Atlanta Hawks, Say Goodbye To Zaza Pachulia

Jack BenderCorrespondent IJune 3, 2009

ATLANTA - MAY 09:  Head coach Mike Woodson of the Atlanta Hawks talks with Zaza Pachulia #27 against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 9, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Atlanta Hawks fans be prepared to say goodbye to Zaza Pachulia. The Hawks have to upgrade at this position and use the money slotted for Zaza to find a free agent that can help close the gap with the big dogs of the NBA Eastern Conference. 

Watching the NBA playoffs virtually every night for the past six weeks gives you so many options for topics to discuss. I wish I had a forum like sports talk radio hosts to talk about everything going on in the NBA and the world of sports. 

Since the Atlanta Hawks were swept out of the playoffs, I have been following several Hawks analysts on blogs, Twitter, and the Hawks team web site. Most are talking about the draft coming up at the end of the month.  It is an exciting time to be a Hawks fan. 

A huge area of concern for most Hawks’ fans is the Zaza Pachulia question. Should the Hawks resign Zaza or should Rick Sund use Zaza’s money and try to make a splash on the free agent market? 

I am torn because I still remember how fired up I was when the Hawks beat the Celtics in Game 6 of the 2008 playoffs. Heck, I even named my Hawks blog after the fiery big man from Georgia. 

However, after seeing how just how huge the talent gap is between the Hawks and the Celtics, Magic, and Cavs, I know that the Hawks have to upgrade at this position.

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You have to assume that GM Rick Sund already has a certain amount of money allocated to resign Zaza.  Sund can make the choice between either upgrading the offense or strengthening the defense. 

It kind of hurts to say this, but here are two guys that I would rather have on the Hawks’ roster than Zaza:

Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers

The 6’10” 260 pound center only averaged 8 points and 7 rebounds per game.  He averaged 11 more minutes per game than Zaza in 2008-2009. Varejao has a player option and can opt out of his contract with the Cavaliers and become an unrestricted free agent. 

Remember just last year, he sat out until early December as a restricted free agent when the Cavs did not offer him a multi-year deal. That has to still sting. 

Finally, the New Orleans Hornets signed him to an offer sheet and the Cavs matched the contract the next day.  He signed for 2 years and 11.1 million with a player option for next year for 6.2 million. 

If I were him, I think I can make more on the open market even in this very tough NBA economy. He played in every game for the Cavs and started about half the games.  He played about 30 minutes a game. 

He was vital to the Cavs' team defensive schemes. His statistics do not wow anyone, but this guy has a ton of intangibles. 

He probably is near the top in charges taken in the NBA every year. He is very good defending out on the floor (unless he has to guard a perimeter guy like Rashard Lewis) and he is good finishing at the rim out of the high screen and roll. The Hawks are weak in all three of those areas. 

Varejao is a better defender than Al Horford is right now. If the Hawks can re-sign Marvin Williams, Varejao can be the first post guy off the bench. He also would allow Coach Mike Woodson more flexibility in dealing with the volatile Josh Smith. 

When Smith acts up, Varejao can start and play starter minutes. Sadly, Zaza cannot.  At least not on a winning or playoff-caliber team. 

He is an upgrade over Zaza in almost every area. He is quicker, a better shot blocker, rebounder, and he is better scoring around the basket in traffic. Zaza is a better perimeter shooter, but neither one of these guys should be allowed to shoot outside very often.

Maybe the best thing that excites me as a Hawks fan is the idea of Varejao and Horford playing together.  Varejao would free up Horford from guarding the other team’s best inside player and allow Big Al to concentrate on his offensive game. They could dominate the boards at both ends.

Lastly, Varejao’s energy would fire up the home crowd. He has personality and toughness. In Cleveland, there are thousands of fans every night that wear the Varejao wigs to home games. 

As far as dollars, Varejao may have some solid offers, but if two years ago is an indication, teams are not willing to come up with long term dollars for a guy that cannot score. I think he is worth a 3-year deal worth 20-24 million. 

I have to think Zaza is looking for a 4-year deal.

Brandon Bass, Dallas Mavericks

The 6’8” 240 pound third year guy from LSU fills a totally different need for the Hawks.  He played about the same minutes as Zaza last year and scored a few more points, but he is an undersized forward. 

He is very athletic and his offensive game is way better than Zaza and Varejao added together.  He would play a lot more minutes in a Hawks uniform. For the Mavs, he basically plays minutes behind Dirk Nowitzki or when the Mavs go to a small lineup with Dirk at the five spot. 

In the playoffs, Mavs’ coach Rick Carlisle was running isolation plays for Bass on the low block.  In the 4th quarter and in crucial situations! The Hawks do not have any player on the roster that can score on isolation post ups like Bass.

Read that line again. Yeah, the Hawks are weak on the post. 

Horford can make a big jump offensively this summer, but if I needed a basket at the end of the game today I would go to Bass before Horford. If signed by the Hawks, Bass would automatically be the Hawks 2nd best offensive option for a one-on-one isolation play after Joe Johnson.

Bass is athletic enough to make up for his lack of size, but I would be concerned about his rebounding and defense. Bass went to LSU so coming to Atlanta and SEC country might appeal to him. Bass might even come cheaper than Pachulia or Varejao.

By some estimates, the Hawks are about 20 million dollars under the cap. I read last week in the AJC that Sund wants to keep the core intact, but a key free agent signing could keep the enthusiasm for this Hawks squad building for the 2009-2010 season.

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