Monday, December 10, 2012
Atlanta Hawks: Ballin’ on a Budget
[Editor's Note: As Bret LaGree did last year on Hoopinion, I'm opening the floor at Rep ATL for contributions from anyone who has something well-reasoned and researched to say about the Atlanta Hawks. This blog exists so that I can say what I want to say about the Hawks when I have something to say. I didn't want to feel obligated to write about the Hawks every time they play, but I wanted the outlet.
This blog's first contribution from a writer outside myself comes from High-sider, a longtime pen pal and nemesis on the AJC Hawks blog. Hopefully we'll see more from High-sider in the future. If you have an idea for a feature or opinion piece about the Hawks, please hit me up at bgrizzard at gmail dot com so we can talk about it.]
Looking back at the preseason predictions of former Hawks coach Mike Fratello and former player Brevin Knight (both analysts for NBA TV), it’s hard to believe this Hawks squad is only 1.5 games out of first place in the Eastern Conference (with an opportunity to take sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division with a win tonight over the Miami Heat). Fratello and Knight agreed that the best case scenario for the Hawks this season would be to just barely make the playoffs. Fratello further added that, if the Hawks did make the 2013 NBA playoffs, Larry Drew should be named Coach of the Year. With the team winning despite a slashed payroll, led by a coach who has no salary guarantee beyond this season, the Hawks are turning heads while ballin' on a budget.
I wonder if Fratello knew how many Hawks die-hards have been calling for the termination of “Lame Duck,” as some [un]affectionately call him, for most of his tenure as head coach. In my opinion, it would be hard for Hawks management to justify to the national sports media the firing of an NBA head coach whose overall record is currently 96 – 69 (.582).
It has now become apparent that, in trading Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, new Hawks GM Danny Ferry was able to improve the team's future prospects without compromising its short-term potential. To be honest with you, I was skeptical and critical of the Ferry hire. I now see this team reaping early benefits from off-season moves when I didn't expect success to happen this soon. I expected the Hawks to take several steps back (at least this season) before the team improved.
Even though he’s somewhat of a ball-stopper, Johnson did lead the Hawks to four consecutive playoff appearances while making six All-Star teams for a Hawks squad that had been a stranger to the playoffs. I thought replacing Johnson would leave not just a big hole for the Hawks at the shooting guard position, but a deep chasm.
So, you’re probably asking: What does this have to do with the Hawks ballin’ on a budget? Well, let’s look at where this Atlanta Hawks team ranks in terms of 2012-13 team payroll and take a look at the top 20 NBA players’ salaries.
Except for the Spurs, Thunder, Grizzlies, Knicks and Heat, this Hawks team currently has a better winning percentage than all other NBA teams. Furthermore, this Hawks team has already defeated the Thunder, Grizzlies and Clippers this season. Moreover, Atlanta doesn't have a player on its roster in the top 30 in terms of salary, and yet this group is still within two games of 1st place in the Eastern Conference. Without going into too much detail, I’m pretty sure that Hawks management is getting Drew at a bargain for “only” – and I use that term loosely – about $1.3 million dollars per year. Now, that’s what I call “winning on the cheap.”
Can the Hawks keep up its winning ways with this budget-conscious methodology? I don’t know, but I’m sure time will tell. For now, when I examine the high-profile Los Angeles Lakers, its monumental cash outlays for personnel, its 9-12 record and current 11th place position in the Western Conference, I begin to realize that money can’t buy you everything, even in the NBA.