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Your move, Hawks (cont.)

Posted: Friday June 22, 2007 10:00AM; Updated: Friday June 22, 2007 6:07PM
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If the Hawks pick Mike Conley, the top-rated point guard in the draft, could they afford to be patient while he develops?
If the Hawks pick Mike Conley, the top-rated point guard in the draft, could they afford to be patient while he develops?

Knight hasn't told me so, but it's obvious from their roster that the Hawks have two needs: starters at point guard and center. Those are the two hardest positions to fill, unfortunately, but the Hawks enter the draft with the assets to round out their team (they also have the No. 11 pick).

A lot depends on what they think of Noah, loved by some teams and derided by others. Noah could be an excellent fit up front for Atlanta: a passionate defender, shot-blocker and rebounder to create a new identity for the Hawks' loathsome defense, a charismatic figure to help sell tickets to their dejected fan base and an offensive playmaker who will complement Smith nicely. He also fits the Hawks' up-tempo style. His two glaring negatives can be rationalized away: His ugly shooting stroke is sure to improve through his renowned enthusiasm for hard work, and his lack of girth to defend against bigger centers is offset by the fact that Shaquille O'Neal is three years away from retirement.

Knight points out that Pachulia and Shelden Williams are the only Hawks who are wide in the thighs. "They are the only two guys we have who aren't what we call narrow butts,'' Knight said. "The other guys are thin guys, slender builds, so you need some physicality on your team.''

So he's looking for one more wide butt?

"It depends on the butt,'' Knight said. In which case Horford may well be their pick.

As much as Knight can claim the backing of his owners -- including Michael Gearon Jr., who represents the Hawks on the board of governors, and who in a conversation last week enthusiastically supported Knight's plan to build a young roster for the long term -- he needs to prove in his fifth full season that he knows what he's doing. He also has to provide positive reinforcement for his young players, who need to start winning before it's too late for them to learn.

That's why it makes sense to fill the hole at center with Noah, because he can play now, and then to use their cap space in a trade for an existing NBA point guard, because at that position the Hawks can't afford to wait for Conley, Javaris Crittenton or Acie Law to spend two years adapting to the NBA.

Look what has happened in Seattle, where GM Rick Sund believed he was about to realize the benefits of a young roster brimming with talent: Sund and his staff were fired before the Sonics could win. The same could happen next season in Atlanta if Knight doesn't seize this moment.


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