Sunday, February 17, 2008

All Hail Billy Knight

When I first saw the headline that the Hawks had acquired Mike Bibby to solve their long-standing weakness at the point guard position, I assumed that they had given up Josh Childress to make the deal happen. It never occurred to me in my wildest dreams that the Hawks would have traded for Bibby while only giving up a pupu platter of spare parts. This is literally the sort of trade that gets suggested by unrealistic sports talk radio callers, the sort of trade where a team gets a quality asset and only gives up parts that it doesn't need or use. The Hawks had a glut of back-up point guards. Now, they have dealt two of those point guards away (Tyronne Lue and Anthony Johnson), along with Lorenzen Wright, who is literally one of the worst players in the NBA, and Shelden Williams, who is pretty much stuck with the bust tag at this stage. In other words, the Hawks gave up nothing but fungible pieces to get a quality point guard.

Despite a few missteps along the way, it's now safe to say that Billy Knight's job of rebuilding the Hawks is complete. He started by blowing the Terry-Rahim-Ratliff team up during and after the '03-'04 season. He's been very patient, letting the team struggle so he could acquire good draft picks. He made one major free agent signing (Joe Johnson). Now, the team has a roster that can be described as very good, at least by Eastern Conference standards: Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Al Horford as the starters, with Josh Childress, Acie Law, and Zaza Pachulia as the primary reserves. Knight definitely made some significant mistakes along the way (Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, Speedy Claxton, I'm hearing you on all of them), but in the end, he's put together a good roster. He needs to be credited for his patience. He didn't panic by making bad signings of expensive free agents (remember when everyone wanted him to overpay for Sam Dalembert or Eddy Curry?) and he didn't offload his young players. He bided his time and then struck when a rebuilding franchise was giving up its best asset for pennies on the dollar. Now, the Hawks have a good roster and if they just keep it together, the team will get better as the young players mature.

Bibby ought to have some significant effects on this team. The Hawks finally have a point guard who can break down a defense and distribute the ball. Bibby isn't a huge assist-producer, but he can get to the basket and score, which will be helpful for this team. He's having a pretty poor year this year, hopefully because of injuries and a poor supporting cast. If that's the case, then we can expect a Bibby resurgence when he gets to Atlanta. Personally, I think that Josh Childress has always been the Hawk who stands to benefit the most from playing with a quality point guard, as he is the best player on the team at moving without the ball and finishing at the rim. Joe Johnson also stands to benefit, as he has been carrying way too much of a load and has been wearing down as a result. Bibby gives the Hawks a second option at crunch time. He also gives the Hawks a good three-point shooter that they sorely lacked to punish opponents for doubling.

I've been snowed under at work recently, as you may have noticed from the lack of posting this month, but if I wouldn't have written about the Hawks last weekend, it would have been to say that I reached my breaking point with them last weekend. They played from behind the entire game against Cleveland and then promptly got annihilated by Houston. I had given up on the team by Saturday night. The games this week did nothing to improve my mood. Case in point was the Detroit game on Tuesday night, which featured Joe Johnson throwing a shot up with his back to the basket on a critical late possession, followed by a collapse in Charlotte against the lowly Bobcats the next night. This team has a chronic inability to score on critical possessions because they have nothing approaching a coherent offensive structure and they end up giving the ball to Joe Johnson on iso plays, despite the fact that he's not very good at beating opponents off the dribble. The Bibby trade solves some of these problems, as it gives the Hawks a one-on-one option for the end of games. It does not solve the problem that the past six weeks have given me serious reservations about Mike Woodson's ability to coach these players. I feel good about the team now because Bibby can cover some of Woodson's failings, but I'd feel better with Larry Brown in charge.

The reaction to the trade has been positive around the Internet. The trade gets the Jeff Schultz seal of approval, although his reasoning appears to be "Billy Knight did something," which is pretty weak because plenty of general managers make frequent moves and don't make their teams any better. (See: Thomas, Isiah.) Columnists like constant motion because it gives them topics for copy, but it's not inherently good. Sekou Smith gets this point:

Keeping the core in place is just another byproduct of shrewd dealing, because the Hawks fielded calls from all over the league for guys like Josh Smith, Josh Childress and Marvin Williams. Some of us (yeah, I’m guilty, too) would have buckled and sent one of them packing for something much less than Bibby, for the sake of change.

