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NBA superstars ignore Atlanta despite success

Posted: December 20, 2011 12:31 p.m.
Updated: December 21, 2011 5:00 a.m.

If the Los Angeles Lakers need a shoulder to cry on after losing out on acquiring all-star guard Chris Paul, they may want to set up a long distance call with the Atlanta Hawks.

A nixed trade almost had Paul suiting up with the Lakers, but instead he will be joining the underdog Clippers, a franchise that has long been in the shadows of the L.A. sports scene.    

Six years ago, the Hawks had a chance to get Paul when he declared for the NBA Draft in 2005, but instead opted to select Marvin Williams, a move that in hindsight truly shows Atlanta’s past ineptitude on draft day.    

While Paul has developed into one of the league’s premier point guards, Williams would likely be described by most as merely an average forward.

The year after the Marvin Williams decision, the Hawks picked up another forward in the draft by selecting All-American Sheldon Williams over point guards Rajon Rondo and Brandon Roy. Williams, a No. 5 overall draft pick, was subsequently traded and has turned into a career bench warmer, while Rondo and Roy both became all-stars.

Despite recent draft blunders, Atlanta has developed into one of the most talented teams in the Eastern Conference.

They’ve been to the playoffs each of the past four seasons, including three straight trips to the conference semifinals. Only two other teams have been able to accomplish that feat -- the Lakers and the Boston Celtics.

Atlanta’s success, however, has not translated into the city becoming one of the league’s hot spots for basketball.

Highly regarded free agents don’t seem to give much consideration toward making the move to Atlanta.

Instead, the team has settled on picking up older players like Tracy McGrady and Jerry Stackhouse.

Those moves would have garnered major headlines if they occurred five years ago, but now garner only small blurbs in the local Atlanta paper.

The lack of superstar attraction could somewhat be attached to the team’s lack of money. Despite having the eighth highest payroll in a 30-team league last season, most of the Hawks’ money is tied up in two players -- Joe Johnson and Josh Smith.

Last summer, Johnson signed a six-year, $120 million contract with Atlanta, which raised eyebrows around the league since he’s already 30 years old.

Even Shaquille O’Neal, who was considering joining the Hawks during the off-season last year, said he was turned off by the Johnson deal and instead decided to finish his career with the Boston Celtics.

Perhaps the most telling sign is the list of teams the league’s top center Dwight Howard wants to join if the Orlando Magic can trade him.

Howard, Atlanta’s homegrown superstar, reportedly demanded a trade to one of only three teams: the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, the Lakers or the newly relocated Brooklyn Nets.

Despite playing at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy in high school, Howard has expressed no interest in heading back to his hometown.

By picking up Howard, the Hawks could reenergize a team that has been devoid of a dominant center since Dikembe Mutombo left the team over a decade ago. Even without a top-notch center though, Atlanta was able to beat Howard’s Magic in the first round of the playoffs last season.        

Additionally, the Hawks have been dealing with juggling team owners as the franchise was sold this summer only to then be taken off the market and handed back to the previous owners.

Even when the team had highly talented and marketable players like Dominique Wilkins and Spud Webb, they struggled to fill up the old Omni Coliseum.

Sellouts at Philips Arena are still rare and the city typically attracts more fans based on what team the Hawks are playing that night.     

But if Atlanta can attract a big named talent to go along with an already talented and relatively young group of players, the team may be able to become not only one of the league’s best on the court, but also in the stands.


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