It’s rare for a team have the opportunity to combine the philosophies, but the Atlanta Hawks, who have just three players guaranteed under contract, will have a chance to try this offseason. The Hawks have roughly $40 million in cap room and will enter the NBA Draft with four picks: two in the first round (17, 18) and two in the second round (47, 50).
The plan for this opportunity began a year ago when the Hawks named Danny Ferry as their next general manager. Ferry came to Atlanta after a two-year stint as vice president of basketball operations for the Spurs. He also had previous GM experience with Cleveland Cavaliers between 2005-2010, enjoying a 272-138 record and a 2007 NBA Finals appearance.
Despite working with two small market teams, Ferry was able to experience success using the model of building around a superstar with free agents and draft picks. He had Lebron James in Cleveland and Tim Duncan in San Antonio.
Coming to Atlanta, Ferry had to determine whether he could build a championship contender around Joe Johnson and his six-year, $123.7 million contract or start fresh.
Ferry chose the second option by taking advantage of the Brooklyn Nets‘ desire to create a new image. In return for Johnson, he landed five rental players and two draft picks – the Houston Rockets’ (lottery protected) 2013 first-rounder and the Nets’ 2017 second-rounder.
On the same day, Ferry made another trade, shipping out the Hawks’ 2005 second-overall pick Marvin Williams and his five-year, $37.5 million contract to the Utah Jazz for Devin Harris’ expiring contract.
With Josh Smith as the face of the franchise, Ferry knew the Hawks would still be competitive, but his goal all along was to build around Al Horford. Smith was almost gone in a three-team deal with the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks at the trade deadline, but talks broke down when the Celtics decided that giving up Paul Pierce and a first-round pick weren’t worth Smith and his expiring contract.
Following a first-round exit in this year’s playoffs, the Hawks are now left with just Horford, Lou Williams and last year’s first-round pick John Jenkins. The Hawks do own the rights to restricted free agents Jeff Teague and Ivan Johnson, but have the option of not giving a qualifying offer.
The Hawks currently lack a point guard, a big man and perimeter shooters, but with a lot of money to spend, the Hawks will have the freedom to go after free agents such as Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala, Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson.
Ferry already chose his head coach in long-time Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer, so now it’s just a matter of selling his philosophy to free agents and allowing his draft picks time to develop and understand the new system. The Heat are the team to beat for now, but the Hawks may not be far behind.