This year expectations were higher and the Hawks again rose to the occasion by finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference, securing home court advantage in their first round playoff series and defeating the Miami Heat and superstar Dwayne Wade.
Their second round match against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers ended in a sweep, as the 08'-09' season ended in disappointing fashion. Injuries to starters Marvin Williams and Al Horford left an already over matched Hawks team easy prey for a hungry Cleveland team playing at its peak.
The Hawks have gone from laughing stock of the NBA to surprise Cinderella to now firmly among the second tier teams vying to crack the elite group. This summer the Hawks have eight out of 15 players who are Free agents and face difficult decisions that could determine their status for the next few years.
Here is a look at some of the options General manager Rick Sund has to ponder over within the next few weeks.
Mike Bibby came aboard about the midway point of the 07'-08' season and the Hawks immediately transformed from a team with a boatload of young talent to a team finally able to translate that talent into victories. Mike Bibby provides leadership and shot making ability that the Hawks haven’t had. Consequently, they run the risk of not only not improving but actually falling back if they lose Bibby.
The dilemma with Bibby is the fact that he is a Free Agent who made just under 15 million this year and 80 million over the past seven years. The Hawks are banking on the fact that Bibby has made his money and realize that he will have to take a significant pay cut.
Bibby has stated numerous times that he loves the Atlanta area and the freedom that he has to run the team under head coach Mike Woodson. If the Hawks can sign Bibby for 7-8 million dollars they should jump on it. Joe Johnson will be a free agent next year and has stated publicly on numerous occasions how he enjoys playing along side Mike Bibby. If the Hawks let Bibby go they also risk of losing Joe Johnson to free agency next year.
Last year’s number one draft choice Acie Law has shown flashes of talent but is inconsistent, injury prone and hasn’t developed a consistent jump shot. The Hawks should look to move Law to more of an up tempo team while he still has trade value.
Marvin Williams is coming off his best season as a pro. He is a restricted free agent with loads of talent but disappointed the Hawks fans with yet another injury during this year’s playoff run. The Hawks have numerous players who are the same size and similar skill sets so Williams figures to be the odd man out.
This former number one draft pick should be able to increase his salary of four point five million dollars per year and would make a fine addition to a team in need of youth and all around play making ability at the small forward position. The Hawks best bet is probably to work out a sign and trade with another team such as Portland who has an abundance of big men and back up point guards.
Other options would be to just let Williams go, use the money saved with the Bibby pay cut and acquire a quality veteran big man such as a Rasheed Wallace. That would allow the Hawks to move Al Horford to his natural position of Power Forward and Josh Smith to small forward on defense. Wallace can shoot the perimeter shot so Josh Smith can still work on the blocks on offense along with Horford. The Hawks would also become better able to defend bigger teams with the addition of Wallace.
ZaZa Pachulia really came into his own as a quality rebounder and low post scorer who gives the Hawks much needed energy off the bench at the Center and power forward position. The Hawks must resign Puchulia who is a unrestricted free agent. They figure to have competition for their valuable big man but should be able to resign him for a slight pay raise. ZaZa has now accepted his role as a back up center in the NBA so he probably would rather stay put in Atlanta.
Flip Murray was a major steal of the season in the NBA. The Hawks signed him for the league minimum but will no doubt have to give him a sizable pay raise in order to keep him. Murray gives the Hawks a much needed scorer who can play either guard position and who at times carried the Hawks this season during scoring droughts by Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby.
Other free agents include: Solomon Jones, Thomas Gardner, Othello Hunter and Mario West. These guys are all replaceable.
Speedy Claxton is a seldom used point guard and hold over from the Billy Knight era. Claxton has been injured his entire career in Atlanta and his 6 million dollar a year contract is due to expire next year. Hopefully the Hawks can move this contract for a quality big man or point guard this summer, buy him out or just let his contract expire after next season.
This summer the Hawks can go in a variety of directions. Do they want to stand pat and resign the guys they have minus Williams and possibly Law or shake up things and try to move up into the top three in the East and avoid Cleveland in the second round of the playoffs? To accomplish the latter, they would have to move a big name such as Joe Johnson or Josh Smith.
However, with the Celtics aging and LeBron becoming a free agent next year, the Hawks would be better served opting for the former and solidifying their position as a solid #4 team and possibly sneaking into the top three with an addition of a big man who can score and play defense.