NBA Trade Deadline 2012: Hawks Aim High With Dwight Howard, But May Finish With Whimper

So long as the Atlanta Hawks remain the property of quite possibly the worst sports ownership group in North America -- that'd be the Atlanta Spirit Group, which tried to offload the club to a pizza magnate last summer, but failed when the businessman didn't meet the NBA's wealth standards -- the Hawks will be seen as a franchise unable to spend enough money to take the next leap in the Eastern Conference.

It's not that the Hawks have been shy about spending -- Joe Johnson's contract still astounds, even though he's a consistent All-Star in the East -- it's about gradations. The Hawks spend like any team in the league would, right up to the luxury tax threshold, but the teams Atlanta needs to climb past -- Orlando, Miami and Chicago -- can go over the threshold to add talent ... at least until the higher penalties kick in for 2013-14.

Atlanta isn't going there. It's hard to improve a roster without giving up real assets or taking on toxic assets. As such, with a few exceptions, no big moves seem terribly reasonable approaching the deadline.

NEEDS & TARGETS

Frankly, the Hawks need Al Horford back. The big Dominican is the franchise's best player, and though Atlanta stayed strong in the immediate aftermath of his pectoral injury, things have begun to fall apart. On the season, the Hawks are now just about break-even in center matchups, according to 82games.com. Before the injury, Horford had been destroying the competition.

Early in the season, there were murmurs that Atlanta would make a play for native son Dwight Howard, perhaps offering up Horford. If Howard signals that he would sign a long-term contract with the Hawks, it's a no-brainer deal for both sides. Howard is one of the few big men better than Horford, and the Dominican is far better than the current Howard exchange rate, Brook Lopez.

If Atlanta is forced by Howard's enigmatic wish list to aim lower, Kevin Garnett is an intriguing option. Even at this stage of his career, KG is worth a first-round pick and maybe a prospect. If Boston looks to retool, there could be a match here.

The Hawks could also stand to upgrade the reserve wings. Willie Green, Tracy McGrady, Jannero Pargo and Vladimir Radmanovic are getting a whole lot of minutes.

SALARY CAP SITUATION

Per ShamSports.com, the Hawks ($70.4 million) are on the cusp of the luxury tax threshold (which is at $70.3 million), and will be forced to make some small salary cut at the deadline if a larger deal isn't executed first.

For more on the Hawks, visit Peachtree Hoops and SB Nation ATL.

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