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Your move, Hawks

Atlanta could be best served trading down from No. 3

Posted: Friday June 22, 2007 10:00AM; Updated: Friday June 22, 2007 6:07PM
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Joakim Noah (right) could be a better fit in Atlanta's frontcourt than Al Horford.
Joakim Noah (right) could be a better fit in Atlanta's frontcourt than Al Horford.
Rex Brown/WireImage.com
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The consensus planning of Thursday's draft has Al Horford becoming the No. 3 pick after Portland spends the top selection on Greg Oden and Kevin Durant goes No. 2 to the Seattle (soon-to-be Oklahoma City) Sonics. While we know how much Horford will be making -- as the No. 3 choice he'll earn a minimum of $3.1 million -- no one can say which team will be paying him, because of the strong possibility that Atlanta will trade the pick.

The Hawks already have a lovable young power forward in Josh Smith, in whom they've invested three years of playing time (and scores of regular-season losses) to create a 21-year-old who finished second overall in blocks with 2.9 per game last season while averaging 16.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.4 steals. Smith joined Ben Wallace and Shawn Marion as the only players to rank in the top 20 in blocks, rebounds and steals, and he's done this as a former No. 17 pick whose growth makes GM Billy Knight look clairvoyant. Why would Knight want to spend the asset of the No. 3 pick on a rival power forward in Horford who would complicate one of the Hawks' strengths?

A lot of teams are said to covet Horford, including No. 4 Memphis and No. 6 Milwaukee. The Hawks could trade down with either of them and then pick a player they need, like center Joakim Noah or point guard Mike Conley Jr.

But the Hawks could also move the pick to Cleveland or another team hoping to trade into the draft. If the Hawks are going to pick up a young veteran by trade, they need to do so by draft night while they still have $4.6 million in cap space that permits them to take on more salary than they're trading away. That makes Atlanta a highly seductive trading partner -- but that space will vanish July 1 when its two first-round picks are automatically applied to the cap. Atlanta is in a much stronger position to trade now than it will be next month.

The dynamics of Horford vs. Smith and Atlanta's momentary cap space are turning this draft into a volatile event. If we can't envision what will happen with the No. 3 pick -- and don't rule out Horford joining Atlanta as the "best player available'' -- then there's no guessing how the rest of the draft will go.

It's an excellent predicament for Knight, who -- despite his league-worst 103-233 record since taking over for Pete Babcock in 2003 -- may not be far away from ending the Hawks' streak of eight losing seasons. They're all set at the wing positions with All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson, improving small forward Marvin Williams and swingman Josh Childress, who averaged 13 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists coming off the bench. They have a wealth of backup point guards in Speedy Claxton, Tyronn Lue and Anthony Johnson (at least one of whom may be traded next week) and backup big men in Zaza Pachulia and Shelden Williams, who will play more minutes at center next year.

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