Wednesday, December 20, 2006

We Learn Two Things about Terrence Moore this Morning

1. He is capable of criticizing an African-American sports figure. For years, Braves fans noticed Moore criticizing certain players, typically Caucasian, and advocating for others, typically African-American. This morning, he's doing his inept best to rip Billy Knight, the one African-American general manager in town. I suppose one can come back with the argument that what he's doing is sticking up for Mike Woodson, the one African-American coach in town, by arguing that he doesn't have much to work with, but that seems unlikely to me. So kudos to Terrence for disproving a stereotype about his opinions.

2. Terrence still can't make an argument worth a damn.

Here's his effort at examining Billy Knight's record as Hawks' GM:

To see how far the Hawks haven’t come during their journey from self-inflicted implosion to wherever their slew of bosses say this franchise is headed, just study the other guys Wednesday night at Philips Arena.

After doing so, you’re allowed to scream as loudly as you wish.

Those other guys are the Utah Jazz. In 2003, the year before Hawks general manager Billy Knight did the right thing by blowing up the messy roster that he inherited, the Jazz prepared to go from sweet to sour notes on the court after the retirement of John Stockton and the departure of Karl Malone. If you combine those losses to the Jazz’s stated goal of rebuilding, you had their version of Knight ousting the likes of Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Jason Terry, Boris Diaw, Antoine Walker, Rasheed Wallace, Theo Ratliff and Al Harrington.

We're OK so far...

The thing is, while the Hawks are now closer to the cellar than the penthouse of the Southeast Division with the NBA’s worst overall roster not in Philadelphia, the Jazz are roaring among the elite at 18-7. Not only that, the Jazz have a three-game lead in the Northwest and a future as bright as the Hawks’ is cloudy.

And now we've completely blown it. The Hawks' roster isn't anywhere near the bottom of the NBA. What GM in his right mind would take the Knicks' roster, laden with similar players possessing untradeable contracts, over the Hawks', which has a number of promising young players and is cheap enough that the team has flexibility to go after free agents when the opportunity arises? Or take Minnesota's roster, which has one aging superstar, one promising young player, and then a series of dreadful players. I was hoping that Minnesota could trade for Iverson because Iverson and Garnett are two players who have never had the benefit of playing with another superstar and they deserve the chance to play with one another, but the Wolves had virtually nothing that interested the Sixers.

Why the contrast? Well, here are the CliffsNotes: The Jazz get it right more often than not when it comes to drafting, and the Hawks don’t. You also have that gambling thing. The Jazz aren’t afraid to seek the big payoff at the roulette wheel (Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer), and Knight prefers the nickel slots (Speedy Claxton and Lorenzen Wright).

This is just unbelievably wrong. Maybe Bobby Knight is right about journalists? First of all, Knight did sign one big ticket free agent during his tenure. You might have heard of this Joe Johnson fellow, Terrence. He's currently 5th in the NBA in scoring while shooting 50% from the field. Second, Carlos Boozer was viewed as a complete bust for his first two years in Utah, when he was overpaid, could not stay healthy, and was an essentially decent power forward when he was on the court. The fact that he's having a renaissance this year does not change the fact that if Moore was in Utah, he would have killed that franchise for two years for lavishing so much money on Boozer. Third, the fact that Utah has signed two big ticket free agents who, in Terrence's make-believe world, were great signings does not change the fact that the NBA's free agent market, like baseball, consists of players who typically get far more than they're worth. Remember when Knight was killed in the press for failing to acquire Sam Dalembert, Tyson Chandler, or Eddy Curry? Right now, the Hawks get equivalent production from the much cheaper Zaza Pachulia, while the Sixers can't offload Dalembert, the Bulls have offloaded Chandler, and Curry was a massive disappointment in New York last year. (He is playing better this year.)

To be fair, the Jazz had a shot to build walls and a roof around a solid foundation named Andrei Kirilenko. It’s just that the Jazz also had the guts and the wisdom to add paneling by giving $50 million to Okur and $68 million to Boozer as free agents. Now the three comprise one of the league’s most potent frontcourts.

In contrast, the Hawks don’t have one of the league’s most potent anything. Knight is so obsessed with not overspending on players that only the Charlotte Bobcats have a lower payroll than the Hawks’ $45.6 million. Plus, the Hawks are nearly $8 million under the salary cap, which means they have the money. They just don’t like to spend it.

