For those of you who worried that the Hawks' strong showing in the playoffs would mean a lack of changes in the team's management in the off-season, fret no longer: Billy Knight has resigned. I have no inside information as to whether this was Knight's decision. If you asked me to speculate, I'd guess that Knight interpreted ownership's refusal to let him fire Mike Woodson as a vote of no confidence and elected to leave. It will be critical for ownership to replace Knight quickly because the team has some major decisions to make in terms of re-signing Josh Smith and Josh Childress.
Now that the book has closed on the Knight era, we can take a step back and evaluate his best and worst decisions.
1. Drafting Josh Smith with the #17 pick in the Draft. There's no way to get around it: getting a borderline all-star with a unique skill set outside of the lottery is a coup. The full value of this pick will be determined by whether Smith continues to round out his game (read: develop a slightly better handle and a more reliable jumper). And add in the fact that Smith is a local product, which makes him more exciting to the fan base.
2. Trading for Joe Johnson. At the end of the day, the Hawks gave up Boris Diaw, who had all of one good season in Phoenix before porking up, and two non-lottery first round picks. Knight was lucky that the lottery balls went the Hawks way last year, but in the final analysis, Knight acquired the lead scorer that the young players on the team desperately needed. The growth of the young players on the team would have been set back if they didn't have a primary scoring option to create open looks for them. For instance, Marvin Williams would be close to useless if defensive attention to Joe Johnson didn't create consistent open jumpers on the weak side of the court.
3. Signing Zaza Pachulia. This signing didn't look as good this year when Pachulia had given up on Mike Woodson and wasn't playing hard, but in 2005, the Hawks had a center getting them 12 points and eight boards per game for $4M. That's an absolute steal in the NBA. The Pachulia signing actually highlights an overall trait of Knight's that did not get enough attention: he avoided bad signings. The Hawks' playoff drought was as long as it was because Pete Babcock short-circuited the rebuilding process by putting together the Abdur-Rahim/Big Dog/Ratliff disaster of a team. He should have kept building young players through the Draft the way that Chicago did. Knight resisted the urge to cash in his good young players for "established veterans." He also resisted the urge to give huge deals to players like Eddy Curry and Samuel Dalembert when the conventional wisdom was that the Hawks desperately needed a center. Knight instead signed Zaza and got production close to what Curry and Dalembert created (at least initially) for a fraction of the cost.
(Note: I don't include the Al Horford draft pick because it seemed somewhat obvious at the time. Needless to say, I think that was also a good move.)
1. Drafting Marvin Williams. That pick is going to torture me every time I see Chris Paul play. This pick will be Knight's epitaph as the Hawks' GM, obscuring the fact that Knight did build a good roster.
2. Drafting Shelden Williams. Could the lesson be that Duke and Carolina players are overrated? Or at least Duke and Carolina players named "Williams?" I sure wasn't a fan of Jay Williams or Scott Williams.
3. Signing Speedy Claxton. Knight was a little unlucky that Speedy went from slightly brittle to totally broken, but this was a signing that proved to be an utter disaster. The Hawks' lack of depth can be attributed to decisions like this.