HoopsHype.com Columns

Letting the Jet fly away
by Dean Serravalle / September 13, 2003

Prior to the 2002-2003 NBA season, the Atlanta Hawks seemed poised to finally make a splash in the Eastern Conference. With proven frontcourt players like Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Theo Ratliff, combined with the 1-2 scoring punch of Glenn Robinson and Jason Terry, the Hawks matched youth with experience to put together a rather formidable team on paper. Include up-and-coming draftees like Dan Dickau and the future certainly seemed bright for a team struggling to fill seats night in and night out at the Philips Arena. But all went awry when the "can't miss" blueprint turned rather quickly into a "can't hit" business report.

Although other factors like incompetent coaching and general managing probably contributed to last season's underachievement, the Hawks felt they received little return for such an expensive initial investment. As a result, Atlanta abandoned playoff aspirations and metaphorically jumped ship in the offseason, or -- better stated -- they let others walk the plank, most notably Glenn Robinson.

In an obvious effort to improve cap room with this year's biggest blockbuster trade, the Atlanta Hawks released what they considered a salary albatross to the Sixers in order to acquire the rights to Terrell Brandon's salary cap friendly contract from the Timberwolves. In exchange, they acquired a future first-round draft pick from the Sixers while attempting to wipe the slate clean of overpaid offensive juggernauts like Glen Robinson, who wouldn't break a sweat to play any recognizable form of defense. Which makes the reluctance to sign Jason Terry, who signed an offer sheet from the Utah Jazz, scratch your head.

Do the Hawks really want to lose their most consistent player over the last four years, one who averaged 16 points and six assists a game while playing good defense? And are the Hawks prepared to replace Terry with a well-travelled Jacque Vaughn, recently reacquired from the Orlando Magic? And even more mind-boggling, is there any strategy behind this high turnover construction of a team that more and more seems to resemble a franchise built on playing cards?

The Hawks have issued a rather conservative statement indicating that they will use the entire 15 days to consider matching the Jazz's offer to Terry. Within this process, they will also certainly keep in mind Terry's
frustration with previous contract negotiations, which have spurred him to comment that he'd rather not play for the Atlanta Hawks again. Can the Hawks heal the wounds in time and convince Terry to reconsider going through the rebuilding process once more? Probably not, and here's why.

Jason Terry is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. As a consistent scoring and passing threat, one who led his team in three-point percentage as well as steals, and coming off his best season as a pro, Terry would appear on paper to be a valuable commodity to any team. His stats are comparable to some of the best guards in the league while his youth and six-foot-two frame seem worthy enough to invest in. So why haven't interested teams chased Terry as hungrily as they have pursued problem children like Lamar Odom?

Simply put, Jason Terry plays for the Atlanta Hawks. In what has always been an underachieving franchise with decrepit fan support and a rather uneventful history -- save for Human Highlight Film Dominique Wilkins -- you can certainly fall off the NBA map when you become an Atlanta Hawk. And no one can vouch for such an opinion more than Jason Terry -- who is never mentioned in the same breath as, per say, an Andre Miller, whom he nearly matches on every stat sheet save for updated bank balances. Since his initiation into the league, Jason Terry has been lost in a whirlpool of mediocrity. For his part, he has put up good numbers. But those unfortunately haven't translated into wins, which makes the risk to sign him to a lengthy, lucrative contract all the more suspect for the Hawks.

If Jason Terry couldn't lead a team to the playoffs with the likes of Abdur-Rahim, Ratliff, Robinson and others, are he and his contract demands better suited elsewhere? This is a question that new general manager Billy Knight is pondering as the hour glass empties on Jason Terry's tenure as an Atlanta Hawk. And surely, when the dust has settled, it is more likely than not that the Atlanta Hawks will let their beloved Jet fly away, once again settling for a coach seat in the NBA.

Dean Serravalle is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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