See above. Knight has refused to spend money on free agents who tend to be massively overpaid. The one big ticket free agent that he signed has turned out to be better than any of us had hoped. Additionally, the Hawks have the young players and cap room to sign a free agent if a good one becomes available, but even if they don't, the Hawks have an extremely young team that should get better and better as time goes by. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that approach. For example, that's how the Bulls built their team and they only went after a pricy free agent (Ben Wallace) once they had assembled a young core and it had started winning. But since Utah is in town tonight, the Bulls don't exist.

It shows. Beyond Joe Johnson, the Hawks’ only legitimate star, at least five of their 12 players are marginal by NBA standards. Royal Ivey. Matt Freije. Cedric Bozeman. Esteban Batista. Solomon Jones. The Hawks also haven’t a starting point guard (again). Instead, they use a couple of career backups in Tyronn Lue and Claxton in that role. Josh Smith remains a project, and several of his teammates are constant reminders of what the Hawks should have done in past drafts but didn’t.

Here's the bottom of the Jazz's roster; let me know if any of these names are synonymous with "good":

Rafael Araujo
Jarron Collins
Derek Fisher
C.J. Miles
Roger Powell

As for the starting point guard issue, the Hawks brought Speedy Claxton in to be that guy. He's been hurt for much of the start of the year, so writing him off seems silly. This weekend, for instance, he had 10 points and 11 assists against the Bulls and 19 points and 11 assists against Memphis. Not bad for "not a starting point guard." Finally, the criticism of Josh Smith is interesting, since Knight took him with the #17 pick and Smith has significantly out-performed his draft position so far in his career. Ironically enough, Utah had the #14 and #16 picks in that Draft and came away with Kris Humphries and Kirk Snyder. Humphries is currently averaging 2.7 points per game for Toronto; Snyder is currently averaging 5.7 points per game for Houston. Billy sure screwed that pick up.

For instance: The Hawks made Shelden Williams the fifth pick in this year’s draft, and he has yet to impress. In fact, he has yet to do anything worth mentioning. That’s opposed to Rudy Gay, just named the Rookie of the Month in the Western Conference. He was picked in the draft by the Memphis Grizzlies — you know, right after the Hawks picked Williams.

Rudy Gay - 15.2 points per 40 minutes, 6.9 rebounds per 40 minutes, .385 FG%

Shelden Williams - 10.9 points per 40 minutes, 10.3 rebounds per 40 minutes, .435 FG%

And that leaves aside the facts that: (1) the Hawks could not take Gay with their existing roster; (2) I don't recall Terrence Moore screaming for Gay on Draft Night, so this smacks of "let me figure out which rookie is off to a fast start and rip the Hawks for not drafting him; and (3) judging draft picks on the basis of their first 20 games is typically a terrible idea. At this time last year, the Jazz were getting killed in the press for taking Deron Williams instead of Chris Paul.

Then there was the 2004 draft near the start of the Hawks’ rebuilding. They took Josh Childress, which was OK, when they could have selected from among Luol Deng, Al Jefferson and Andre Iguodala, which would have been better.

Childress, by either the model or the Wages of Wins model, is an extremely valuable player. He defends well, he rebounds, he moves without the ball, and he shoots at a very high percentage (.567 this year before he got hurt; .552 last year). The Hawks' stumble after a fast start can be attributed pretty closely to Childress's hairline fracture. If the Hawks start playing well when Childress returns, you think we'll see Terrence Moore acknowledge his mistake? I'll expect that right after he acknowledges that trading for Juan Pierre might have been a bit of a boo boo last year for the Braves.

No, I didn’t forget about 2005. I saved that draft for last. That’s when the Hawks took Marvin Williams instead of Chris Paul, the starting point guard that they still need and the former Wake Forest whiz who eventually was named Rookie of the Year for the New Orleans Hornets. Anyway, the Hawks also skipped over somebody else in that draft. We’re talking about Deron Williams, among the league’s most efficient point guards, and guess who was omniscient enough to get him?

The same team whose omniscience caused them to take Kris Humphries and Kirk Snyder in the 2004 Draft.

If you mentioned the Jazz, you may scream a little louder.

