Hawks could become relevant by adding stars

sports@macon.comJune 24, 2014 

Heat James Basketball

An image of Miami Heat basketball player LeBron James flashes on a monitor at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Tuesday, June 24, 2014. A person familiar with the situation tells The Associated Press that James has decided to opt out of the final two years of his contract with the Heat and become a free agent.. Opting out does not mean James has decided to leave the Heat, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because neither the four-time NBA MVP nor the team had made any public announcement.

J PAT CARTER — AP

Tuesday’s news that LeBron James will opt out of his deal with the Miami Heat and become a free agent churned the rumor mill into high gear. And surprisingly, a new team was part of all the talk.

Could the Atlanta Hawks actually be players in the NBA free agent sweepstakes the next few weeks?

ESPN reported Tuesday the Hawks were a team that might make moves to fit not only James on the roster, but Carmelo Anthony, too. The two stars are friends and reportedly have talked about playing together.

Wow. How about that? LeBron and Carmelo on the Hawks?

Well, it’s fun to think about, at least. It’s good the Hawks are in these conversations. Getting either one of those stars would definitely make the Hawks more relevant, and that has been one of their problems for years now.

The Hawks don’t draw well at Philips Arena. That’s a large city up there, one that actually usually does well in the TV ratings for NBA games. But people just don’t go see the home team play in person very much.

Blame the Hawks for that.

While the circumstances are different, considering the histories of the teams, look at the Braves. They market themselves around the Southeast and even call the entire territory “Braves Country.” Yet, do you think a large number of people in Alabama or South Carolina or Tennessee, the three states bordering Georgia, even care about the Hawks? Sometimes you have to wonder if people outside of the 404 area code even care.

That’s why getting a player like James or Anthony is tempting. Who wouldn’t want James? He’s the best player in the sport. Who knows if he would be serious about Atlanta, but it’s worth seeing if he is serious. And if the reports are true that James wants to play with Anthony, and the Hawks are one of the teams that can make that happen, why wouldn’t they at least try?

Give general manager Danny Ferry credit. He has kept the Hawks’ payroll flexible by not going nuts on long-term contracts. He has deals with Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap that can easily be traded if he needs to make room for a star. And his best player, Al Horford, doesn’t have a horrible salary, either.

Ferry might be the key. He was James’ general manager when both were in Cleveland. James must know the progress Ferry has made thus far and what he could do to get the Hawks to the next level. Plus, head coach Mike Budenholzer certainly impressed in his first year on the job to the point players, even stars, might want to play for him.

This all seems like a dream, and maybe it is. But the Hawks seem positioned to do something special. They have a draft pick in the middle of the first round, and chances are that could be a good player. But let’s be honest. This team needs a star. They need someone to be the face of the franchise.

Have they had someone fill that role since Dominique Wilkins? No. They’ve had Steve Smith, Dikembe Mutombo, Mookie Blaylock, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith -- all very good players, but not stars. They need someone to capture the fans who have drifted away over time and the ones that have never given them much thought at all.

We keep hearing the Hawks are following the model of the San Antonio Spurs, which is definitely a good franchise to emulate. But without a star, how can any team have a legit chance to win a championship? That’s why adding James and/or Anthony could be the final piece of the puzzle to make the Hawks finally relevant.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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