshift Cavs team that had less than three months to gel did the same thing. In two of the three wins the Hawks were down by double digits heading into the fourth quarter. There was a little luck involved.

But for the first time in nearly a decade, there is optimism in A-town. The Hawks are young and improving, and Joe Johnson has reached star status.

Unfortunately for fans, the Hawks are repeating the same pattern of behavior that has put them in this rut of mediocrity—the front office is screwing up again

The Hawks' front office, which is currently counting its pennies and hoarding them away, has been very reluctant to commit big money to fan favorite Josh Smith and athletic swingman Josh Childress.

Childress was so upset about his neglect and the front office that he opted today to play for a team in a country he’s never lived in, leaving the NBA rather than play for the Hawks. His deal with Olympiacos is reportedly the largest in Euroleague history and was closer to what he could’ve received in free agency next year

Hawks GM Rick Sund said he just thought Childress was trying to create leverage with the Hawks, and didn’t take the Greek threat seriously. The Hawks were busy counting pennies—and just lost a key player from their playoff team as a result.

This just adds to a laundry list of things the Hawks front office has botched in the last ten years.

The management of the Atlanta Hawks has been bad since the turn of the century. Almost all of their major moves have backfired. It started right after the lockout season, when the Hawks broke up one of the most overlooked backcourt tandems in the last 20 years—Mookie Blaylock and Steve Smith

Blaylock is still the Hawks all-time leader in three-pointers and steals. He is also one of just three players to lead the league in steals in back-to-back years. The Hawks traded him to the Warriors for the 10th pick in the ’99 draft, which turned into Jason Terry. That one wasn’t a bad move. It was the exception to the rule.

Steve Smith was one of the best sharpshooters of his time. His departure killed the fan base. He was traded with Ed Gray to Portland for J.R. Rider and Jim Jackson. This would start a trend of bringing in questionable character players based on raw talent. Jackson was traded in the following offseason, along with two other players, for Brevin Knight.

Knight would then only play in Atlanta for one year. In 2001, he would be part of one of the worst deals in franchise history. The Hawks traded the third pick in the draft, along with Knight and Lorenzen Wright, to the Grizzlies for Shareef Abdur-Rahim and the 27th pick.

The third pick that year? Pau Gasol.

Abdur-Rahim was a 20-10 guy in Atlanta for the better part of three years, but if the Hawks had kept Knight and Gasol, they would have found their next big-time center. This is especially important, considering the other major deal they pulled off in this offseason.

The Hawks traded Dikembe Mutombo to the 76ers for an aging Toni Kukoc, Theo Ratliff, Nazr Mohammad, and Pepe Sanchez. Kukoc gave the Hawks 20 points a game the next year, then fell off considerably over the rest of his career. Mohammad had a very unfulfilling and injury-prone stint with Atlanta.

Ratliff was supposed to be a poor man’s Mutombo, but played just three games for Atlanta in his first year with the Hawks.

Meanwhile, Mutombo won the Defensive Player of the Year Award and helped the 76ers reach the NBA Finals. The Hawks now had a void in the backcourt and frontcourt.

In 2002 the Hawks made a “blockbuster” deal with the Milwaukee Bucks and acquired Glenn Robinson for Kukoc, Leon Smith, and a future first-round pick—which turned into T.J. Ford.

Robinson averaged 21 points and seven rebounds, but had the worst shooting year of his career. He was also a headache for the coaching staff. He would only play with the Hawks for one season.

If the Hawks kept the pick and took Ford, they wouldn’t have needed to bring in Mike Bibby last year, and would have found a permanent resident at the position. If this had happened, Ford may have avoided all of his neck problems.

In 2003, the aforementioned Robinson was dealt in a four-way deal to the 76ers in exchange for Terrell Brandon, Randy Holcomb, and a future first-round pick. The Hawks wasted little time in getting rid of another bad decision. By trading the pick later on, the Hawks got nothing for a player they gave up a whole lot to bring in just a year before.

In 2004 the Hawks unloaded Abdur-Rahim, along with Theo Ratliff and Dan Dickau, on Portland for Rasheed Wallace and Wesley Person. Person became an inconsequential member of the bench for two years, and played just 67 games for the Hawks. Rasheed Wallace was literally one and done, traded almost immediately to the Pistons in a three-team deal.

