Friday, July 18, 2008

I Come not to Bury Atlanta Spirit, but to Praise them

My greatest fear for the Hawks' off-season was the following: Atlanta Spirit is too cheap to pay for a coaching upgrade over Mike Woodson, so they keep Woodson and that decision is the last straw that causes Josh Smith to bolt. Part one of the scenario came true, but it's looking like management's decision not to break the bank for Smith is going to pay off. Rather than lavishing Smith with a massive contract, they instead left him to his own devices, knowing that the Hawks would have a chance to match any offer. They let the market set Smith's value and right now, that value doesn't appear to be too high. It's not that the rest of the NBA sees Smith as being an overrated player. Rather, Atlanta Spirit's decision has paid off because there are few teams with cap space to make a serious play for Smith and those teams preferred to go after unrestricted free agents as opposed to having their cap space in limbo for a week after signing Smith, a restricted free agent, to an offer sheet. There is some risk to the "f*** you" pair of moves (retaining Woodson and then not signing Smith) in that Josh might pull a Cristiano Ronaldo a demand a move, but right now, the hardball approach appears to have worked.

Atlanta Spirit's approach could not be any different than that of Arthur Blank's. While Atlanta Spirit is letting the market dictate Josh Smith's salary, Blank fell all over himself to lavish Matt Ryan with a contract so outlandish that it made Ryan the poster child for overpaid NFL rookies. This analogy isn't perfect because Ryan couldn't go to any other teams, whereas Josh Smith theoretically can, but the approach taken by the two different owners is illustrative. For my money, the only reason why Blank is seen as a better owner than Atlanta Spirit is because he's much better at public relations. OK, there's also the fact that he spends more money than Atlanta Spirit, but that spendthrift trait is a negative in a sport with a hard salary cap.

Speaking of Blank, the chapter on the Falcons in the 2008 Pro Football Prospectus takes a number of shots at Blank for mismanaging the team. The opening two paragraphs are an outstanding summary of the perfect storm that hit the team last year. The piece then goes into Blank's love affair with Vick, his willingness to go after Pete Carroll after another college coach just bombed, and his generally overbearing approach in a field in which he lacks expertise. The piece concludes by guessing that Blank will make Ryan the centerpiece of the team's marketing efforts (after all, he's the FACE OF THE FRANCHISE) and thus, the Falcons will rush Ryan onto the field before he's ready and before they've assembled a decent supporting cast for him.

As I was reading the chapter on the Falcons, I was wondering how much money I'd pay to hear Steak Shapiro read it on the air. Could he make it through three pages ripping on Arthur Blank?


Anonymous said...

Michael- are you implying that Shapiro has had no critical words for Blank or the Falcons?

C'mon man! I know if you listen to Mayhem as much as I do, there is nobody that takes more pleasure in comparing successful Boston teams to struggling Atlanta teams more than Shapiro. He loves throwing Blank and the Falcons under the bus.

Michael said...

I haven't listened to Mayhem in quite a while. I'm really off of sports talk radio right now. At a certain point, ten minutes of programming every 20 wears me thin. As for Steak, I'm sure he's happy to criticize the Falcons, but last I checked, he's very defensive towards Arthur Blank, or at least he was when people suggested that he wasn't going to give Dimitroff free rein. He was also fully onboard with the Ryan pick.