Friday, August 12, 2005

I have to admit it's getting better

We're channeling the Beatles instead of G'n'R today (maybe "The Long and Winding Road" would have been better?) in light of the latest development in JoeJohnsonGate: David Stern has arrived to rescue the deal. Judge Gestel ruled against the majority of the Hawks' owners (hereinafter, "Owners who want to spend") on Tuesday and said that they needed approval of the NBA to remove Belkin as the team's representative on the Board of Governors. Stern has now filed an affidavit stating that the Owners who want to spend have the right to do so because Belkin's actions are material enough to trigger that right. This seemed fairly obvious to me from the outset: signing a player who would be the highest-paid player on the team by far seems like a pretty important action and one owner stopping that action from taking place seems like a pretty material action that legally binds the team. Anyway, it wasn't obvious to Judge Gestel, although something tells me that the result would have been different if the Celtics were the team acquiring the player (not that judges would ever let their personal preferences get in the way of interpreting the law.) Hopefully, the affidavit from David Stern, who has a law degree and rose from the position of corporate counsel to the commissioner's seat (see, lawyers can do productive things!), will be sufficient to get the injunction dissolved and we can all go on with our lives.

I'm something of an optimist, despite over two decades as an Atlanta sports fan, and this whole imbroglio could turn out to be a positive one for the Hawks. If it ends with Belkin getting neutered, then the net result is that everyone else in the organization will have bonded together against a common enemy. The players will view the remaining owners as willing to go to the mat for them to improve the team, especially Johnson because it will be clear to him that the Owners who want to spend were willing to fight Belkin in court to get him to Atlanta. Billy Knight ends up looking like a hero, helped in no small part by this photo:



And if the Owners who want to spend money succeed in buying out Belkin so he can cause no more mischief (a possibility that seems somewhat unlikely according to today's paper, although Belkin losing his injunction and being marginalized by the Owners who want to spend money would damage his bargaining position), then we could actually be confident in this ownership group going forward. In the end, if the Hawks end up with Joe Johnson and the whole episode brought to a head (and ultimately healed by amputation) the fissure in the group, then the franchise is better off and we can look forward to the coming years as an exciting time in which a young, athletic team will hopefully grown and improve together.

One pessimistic thought: John Hollinger, espn.com's NBA stathead, ranked the acquisition of Johnson as the second-worst off-season signing:

"Assuming this deal happens, it was bad enough for the Hawks to offer to pay Johnson roughly double what he's worth by giving him $14 million a year. It was bad enough that Atlanta's 'plan' involves Johnson playing the point full-time, even though he gets into the paint about as often as Shawn Kemp gets into a leotard. But the real kicker for me is that the Hawks are now willing to fork out two No. 1 picks to Phoenix for the right to overpay Johnson so badly. Johnson's numbers have been inflated by all the minutes he's played, but on a per-minute basis he's a pretty ordinary player."

A couple thoughts on this:

1. I'm somewhat leery of playing Johnson at the point, but his passing and assist numbers are pretty good in limited time at the position. Ultimately, he'll be best at the two with Salim Stoudemire at the one, assuming that Salim can occasionally beat defenders off the dribble. If not, he'd be a fine match with Tyronne Lue. The problem with playing Johnson at the two is that it bumps Josh Childress into the logjam at forward, increasing the necessity to trade Al Harrington for a one or a five.

2. Is it possible that he didn't drive much in Phoenix because his role was to be a set shooter? Seriously, why would the ball be in his hands when you're paying all that money to Steve Nash? He was certainly quick enough to get into the paint when he was in college.

3. The market clearly thinks that Johnson is worth the money since teams are lining up to pay him the max and trade with the Suns if the Hawks' deal falls through. Maybe they all watched Phoenix go in the tank once Johnson was injured in the playoffs.

4. Shouldn't his durability be a positive? Does John Hollinger need to talk to the Baseball Prospectus guys about this point?

1 comment:

peacedog said...

I wanted to follow up on some Elkon points about the Joe Johnson goings on:

1) We need to keep repeating this, though I don't know why. Harrington for a #1!

2) His job in phoenix was "defend/shoot". Rhetorically, why does he need to go to the hole when Nash/Stoudamire/Marion are there to do that?

Why does this move get criticized so quickly while this gets ignored? I mean, do we know we can't drive? Do we know he wouldn't be great shooting 20 footers? Does anybody remember what he did from the 3-point line last year? The Hawks go from no shooters to 1+ maybe another (stoudamire). That's not bad.

You can't criticize his points-per-minute numbers without context. Sports Guy actually did a good job with this and Darryl Gamble some years ago when he was with the Celts. Gamble played lots of minutes and it turns out put up average stats for a 3. However, Gamble was a much bigger part of that Celtics offense. JJ has a set role in the phoenix offense (see “shoot”). Gamble was counted on more by some pretty bad Celtics teams.

The question is “could JJ have been the true #1 option after Stoudamire?” Admittedly, we don't know. His output-per-minute doesn't answer that question.

3)The market can be wrong. I'll admit I have some concerns here. Serious ones. There's too much money chasing too few people – free agent contracts tend to get over valued as a result (not always, but often).

Also, these picks are lottery protected. If the deal doesn't pan out, the Hawks have problems. But the only pick they might lose next year is the Lakers – and I doubt that. I suspect the 1st year lottery protection will be higher than where the Lakers pick is actually valuable, and the hawks possess it. Now, they could still lose the pick (e.g. If its the 15th), but I am willing to role the dice.

Now, how protected is pick #2? That pick is in more danger because it doesn't come into question until two years from now I assume the same, but will it be a “lottery, 10, 8” deal or a “lottery 8 5” deal? In 3-4 years, the Hawks may well be good and be in a position where they could get help at, say, 21 and then not have the pick.

Still, you move Harrington and suddenly things are starting to take shape. Harrington should produce someone to play point at least part time or more picks to help compensate for the ones we give up here.

But the Hawks could be just pissing it all away. I'm nervous about it, but they have to try.

4) Zaza Pachulia lamasery here I come.