Commentary

Knight made mistakes, but leaves Hawks with hope

Originally Published: May 7, 2008
By John Hollinger | ESPN Insider

Billy KnightScott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesWhile the Hawks finally found some success and ended their playoff drought in '08, Billy Knight will be remembered in Atlanta as the guy who passed on Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the 2005 draft.
The news release says Hawks general manager Billy Knight engineered a successful rebuilding plan.

The truth is, he bungled it, and that's why he won't be the team's GM after July 1.

Although he officially resigned, there's little reason to think he didn't get a strong nudge out the door. Knight's contract was set to expire July 1, and although the team had a one-year option, he was understandably reluctant to stick around without a longer guarantee.

Knight's most controversial move came shortly after he replaced Pete Babcock in 2003, when he made the decision to blow up the team's nucleus of Jason Terry, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Glenn Robinson and Theo Ratliff and start from scratch. Just for good measure, he whacked coach Terry Stotts, too.

It took five long years, starting with a disastrous 13-69 season, but the Hawks finally made it back to the playoffs in 2008. That's hardly the same thing as saying they became a good team, though. Atlanta went only 37-45 this season, and the only reason it did that well was because of a fortuitous lottery bounce that allowed it to draft Al Horford -- had the Hawks landed one pick later, they would have had to forfeit the pick to Phoenix.

Closer Look: Atlanta Hawks

Roster Overview

Free Agents (5)
Josh Childress (restricted)
Jeremy Richardson (restricted)
Josh Smith (restricted)
Salim Stoudamire (restricted)
Mario West (restricted)

Players Under Contract (8)
Mike Bibby
Speedy Claxton
Al Horford
Joe Johnson
Solomon Jones
Acie Law
Zaza Pachulia
Marvin Williams
Total: $51.5 million

Future Payrolls
2009-10: $26.7 million (Claxton, Horford -- team option, Johnson, Law -- team option)
2010-11: $8.3 million (Horford -- team option; Law -- team option)
2011-12: $0
2012-13: $0

NOTE: Claxton missed the entire 2007-08 season. He has not played since Feb. 3, 2007, because of a left knee injury. The Hawks could immediately remove his salary from their cap if he were forced to retire. Their payroll would reduce to $45.7 million for 2008-09 and $21.5 million for 2009-10.


Draft Overview

2008 Draft: Atlanta is the only team that does not have a pick in the 2008 draft. Phoenix owns Atlanta's first pick (No. 15) from the Johnson trade, and Sacramento owns the team's second-round pick (No. 42) from the Bibby trade.

Future Picks: Atlanta owns all its picks from 2009 through 2014. They do not own other picks.

Unsigned Draft Picks: Alain Digbeu (1997), David Andersen (2002), Cenk Akyol (2005)

That lottery bounce left the scoreboard on Knight's signature deal in his favor. Knight surrendered Boris Diaw and two first-rounders to Phoenix for All-Star guard Joe Johnson, a deal that caused a still-unhealed rift in the Hawks' ownership and nearly cost them a high lottery pick this year.

However, even with that, the brutal truth is that after five years, his team wasn't any better than the one he nuked.

In truth, his trades and free-agency moves probably would have allowed him to keep his job if his drafts hadn't been so horrible. However, his decisions to take Marvin Williams instead of Chris Paul and Shelden Williams instead of Brandon Roy squandered two of Atlanta's three top-five picks during his reign. Selecting Acie Law ahead of Rodney Stuckey in last year's draft looks like it might be a similar blunder. Offsetting all that was only one comparatively good move: taking high-schooler Josh Smith with the 17th pick in 2004.

Knight's departure also signals that coach Mike Woodson might stick around for another year. Woodson's contract expires at the end of June, but the Hawks' ownership seems encouraged by the team taking Boston to a seventh game -- overly encouraged, I would argue, since the team got blitzed in all four games in Beantown, but good news has been scarce in these parts.

Knight tried to fire Woodson on multiple occasions and was rebuffed by ownership. However, Woodson's reprieve might not last long. The new general manager undoubtedly will be itching to bring in his own guy, and several players -- particularly Smith and Zaza Pachulia -- have icy relationships with Woodson.

The new GM -- rumored to be former Sixers boss Billy King -- also will have to make several other important decisions. Smith and Josh Childress both are restricted free agents. Matching offers for Smith is a no-brainer, but Childress is a tougher decision. Plus, Marvin Williams is up for a contract extension, and Mike Bibby might want one, too.

Additionally, it's an opportunity for a new guy to clean up in areas in which Knight failed. For instance, the Hawks have had the rights to Danish-Australian forward David Andersen since 2002, but never have made any concerted effort to bring him over, even though he has been one of the best players in the Europe.

Along those same lines, Atlanta has had unusual trouble coming up with decent players to fill out the bench. Most notably, every attempt at adding a low-cost big man has been beyond disastrous. It was Knight who gave Atlantans the unholy trinity of John Edwards, Lorenzen Wright, and Esteban Batista, and believe it or not, each received a guaranteed, multiyear deal. Efforts at adding depth on the wings and in the backcourt didn't go much better.

Clearly the team needs to beef up the scouting and research departments to give the Hawks enough depth to survive injuries to their starters -- a group that luckily missed only four games this season, if you include Bibby's half-season with the team.

But at least there is something to start with. The Hawks have four good, young players and a decent point guard, and their cap is in good shape. While Knight didn't do much to make the Hawks winners, at least he left the next guy a fighting chance.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.

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