The hockey arm of the Atlanta Spirit might be headed out of town, and a key part of the Spirit's basketball operation could be, too. This assumes the Spirit will keep the Hawks, which it might not. Confused yet?) Jamal Crawford won't be taking his talents to Winnipeg, but he might not be a Hawk much longer. Crawford isn't anxious to leave. Of his four NBA stops, this has been the sweetest: He made the playoffs for the first time, and last season he was voted the league's best sixth man. But he wants more money. He's not apt to find it here. He made $10 million this season. He's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He informed the Hawks a year ago that he'd like a new contract, and nothing much has happened. (Nothing beyond Rick Sund, the general manager, saying he'd like to keep Crawford.) Unless the NBA thrashes out a new collective bargaining agreement that radically boosts the salary cap, the Hawks won't be in position to spend. The Spirit, which funded the league's seventh-highest payroll in 2010-2011, doesn't want to pay one penny of luxury tax, the threshold for which was $70 million this season. (And even if the Hawks were sold, the sale wouldn't be finalized until after the keep-or-dump decision on Crawford is made.) The Hawks have committed almost $67 million to salaries for 2011-2012, which brings us to the greater issue. Their surprising playoff run notwithstanding, is there financial room for growth? Joe Johnson will make $18 million next season. There was a time when - at least to some people, this correspondent included - it made sense for the Hawks to pay whatever it took to keep their best player. One year into his $120-million contract, Johnson is no longer that player. He slipped from 11th in the NBA in scoring in 2009-2010 to 28th this season, and he didn't draw a single vote in All-NBA balloting. (He'd made third team the year before.) Combine the $18 million due Johnson with the $8 million on Kirk Hinrich's contract and the $1.5 million due Jeff Teague, and you've got nearly $28 million sunk into a backcourt without Crawford. And the price paid for Hinrich - the rookie Jordan Crawford plus the Hawks' No. 1 pick in 2011 - wrecked the chance of developing young talent at an entry-level rate.
Another Spirit dilemma: Can Hawks afford Jamal Crawford?
Atlanta Journal-Constitution | May 19