That said, the Hawks still have a chance to get it right. Come this summer, you’ll have stellar point guards Chauncey Billups and Mike Bibby as free agents. You’ll also have Vince Carter, Darko Milicic, Gerald Wallace and Rashad Lewis, all considerable talents, all available at the right price to turn the Hawks into something in the vicinity of the Jazz. Or at least farther away from resembling the Hawks.

Billups and Bibby would be interesting, but we'd have to see if they wanted to play for Atlanta. Rashard (that's with two "r"s, Terrence) Lewis would be interesting if he could play the four, but he'd likely add to the logjam at the forward spots. Still, he's an excellent player, so I wouldn't be totally opposed to signing him. Vince Carter is an inferior version of Joe Johnson: a scorer who doesn't get to the line that much, only Vince shoots a signficantly lower percentage and is also an insufferable ass. What is it about Darko's 7.5 ppg that makes him so appealing? Gerald Wallace is a small forward and no improvement over Josh Smith. He'd likely sit on the pine behind Smith, Childress, and Marvin Williams, so yeah, Terrence, that would be a great idea, just like everything else you've advanced in this totally unsupported, worst form of Monday Morning Quarterbacking that you call your livelihood.

Look, if the point is that Utah has rebuilt faster than Atlanta and we all wish that the Hawks looked like the Jazz right now, then yes, that would be reasonable. If you want to criticize Billy Knight for taking Marvin Williams over Deron Williams or Chris Paul, then that's fine too. Marvin might turn out to be a great player and that will lessen the magnitude of the mistake, but Knight still passed on a chance at two excellent players at a hard-to-fill position for an excellent (we hope) player at an easier to fill position. If the Hawks don't show improvement this year (35 wins or so) or don't make the playoffs next year, then Billy Knight will likely be fired for that mistake. (Or, the Hawks' owners could lose in Belkinkampf! Scheisse! and then Knight will be gone the next morning.)

That said, Knight has made some excellent decisions, namely: (1) identifying Joe Johnson as a free agent target and overpaying to get him; (2) drafting Josh Smith 17th in the 2004 Draft; and (3) signing Zaza Pachulia at a very reasonable price while passing on a number of free agent centers who turned out not to be worth the contracts that they signed. I'd probably add drafting Josh Childress to the list of successes, as he's really won me over. In making a limited point, Moore completely loses the plot and makes a series of one-sided arguments with little or no basis. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.


Anonymous said...

Terrence Moore epitomizes why so many people are shunning the MSM in favor of the blogosphere.

Factual errors, poor analysis, revisionist history, hasty generalizations, bizarre interpretations of reality, etc. And it's all done to sell papers and generate controversy where little, if any, exists.

He's paid to be an expert - and treated deferentially by ESPN and other media outlets - but he can't even construct a coherent, rational argument. What a jackass.

Anonymous said...

Fisking Terence Moore. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel.

Moore's recent column on the Alabama coaching search ( is my current favorite of his, simply because it's so utterly predictable.

Consistency... hobgoblin... little minds.

jjwalker said...

Great post, I completely agree with your critique.

Simply put, it's way too early to know if Knight's done a good job or not--Smith, Pachulia, Childress, and both the Williamses are all 23 or under, with superstar-in-the-making Joe Johnson the village elder at 25. In 2-3 years, we could be talking about a great team...or we could be talking about a group of high-profile busts. Until then, we just can't render a verdict.

It's a rebuilding effort. You can't make a call on a rebuilding effort until everybody grows up and you see what you have. Rebuilding doesn't mean getting Kobe, Wade and Lebron, it means getting a bunch of young, unproven guys and hoping their potential pans out. Sometimes it does and you get Boozer and Williams, sometimes it doesn't and you get Dujuan Wagner and Luke Jackson.

I look at the Hawks roster and see a lot to like. There's a no-BS superstar, there are promising young big men, there are hyper-athletic forwards, and there's literally not a single bad contract in the bunch. Half the teams in the league would trade their rosters for Atlanta's straight up.

No need to panic, there's plenty of time to see how these guys pan out. Give it at least two more years and see where you stand. If Marvin Williams and Josh Smith are still inconsistent, turnover machine, 13 ppg guys in 3 years, then you have a problem--but they're 20 and 21 respectively, it's just *way* too early to write them off as busts. If either of their names had been bandied about in the Iverson talks, Billy King would've torn a muscle sprinting to the phone to make a deal.

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