Friday, August 05, 2005
"I am not a committee!"
So says our beloved leader Steve Belkin from his perch in Boston. Rather than defer to the judgment of the other owners and investors of the team, he's done what any self-respecting American would have done: sue his partners.
A little legal background: Belkin obtained a temporary restraining order, which is just that: temporary. TROs are often granted without notice to the other side, or at least with minimal notice. In other words, Belkin's lawyers had time to draft a complaint and a motion for a TRO, while the lawyers for the rest of Atlanta Spirit LLC did not know what was coming. On the other hand, it's possible that the other owners had a good idea that Belkin was about to haul them into court, in which case they should have been prepared. If they were and they still lost, then that's a worrying sign because it means that Belkin is either standing on firm legal ground or has found a sympathetic judge. Anyway, there'll be an injunction hearing on Tuesday and that's where the matter will be decided because the judge will be deciding whether the TRO should be extended throughout the discovery phase of the litigation, which will last beyond the NBA free agent signing period. The legal issue will come down to the NBA's rules on removing individuals from the Board of Governors and/or the Atlanta Spirit LLC's operating agreement's provisions on the same subject. It sounds from the AJC article that the other owners can remove Belkin if he takes an action against the wishes of the rest of ownership, so the question becomes whether this is that sort of decision.
The article details Belkin's beef with the deal and it makes it clear that he was OK with signing Johnson, but he isn't OK with giving up Boris Diaw and two first round picks. He's not absolved from the fact that he should have stopped the deal at the outset if he felt that way, although it's possible that Billy Knight was being pulled in two different directions and decided to listen to the majority of the owners when they told him to make the deal.
Belkin does have a point in the sense that the Hawks are giving up a lot, especially if the Suns weren't going to match the contract offer anyway. (An interesting development would be if the deal falls through and the Hawks still sign Johnson, calling the Suns' bluff. On the other hand, if Johnson hasn't formally signed anything, then another team could come in, sign him, and offer the Suns a similar package of players and/or picks.) He could argue that he has the long-term interests of the team in mind and if the rebuilding project doesn't go well, then the team could ultimately end up giving lottery picks to the Suns in several years. Billy Knight knows that he won't be around in several years if the rebuilding project doesn't work, so he has no incentive not to make this deal. I'd really like to know the particulars of the draft picks given up by the Hawks and no one has printed the details yet. I assume that one of the picks is the first rounder from the Lakers, which, assuming the Lakers make the playoffs as a low seed in the West this year, would be between 15 and 20. I don't know what the timing is on the other pick. How long do the lottery protections change into mere top three protections? Sekou, where are you?
All that said, Belkin is still being penny-wise and pound-foolish. At this stage, given the hit that the Hawks will take with future free agents and their own fan base, they can't back away from the deal. Belkin, by dividing the team's ownership and embarrassing his GM, has damaged the franchise for which he paid millions. All of this because he's worried about future draft picks? One can't help but get the sense that Belkin is a schmuck. He mouthed off during the NHL Lockout about using replacement players, a useless idea that served only to further antagonize all involved and garner him a $250,000 fine. He's had problems getting along with the rest of the owners before. Now, he's reached a stand-off with his GM and fellow owners and brought a legal action, which is embarrassing and makes resolution of the matter less likely.
Yup, I'm a season ticket holder for this team.