Danny Ferry signed off on a trio of deals in 2005 that more or less defined his tenure as Cleveland Cavaliers GM. Those deals, since maligned, committed his team to following the fortunes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas (already in place), Donyell Marshall (sixth man, not a maker or break-er) and Larry Hughes (BINGO). If Hughes failed to put the team over the top, his trade value would fall, and he would have to be tossed around for matching contracts until his massive deal ran out.
That's exactly what happened, and Ferry was run out of Cleveland in 2010. After two years worth of musing and carving names into benches as part of the San Antonio Spurs' staff, Ferry is back as GM of the Atlanta Hawks. And in the course of an early evening, he just made damn sure the Atlanta Hawks we've had the displeasure to have known since 2005 are going to go far, far away. Joe Johnson is gone, off to Brooklyn for expiring contracts. And now Marvin Williams is off to the Utah Jazz, in a deal that helps both teams but really, truly favors what Danny Ferry is attempting to do with a Hawks team he probably disliked as much as we did.
[Adrian Wojnarowski: Hawks deal Joe Johnson to Nets for several players]
The Hawks, you'll recall, were in the same boat as Ferry's Cavs in the summer of 2005. After a season spent tanking, the Hawks utilized their significant cap space to needlessly send draft picks to the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade for the right to pay Johnson a wee bit more than they could have paid him outright as a free agent acquisition -- and then they gave Johnson an even more outrageous contract in the summer of 2010. Williams, infamously, was taken ahead of Chris Paul and others in the 2005 draft, and the Hawks have been appropriately above-average since. Ferry, apparently, doesn't want to do above-average anymore.
Thank goodness for that. No more sustaining, no more Mike Bibby, no more first-round snorefests, and no more Josh Smith trade rumors. Because this is Smith and Al Horford's team now, with enough cap space to make a major play at both Dwight Howard and another max player (southern-bred Chris Paul?) in the summer of 2013. Because once that offseason hits, the Hawks will have just Al Horford's eight-figure deal and Jeff Teague's possible contract extension on the books for 2013-14, with myriad options to work with via free agency or the same sort of trade that just netted the Nets Joe Johnson.
Options. It's going to be a weird thing for Hawks fans to get used to.
It has to be exhilarating, though. And without falling too deeply into this, it's good to point out the Hawks won't be too damaged from this deal. Losing nearly 3,200 minutes a season of Johnson's rock-solid production hurts, but the Hawks can go quite small with both Harris and Teague in the backcourt, working a drive-and-kick game with Anthony Morrow on the wing while still letting Horford work his way around the paint and still looking the other way as Josh Smith shoots those long 2-pointers.
Mainly because Josh Smith and Dwight Howard are superpals. So it goes, NBA.
[Adrian Wojnarowski: Dwight Howard: I'll only re-sign with one team]
And in an instant — or afternoon, because it's still light out in Atlanta — Ferry has saved his bosses more than $80 million dollars while still working around a roster that may have a chance at the playoffs. Nothing is guaranteed with cap space, nor assets, nor something as vague as "options," but this isn't the point. Because after years of treading water, the Hawks have a chance at something different than what wasn't clicking the turnstiles or spinning the second round. Or vice versa.
It might just be a prelude to another missed chance, and a newer version of what Larry Hughes brought in 2005. That's OK, though. Because until this week, the Atlanta Hawks didn't even have the flexibility to sign Larry Hughes. And that's about as sad a position as you can be in as a basketball team.
We don't know where Ferry goes from here, but neither does he. That's the point of having options, and Hawks fans should be giddy at the concept.
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