The Atlanta Hawks' decision to trade Joe Johnson for several expiring contracts allows them to hit the reset button on an era in their franchise's history where they were always good, but never good enough to be a serious threat in the Eastern Conference. In 2010, when they gave Johnson a six-year, $127-million contract, it seemed like the Hawks were content with staying in that bubble. New general manager Danny Ferry, though, made a strong statement in this trade, and now, it looks like the Hawks will be rebuilding.
By removing Johnson's remaining four years and $89 million from their payroll, the Hawks have immediately gone from being in danger of going over the luxury tax to being flushed with future cap space. Atlanta now has just three players -- Al Horford at $12 million, Marvin Williams at $7.5 million and 2012 first-round pick John Jenkins on a rookie salary -- under contract in 2013. Ironically, the Hawks could theoretically now do what the Nets cannot: bid on Dwight Howard when he becomes a free agent. Howard is from Atlanta, after all. I'm just saying...
But before anything like that can happen, the Hawks face a critical decision with two key members of their team. One is Josh Smith, who has one year left on his contract and has reportedly requested a trade many times. While Smith could potentially be a part of the Hawks' future, he also questioned the Hawks' commitment to winning even before Johnson was dealt. A trade later this summer therefore wouldn't be very surprising.
The other is point guard Jeff Teague, who is up for a contract extension this summer that would kick in starting in 2013-14. If the Hawks cannot agree to a new deal with Teague this summer, they'll get another chance when he becomes a restricted free agent in the summer of 2013. Teague more than held his own in his first full year as the starting point guard and seems poised for a breakout, so the Hawks may need to earmark a section of their cap space for Teague's extension.
In any event, the Hawks have made a clear statement that they are rebuilding. It remains to be seen what Danny Ferry does next.