The Atlanta Hawks will be watching Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets closely--they own their No. 1 pick next summer. (Photo by LolitaLens/Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Can Atlanta Hawks Make The Playoffs, And Get A Top Draft Pick?

When Danny Ferry took over as the General Manager of the Atlanta Hawks back in June of 2012, he faced a whole host of challenges. The previous GM Rick Sund had spent four years at the helm, helping the team to become a regular fixture in the playoffs, but not much else. Ferry was left with a number of unappealing contracts, as Sund had been overly generous in rewarding a number of players, who had regularly fallen at the first hurdle. Bloggers, journalists and fans alike, all hypothesized about ways that the team could be improved, but there were two contracts that no one believed could possibly be moved. Ferry not only proved this thinking wrong in his first week, but made a deal that could yet prove to be one of the biggest masterstrokes in NBA history.

Marvin Williams

Marvin Williams, who failed to meet expectations, during his time as a Hawk. (Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr)

Firstly, there was Marvin Williams. Williams, the former North Carolina man, will forever be remembered as the man Atlanta drafted with the 2nd overall pick in 2005. In doing so, they passed over Deron Williams and Chris Paul, two franchise changing point guards who were picked 3rd and 4th respectively. With hindsight it has become one of the biggest draft busts in recent years, and leaves Hawks fans wondering, what if? Williams himself wasn’t terrible, and still isn’t to this day, instead though he is the sort of solid role player you’d look to contribute off the bench. The Hawks gave him every chance though, keeping faith for 7 years, including Sund giving him a pay rise. By the time Ferry inherited the GM’s office in Atlanta, Williams was due to be payed $8.3 million for the upcoming season. Instead, he was traded to Utah in exchange for the underrated Devin Harris and his expiring contract.

The biggest contract that Ferry was saddled with was Joe Johnson though. “Iso Joe”, as he’s nicknamed for his love of holding the ball and going one on one, was, and is, undoubtedly a very good player and a regular feature in the All-Star game. Is he good enough to be the fourth highest paid player in the NBA? Definitely not. Johnson signed a deal with the Hawks that meant by the time he turns 34 in 2015, he will be earning just under $25 million a year. In other words, exactly the type of contract which cripples franchises for years to come. Somehow, Ferry found a taker for Johnson in the Brooklyn Nets.

Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson in action as a Net against his former team. (Photo Credit: Mark Runyon, Basketball Schedule, Flickr.)

The Nets, who had just relocated and re-branded, were determined to bring in the caliber of player that could ready their team for quick success and therefore ready to clear out to add firepower. In return for Johnson, Brooklyn GM Billy Knight sent the expiring contracts of Jordan Farmar, DeShawn Stevenson, Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro and Jordan Williams to Atlanta. On top of this, there were draft picks for 2013 (first round) and 2017 (second round). The part of the deal that was widely ignored at the time, has become by far the most intriguing though. As part of the deal, Atlanta was given the option to swap their pick with Brooklyn’s for this season’s draft and next year’s. Coming into this season, not many people would have predicted that this option would give the Hawks much joy, but with the Nets abysmal start to the season, things have started to get interesting.

The additions of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Andrei Kirilenko to a team that had already won 49 games last season, had many tipping the Nets to be a title contender this year, but there was also going to be potential for disaster. The Nets have put together a team filled with great players, but are learning the hard way, at least early on, that that doesn’t necessarily make a great team. At the moment, at 4-11, they find themselves deep in the basement of the Eastern Conference. Currently, they are starting five extremely talented players, who want and need the ball to be at their most effective. Pierce and Johnson both like to go one on one, and dribble the ball in the half court to set up plays. Garnett and Brook Lopez want the ball inside to be able to score in and around the paint. And with those four calling for the ball, there is very little opportunity for Deron Williams to play his game from the point. Add into the mix, a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd, and there are a lot of challenges lying in wait for Brooklyn.

Deron Williams

Jeff Teague guarding Deron Williams, one of the men who could have been taken ahead of Marvin Williams in the 2005 Draft. (Photo Credit: Mark Runyon, Basketball Schedule, Flickr.)

On the other hand, the Hawks have made a steady and reliable start to the season under new head coach Mike Budenholzer. The Hawks stand at 8-8, in the 3rd spot in the East despite losing 4 games they had a great chance to win. Narrow losses to the Lakers, Nuggets and more recently the Celtics and Magic, have provided a blemish on what would otherwise have been an outstanding start. In the Celtics and Magic games in particular, the Hawks surrendered comfortable leads, self destructing in the 3rd and 4th quarters. This is all part of the teething process of learning a new system and developing a “culture” within the organization, and as the season progresses you’d expect these issues to be ironed out. Either way, with the East as bad as it is, it looks almost certain that the Hawks won’t be finding themselves in the lottery next summer.

The truth is, the Nets have to get better as the season goes on. They’ve suffered because of injuries in these early stages, and it will take time for the roster to gel, and the players to get to know their roles. Players of the caliber that they have, will have too much professional pride to let this slide continue without a fight though. Yet, stranger things have happened, and if it all goes wrong in Brooklyn, Atlanta will gladly benefit, Even if the Nets struggled, and just made the playoffs, before making an early exit, who’s to say that Garnett and Pierce wouldn’t decide to call it a day before damaging their legacies? If that was the case, the Nets pick from next year could become a major talking point. As it stands, with things not going to plan in Brooklyn, Danny Ferry’s looking more and more clever by the day.

So, for the next two seasons, Hawks fans second favorite team will be: whoever is playing the Brooklyn Nets.

Tags: Anthony Morrow Atlanta Hawks Billy Knight Brook Lopez Brooklyn Nets Chris Paul Danny Ferry Deron Williams Deshawn Stevenson Devin Harris Draft Hawks Joe Johnson Johan Petro Jordan Farmar Jordan Williams Kevin Garnett Marvin Williams Nets Paul Pierce Rick Sund

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