Each time Hawks GM Danny Ferry does an interview, the recurring theme is how he’s being “opportunistic.”
As in, after trading Joe Johnson and clearing the books after 2011-12, the Hawks now have the flexibility to take advantage of pretty much any opportunity that comes along.
That’s true, but now what?
The Hawks already missed out on one opportunity when Dwight Howard was sent to the Lakers before Ferry could even measure Dwight’s feelings about returning home. Next summer Ferry probably will get another crack at Howard (though the Lakers will own Howard’s Bird rights) and any of the other star free agents set to hit the market.
Financial flexibility is good, and there will be other opportunities, but how to turn that potential into a superstar player(s) that is (are) essential to competing for championships?
“Read an article about what Mark Cuban is doing,” Ferry said.
Cuban struck out with his plan of clearing cap space to acquire star players last summer. He’s since resisted the urge to double down on payroll because he believes that, eventually, teams with financial flexibility will benefit from specific CBA rules that kick in starting in 2013-14.
“I just think there’s a different approach,” Cuban told CBSSports.com. “You see what’s happening with teams that are up against the financial limits and it’s impacting their behavior. But we haven’t seen what’s going to happen with the trade limitations and things like that — not being able to do sign-and-trades, all that kind of stuff.”
The more punitive tax rate is just one aspect of the rules meant to curtail the big spenders. The rules also stipulate that teams with payrolls more than $4 million above the tax line can’t execute sign-and-trades, can acquire less salary in trades than non-taxpaying teams, and have a smaller mid-level exception and no bi-annual exception.
Cuban is betting those rules will lead to high-payroll teams being unable to acquire superstars, leaving those with cap space in a stronger position to make deals for those players. Ferry is predicting the same.
“It’s the same path,” Ferry said. “We don’t have [Dirk] Nowitzki but we have more assets. We have good players. [The Mavs] are piecing things together to keep flexibility to stay competitive. On some level, we are in a similar mode as what Dallas is doing.
“With Josh [Smith] and Jeff [Teague] and Al [Horford] and flexibility around it and draft choices ahead. I think we are positioned well to be opportunistic whether that’s trade [or] whether that’s free agency in the future. It’s not an exact path. It’s about having a situation where you can be opportunistic.”
There are reasons to believe the Hawks are in a better position than Dallas. The 2012-13 Hawks, on paper at least, are comparable to the 2012-13 Mavericks. Smith and Horford may be more attractive trade targets now than Nowitzki is 34-years old and owed nearly $44 million over the next two years. The Hawks also have multiple draft picks.
The counter to those arguments is that the Mavs under Cuban have a much better organizational reputation than the Hawks. That means that, theoretically, they have a better chance of landing superstar free agents or keeping them for the long term after trading for them.
Now that Ferry has gained the flexibility he coveted, the next step is trying to make the Hawks the kind of franchise where the best players want to work.
“I’m trying to build well from the inside out,” Ferry said. “We need to build an organizational pride from within. We are not hinging our program on cap space or anything like that. We are hinging it on building a good program and having flexibility to make a trade or do free agency or do whatever.
“To get centric on cap space, [focusing on] would a free agent come here, that’s not what we are doing right now. That’s not the mode we are in right now. We are in a mode of, ‘Let’s build on an organizational pride and build an even better run machine as an organization.’
“From there, pride will grow and I think the opportunities that are out there, we are in a good position to be in the game, whether that’s a trade or a free agent or whatever that is.”