The Atlanta Hawks are slipping in the Eastern Conference standings with their 4-8 record in the last 12 games.
Though a fifth straight playoff appearance is likely, the Hawks are still in good position to score the summer's hottest free agents: Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard and Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul.
When general manager Danny Ferry traded Joe Johnson last summer, he freed up $90 million in cap space. Within a day, rumors were a-churnin’ about the Hawks seeking a blockbuster deal for the 2013-14 season.
How This Could Work
Anything is possible. Ferry proved that when he got rid of Johnson and Atlanta’s bust draft pick Marvin Williams.
That is plenty of leg room for the Hawks to bring in Howard and Paul via free agency, without having to shatter their budget or trade current players.
ESPN.com’s John Hollinger said back in July that the Hawks can sign Paul and Howard to max contracts next summer, as well as re-sign Smith for the same money he makes now at $13.2 million a year.
The Hawks would squeeze under the current cap with this transaction, so it could be a financial win-win for them.
How Chris Paul and Dwight Howard Can Help the Hawks
Paul has proven to be the league’s most valuable point guard.
A turnaround like that would be huge for Atlanta.
Teague has stepped up and taken control of the offense with more confidence, and he has shown he can be a clutch player.
Having Paul would be much sweeter, though.
He is posting 16.6 points, 9.7 assists and 2.56 steals per game, as of Jan. 23. Those numbers alone would be advantageous for the Hawks.
But the most significant statistic is his 26.11 Player Efficiency Rating, which is third in the league.
Paul is a pure model of the pass-first point guard, one who can create an open shot for his teammates. His shooting is as accurate as his passing with his .473 field goal percentage.
As for Howard, the mere fact that he is a true center is enough for the Hawks. They have not seen such a creature since the finger-wagging Dikembe Mutombo from the 1996-2001 seasons.
Howard is one of the top defenders in the NBA, a player the Hawks certainly needs in that regard. So far, they only have an undersized Horford at center and a flopper in backup center Zaza Pachulia.
The Hawks would gain from Howard's reliable shot-blocking and dominance under the boards.
So how do these two superstars tie in with Atlanta?
Paul wanted to play for the Hawks when he was in the 2005 NBA draft, but the Hawks selected Marvin Williams instead.
Add that up and Atlanta would have its own Big Four, with Smith and Horford playing in their rightful positions at small forward and power forward, respectively.
With a team that loaded, Philips Arena would have no problems selling out games.
The Hawks are capable of seizing Howard and Paul from other possible suitors. The only concern is whether the two candidates are interested.
Both would be leaving the beautiful beaches of Los Angeles to come to a city that has only seen one team—the Atlanta Braves—bring home a national title.
Howard is on a struggling 17-25 Lakers team and could be looking for his next destination. Paul and his Clippers are sitting comfortably in the top tier of the Western Conference standings.
Paul is a more unlikely candidate. He may have wanted to play in Atlanta eight years ago, but it does not mean he’s itching to wear a Hawks uniform now.
That could force the Hawks to really push for Howard to come join Smith.
Even if that happens, it would not necessarily turn Atlanta into a serious title contender.
Both Smith and Howard are limited offensively.
Smith is terrible behind the three-point arc (career 28 percent) and has a bad habit of making poor shot selections late in the game.
He is a good passing forward, but most of his points come from dunks or layups.
Howard is an atrocious free-throw shooter and is also fluent in "dunk." He has yet to develop staple post moves and is useless once a shot ranges outside of seven feet.
Worst of all, Smith and Howard are temperamental players who have displayed poor leadership numerous times.
Bringing Paul and Howard to Atlanta sounds like a brilliant idea on paper, but it could be another super team gone awry.
The 2004-05 and current Lakers teams and the 2011-12 New York Knicks are all examples of this.
The Hawks cannot afford to make the same mistake, especially if they are looking to advance past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
There is plenty cap space for the Hawks to really mull this over before making a brash decision on signing two huge contracts.
Luckily for them, they have a good amount of time to map out the perfect plan.