Knight, love him or hate him, has never been accused of being a conformist. He did it his way and smoked the competition, snatching Bibby away while the rest of the league was focused on Jason Kidd and the other blockbuster deals involving Pau Gasol and Shaquille O’Neal.

Marty Burns approves and points out that acquiring Bibby counters the image of the Hawks' ownership group as being totally unwilling to spend money. I'll admit that this is a major relief to me, as there was a gnawing fear in the back of my mind that Atlanta Spirit was unable, either because of financial reasons or Belkinkampf, to spend money on the team and that we were going to let go of one or both of the Joshes at the end of the season as a result. That fear is gone, although there could be a concern that spending $14.5M on Bibby next year will make the owners less likely to spend to keep the Joshes. Marc Stein points out that Lebron can't be happy about this development. He also makes the cautionary point that Bibby might struggle now that he's not playing off of a passing big man like Brad Miller. John Hollinger($) quantifies Bibby's effect at about six games over the course of an 82-game season or two games over the rest of the season, which might be enough to get to the playoffs. That doesn't take into account the fact that Bibby can make the rest of the team better, so there is some rationality to the "Bibby as messiah" euphoria that I had when I first heard about the trade. Then again, I remember the euphoria when the Braves traded for Mark Teixeira this summer and the Braves finished third, exactly where they would have been without Mark (although Teixeira played beautifully for the Braves after the trade). We are embarking on a bit of a leap of faith that the Bibby of this season, who is averaging a pedestrian 13/5 on .406 shooting, will improve once he gets here. At this stage, I'm quite happy to make a leap of faith. With the Hawks finally having a legitimate point guard and after a great dunk contest last night, I'm a satisfied NBA fan this morning.


Fox said...

You're right to be happy--it's a step in the right direction for the Hawk. Only quibble is that you make it sound like Knight stole Bibby, which is not the case. All the guys the Hawks gave up have expiring contracts so Petrie decided that he'd rather have $14 mil or whatever in cap space than Bibby. That's not crazy since the Kings had no hope of the playoffs and needed to rebuild anyway.

Michael said...

The Hawks did steal Bibby in terms of not giving anything up. The only negative from their perspective is that Bibby is expensive next season, but if he plays well, then he's worth the money. I doubt that the Hawks were going to go after free agents this summer. They have less flexibility now in terms of making deals for other players, but point guard was their weakness and I doubt that a better option was going to come along than Bibby for the pupu platter.

Fox said...

Oh, absolutely. I was just nitpicking that your post made it sound like the Hawks fleeced the Kings. I'm pretty sure Petrie knew what he was doing even if he probably thought he was going to get more at the beginning of the year.

Anonymous said...

Bibby = fool's gold. Takes, and misses, a lot of shots, isn't that great of a distributor, and is suspect in the leadership department. He's just good enough to elevate your team into the dreaded no-man's land between the lottery and the second round of the playoffs.

jjwalker said...

Yeah, I think the key is that Bibby doesn't have a long term deal--if he did, I'd be somewhat leery. This way is perfect, you get Bibby for the stretch run of this season and all of next, and by that time you have a much better feel for where Josh Smith--and to a lesser extent Horford and Williams--are going to top out.

As it stands, you don't have a good enough roster to challenge the Eastern Conference top dogs--but that's as is, you still have those major wild cards in Smith, Horford and Williams. If Josh Smith goes from very good player to true superstar, well, now we're talking, now having a quality veteran PG like Mike Bibby makes a lot of sense, even if you have to overpay for the privilege. If Smith doesn't elevate his game in the next season and a half, then you let Bibby leave as a free agent and start thinking about next steps.

Bibby definitely isn't the player who's going to take you to the promised land, but he might be a vital cog in a *team* that's good enough, depending on how your young guys pan out. And if they don't, you're off the hook with Bibby in two years (and can probably even deal him for a quality young player from a Cleveland or Miami in the middle of next season).

Get said...

Does anybody know the structure of the rookie scale for pretty much everyone on our team? Are Childress and JSmith restricted free agents after this year and unrestricted next year? Does the same deal apply to Marvin?

I know there was a new CBA somewhere in the last few years that changed all that up...but having to pay Smith (likely) max money, followed by hefty deals for Childress/Marvin could mean we're losing one of these guys just as this core can really start to come together.

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