Embarking on their shortest offseason in a decade, the Atlanta Hawks have some big decisions to make before the 2009-10 begins next fall.
For the first time since 1999, the Hawks won a playoff series and reached the Eastern Conference semifinals where they were unceremoniously sent packing by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not a bad ending for a team three years removed from a grand total of 13 wins in a season.
The Hawks have steadily improved every year since, going 47-35 this year and reaching the playoffs for the second year in a row.
However, for the good vibes to continue at the highlight factory big decisions have to be made this offseason. Chances are this year's flock of Hawks will look much different to the one that takes the court at the Highlight Factory next year.
This year's team salary was $68,012,336, which ranked 22nd out of 30 teams. The Hawks had the lowest payroll of any club to reach the second round of the playoffs.
However, standout guard Mike Bibby, who commands the 17th highest contract in the league at $15 million a year, is at the end of his contract. So is reserve ZaZa Pachulia, who was clutch coming off the bench and filling in for injured starting center Al Horford in the postseason.
Ronald Murray, who averaged 12.2 points per outing for the Hawks, also enters the offseason without a contract as do little used reserves: Mario West, Thomas Gardner, Othello Hunter, Solomon Jones and Randolph Morris.
Marvin Williams has been offered a $7,355,165 qualifying offer.
Combined with Williams' offer, the Hawks enter the season with seven players under contract for a total of $47,365,173. So half the roster accounts for two-thirds of the team's total payroll. This does not include an offer to Bibby or any other potential free agent.
The key signee is Bibby. He averaged 14.9 points and five rebounds per game and solidified a vacant point guard spot the Hawks had been trying to feel for nearly a decade.
Considering the situation with the ownership group Atlanta Spirit LLC., they payroll will be comparable to this year's salary. The group, which had faced legal battles, have been reluctant to pour money into the Hawks and the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers and this year's appears to be no different.
Bibby has said he wants to come back next year, but what will it cost?
With the ownership's self-imposed salary cap, Hawks' general manager Rick Sund's hands may be tied.
To continue the team's trend of improving every season, Bibby's return is imperative, but will Atlanta Spirit loosen up the $18-20 million a year it is going to take to keep Bibby in Atlanta?
There also is the matter of dead-weight money.
Speedy Claxton, who was signed as a point guard by the Hawks in 2006, has spent much of his contract sporting a variety of stylish suits on the bench as opposed to wearing his jersey or warmups.
Then again with a $5-plus million a year contract, which mercifully comes to an end next season, Claxton has plenty of money and time to shop. He played in two games this season, two more than the previous year. Claxton has played in 44 games the first three years.
If the Hawks could send Claxton and his suits packing in a trade to save money in the final year of a contract, that would be beneficial in the resigning of Bibby.
Unfortunately there is not much of a market for a 31-year-old, injury-plagued point guard, who is four-years removed from playing on a consistent basis and averaging 12 points per game.
If Bibby is not signed, the Hawks will have about $20 to $25 million to fill out the rest of the roster. The Hawks also would be forced to go with Acie Law, who has seen limited action in his first two years in the league, as the starting point guard.
Selected with the 11th overall pick in 2007, Law has played in 50-plus games the last two years with only seven starts. He averages 4.2 points and 2.0 assists a game as a rookie and those numbers dropped this year.
Battling injury, Law averaged 2.9 points and 1.6 assists per outing and saw his playing time drop dramatically.
He is under contract through the 2010-11 season and slated to make $2,216,160 next season, a healthy chunk of change for a little-used reserve, who may be asked to fill some rather large shoes next season.
Without Bibby, the names will definitely change, but the question is, will the results remain the same?
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