|Hawks traded the untradeable NBA contract. (Getty Images)|
The Nets and Hawks have agreed to the framework for a deal to send Joe Johnson to Brooklyn while Atlanta receives Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Jordan Williams, Anthony Morrow, DeShawn Stevenson and the Nets' 2013 lottery-protected pick via the Rockets. How did the two teams come out? Let's grade it.
I've long had a thought about the Hawks and their situation, specifically how it relates to the show "Breaking Bad." Essentially it's this: There's a scene in Season 3 where Mike the Cleaner is telling Walter about half measures versus full measures. How you can't just live halfway, at least in terms of when it's time to be decisive, when it's time to make a choice.
The Hawks have been a half-measure team for five seasons or so, always good enough to make the postseason, but never close to good enough to contend. They assembled young talent, built a winner behind Al Horford, Josh Smith, Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. They're a lock to be in the final eight in the East and in some seasons make the second round of the playoffs.
They took an incredible half-measure route in giving Joe Johnson a maximum contract, essentially crippling themselves with one of the league's worst deals. It was justified, no doubt. If the Hawks didn't give Johnson the offer, someone else would've, and they'd be left without one of their best players. A bad, yet understandable deal to make.
And don't misunderstand: Joe Johnson was never a bad player. He only sort of became one in a weird sense because everyone knew he wasn't worth his contract. But that wasn't his fault. What was he supposed to do? Say, "No thank you, I'm not worth $120 million. Give me more like $80 million."
Danny Ferry took over the Hawks' front office and did what's been needed. He's started to go full measure. He traded the untradeable contract and began a much-needed overhaul in Atlanta. What the Hawks got back are scraps. Johan Petro? Jordan Williams? Anthony Morrow? Probably the most redeeming thing Atlanta receives is the 2013 pick. That should illustrate how bad Johnson's contract was.
Consider: In 2015-16, Johnson will earn $24.9 million. Let that one wash over you for a second.
And now the Hawks have wiped their hands clean of it. They were never going to compete with their current core, never going to build anything that could touch the Heat, Bulls or even the East's up-and-comers like the Pacers and 76ers. They were trapped in mediocrity. Their options were either remain a half-measure franchise until these contracts ran out, or try and start anew and salvage some talent while it's still there.
Al Horford is a player worth building around. Josh Smith seems to be on the trade market, but he comes off the books in 2013-14. The Hawks will only have two players on the books after next season -- Horford and new draft pick John Jenkins. That's a whole lot of cap space to make a run at any number of the high-quality free agents to be available then. Chris Paul? Dwight Howard, who is from Atlanta?
The Hawks are blowing it up. It was time. Necessary. They've moved Johnson and his contract, as well as Marvin Williams and his (for Devin Harris). The Hawks are putting dynamite under the foundation of the roster. They're going all in. They're making the decisive play. No more living halfway. It was time to set a fire and build again.
Times might be tough in the immediate future, but that's the point. It was time to go full measure.
It was becoming an NBA insider joke. Have a contract you want to dump? Call Billy King! The Nets, who've moved to Brooklyn and a new building while also trying to get Deron Williams to re-sign, seem to be interested in virtually any available NBA player with a pulse.
And really, how could you blame them? Opening a new building across the river with a lottery-bound team featuring Johan Petro, Jordan Farmar and Anthony Morrow wasn't exactly the splash owner Mikhail Prokhorov had in mind. That certainly wasn't the plan when the Nets unveiled a marketing plan trying to establish themselves as a rival to the Knicks.
If you're going to make it in the New York market, you gotta go big. And that means sometimes, you gotta get a little bit stupid.
What did the Nets do by trading for Johnson? They essentially wiped out future flexibility. Whether they retain Williams or not, they've added $90 million to their cap over the next three years. They're almost assuredly out of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes but very much in the Williams one. And a trio of Williams', Johnson and Brook Lopez aren't all that terrible. Oh, and Gerald Wallace, who they just re-signed too. And maybe Kris Humphries, who's a free agent. That's definitely a playoff team. I certainly don't hate that roster.
Which is probably the goal at this point. Moving to Brooklyn and opening that building with a playoff team is acceptable. Maybe not the next NBA title contender, but with the way things have gone down for the Nets recently, it's a start.
Besides, it's not like they gave up anything other than cap fodder for a six-time All-Star. They even kept MarShon Brooks and their 2013 pick, only giving up one they acquired via Houston. And they even held on to Gerald Green, who showed promise last season. They just had to sacrifice their future cap, something Prokhorov doesn't seem worried about. Paying the luxury tax is no bother to him. According to Forbes Real Time Billionaire, Prokhorov made $40.25 million ... today.
The dream of Howard seemed to rapidly be turning into another nightmare, and the Nets were done playing that game. They already were roped through it once with Carmelo Anthony before Prokhorov put his foot down. Now, they've moved on again.
Of course re-signing Williams is what's going to really make or break this deal. Otherwise, are they actually any better? Subtract Williams and it's Johnson, Lopez and Wallace, otherwise known as a crappier version of the Atlanta Hawks. Johnson is not a building-block star, but he is a very good player. That seems to get lost in all the talk of how bad his contract is.
It's not the banner day the Nets have been hoping for, but it's something in their quest toward NBA respectibility. They were about to move to Brooklyn and quickly be forgotten. Now at least, it's a start.