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As the NBA world turns

Hawks' struggle summer's most compelling drama

Posted: Wednesday August 17, 2005 12:36PM; Updated: Wednesday August 17, 2005 11:59PM
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Atlanta Spirit
The good times Steve Belkin (far left) and his fellow co-owners enjoyed after buying the Hawks are but a memory now.
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images
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One look at the sports pages, and you'd think that the Philadelphia Eagles owned the market on team soap operas. But theirs isn't even the most compelling offseason melodrama. While As T.O. Talks plays Desperate Housewives to the masses, the head-scratching saga that is the Atlanta Hawks (complete with broken promises, bad blood and a palace coup) continues to unfold in front of a largely niche audience.

Haven't been paying attention? Let me catch you up:

Episode I: The Courtship of Joe Johnson

If an Atlanta YMCA sponsored a support group entitled, "I'm Obsessed with 6-foot-9 Forwards," the Hawks would be about due for an intervention. How sweet are they on swingmen? Well, they drafted one last year (Josh Smith), traded for another (Al Harrington), rented one more from Dallas and dropped him off in Boston (Antoine Walker), then drafted another with the second overall pick in this year's draft (Marvin Williams). Throw in the grossly overpaid Chris Crawford (who was waived in February), and that's five altogether. Their combined record after this love affair: 13-69.

So you can imagine what a relief it must have been for Hawks fans when the home team decided to throw caution to the wind and go after a guard who can play the point in the offseason. (In therapy, this is what is known as a breakthrough.) They found an ideal fit in Johnson: 6-7, smart and a statistical stud who averaged 17.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists for the Phoenix Suns last season. A restricted free agent, Johnson, 24, initially had expressed a desire to remain in Phoenix -- so long as the price was right. But, "this is a business, and business comes first," he said back in June.

By July 30, Atlanta had a sign-and-trade in the works: The Hawks got Johnson for five years and $70 million; the Suns got Boris Diaw, conditional first-round picks in '06 and '07, and a $10 million trade exception -- and all before the Aug. 2 deadline. Not a bad day's haul for Hawks GM Billy Knight. "We're bringing in guys that fit now that fit for the future," he'd say afterward.