It's not often that a team can trade away one of it's top three players for scrap and come out the other side as a more exciting team, but that's exactly what the Atlanta Hawks did this offseason. Joe Johnson was considered untradeable, boasting a contract bigger than LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, or Dwight Howard. But those of us who considered it untradeable failed to account for the unburdened spending of the Nets. New Hawks GM Danny Ferry should be commended for having the guts to make the move. He took back an atrocious package of Jordan Farmar (who was waived and will play overseas this year), Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, Jordan Williams, and DeShawn Stevenson. The Hawks also received a future first round pick.
The trade accomplishes a few things. First, it clears the board of long-term cap commitments. Consider the following: as of right now the Hawks' 2013-14 salary commitments total a mere $100,000 more than Joe Johnson's 2013-14 salary. The Hawks get significant flexibility where before they were completely stuck. Second, the trade also allows the Hawks to move away from the painful-to-watch stagnation that the franchise has become synonymous with.
Suddenly the Hawks have serious potential to be one of the more fun teams to follow in the East. Jeff Teague should run the point, although I could certainly see Atlanta doing something annoying like starting Devin Harris. Hopefully that will not be the case, but stranger things have happened. Al Horford is back and healthy, and his impact to Atlanta overall cannot be overstated. It's nothing short of miraculous that Atlanta did as well as they did last season after Horford's injury. Larry Drew certainly deserved more credit for that than he received. Josh Smith should also be allowed to flourish, as the team's most interesting player. He still takes too many long twos, but he has an elite potential just waiting to be realized.
The Hawks also acquired swing man Kyle Korver from Chicago, giving up nothing more than cash and a trade exception. Hometown hero Louis Williams signed with the Hawks as a free agent this summer, and should provide the Hawks a nice option at shooting guard. Anthony Morrow could, in theory, challenge Williams as the starter, or the Hawks could simply decide Williams is more valuable a sixth man, but I think he should be starting.
As for how this season will actually sort out for Atlanta, I have no idea. This clearly isn't the same Atlanta team we're accustomed to seeing. They could emerge as a true player in the East, they could struggle to make the playoffs but sneak into an 8th seed, they could miss the playoffs entirely. I'd be surprised if they missed the playoffs, but none of the scenarios seems out of the question at this point.
The other big question in Atlanta is how the ongoing saga of Josh Smith plays out. For the last several years it has seemed as though Smith could be traded at any time. At various points he's demanded a trade and then professed his desire to stay. Smith will be a free agent after this season. It's entirely unclear if Ferry will attempt to work out an extension, try to keep Smith in free agency, work out a trade, or let Smith leave in the offseason. Like the Hawks themselves, it could really go a variety of directions.