This would be one of those rare deals to work out for the Hawks, as they received Bob Sura, Chris Mills, Zelijko Rebraca, and a first-round pick. Mills was cut about a month later and Rebraca was useless. Sura was gone by the end of the season but averaged 15 points and eight assists. In reality the Hawks should’ve kept him.

The deal worked out because the Hawks used that pick to draft Josh Smith. Smith has paid more than enough dividends—and the Hawks better lock him up long term in the coming weeks.

The Hawks made one other deal that year. They acquired Michael Doleac, Joel Pryzbilla, and a 2005 second-round pick for Nazr Mohammad in another three team deal. Doleac never played for the Hawks. At least Pryzbilla played in 12 games. The draft pick never did anything in the league.

Current Olympiacos guard Josh Childress was drafted sixth in the draft later in the year.

After the draft, the Hawks worked out a sign and trade, picking up Al Harrington from the Pacers for Stephen Jackson. Harrington started for the Hawks for the better part of two seasons and played extremely well. His versatility turned him into one of the most promising big men in the league. The Pacers regretted letting him go and would do something about that later on.

The Hawks then traded Jason Terry, who they didn’t want to pay down the road. The Hawks traded Terry to the Mavericks along with Hawks stronghold Alan Henderson and a future first-round pick for Tony Delk and Antoine Walker.

Walker led the Hawks in scoring the following year with 20 a game, but the Hawks won just 13 games. Meanwhile, Terry resurrected his career in Dallas. Ironically enough, the Mavericks, in making the Terry deal, shelved trade talks with the Nets for Jason Kidd.

At the end of the busy year, the Hawks traded away Jon Barry for Tyronn Lue.

In 2005, the Hawks made more financially-motivated moves. They traded Antoine to the Celtics for Michael Stewart, Tom Gugliotta, Gary Payton, and a future first-round pick. Payton was then purposely cut so he could go back to Boston.

Tom played 74 games in two years with the Hawks. Walker and Pierce were a dynamic duo for Boston for some time.

The Hawks would then make a major move toward their current lineup. They traded Boris Diaw and two future first-round picks for Joe Johnson. Johnson has been a star—but if the Hawks had kept Terry they could’ve used those two picks and be a year or two ahead of their current schedule.

In 2006, the Hawks were finished with Al Harrington. They traded him back to the Pacers along with the non-telepathic John Edwards for a future first-round pick.

The pick in the deal was Acie Law. Law could certainly turn into the point of the future in Atlanta, but as of right now he is struggling and underutilized. His current career path with Atlanta is reminiscent of someone they traded the year before—Boris Diaw.

If the Hawks showed a little patience and kept Harrington, they would’ve enjoyed one of the best starting fives in the Eastern Conference for the last couple of years. The starting lineup would have been Johnson, Childress, Smith, Harrington, and Horford.

And with Childress being a full-time starter, there would be a much better chance he would have been content with playing in Atlanta. The Hawks would’ve played above-.500 ball in 2008. They may have ended their playoff series drought as well.

On top of that, it would’ve prevented the Hawks from resorting to signing Slava Medvedenko at the end of 2006.

2007 was a quiet year for the Hawks. Not a good year. Just quiet.

Last year was the most recent “mega deal” in Atlanta. They picked up declining and injury-riddled Mike Bibby from the Kings for Tyronn Lue, Anthony Johnson, Shelden Williams, Lorenzen Wright, and a future second-round pick.

The Hawks didn’t give up a lot to get Bibby but they are hurting themselves on the court. So far the Hawks have been better off with Johnson running the point and Bibby on the bench.

With Childress now leaving, that might no longer be the case. If Bibby can get and stay healthy, the Hawks should ultimately win this deal. And if things don’t work out, recent history says Bibby will be gone by the end of next season.

The Hawks' front office is muddled with communication problems as the Hawks co-owners clearly have a conflict of interest. This is creating a situation where a young promising team that will cost money to keep together might break apart because of the power struggle in the skybox.

In a weak Eastern Conference where the champs are a team of mostly 30-plus veterans, the future is ripe for the taking. The Hawks have some pieces of a future title contender already in place. Only pinching pennies can prevent that from coming to fruition.

And it looks like it will.