May 3, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks small forward Josh Smith (5) shoots a basket over Indiana Pacers small forward Gerald Green (25) in the first quarter of game six of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

What the Atlanta Hawks could do in Free Agency to devastate Los Angeles

January 4, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) guards Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) as he gets set to pass to power forward Blake Griffin (32) during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. Clippers won 107-102. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The future of the Los Angeles Clippers franchise hinges on the resigning of Chris Paul. Prior to his arrival in 2011, the Clippers were mired in mediocrity and carried around the stigma of their futile past. Since Chris Paul’s arrival, the Clippers have become a part of the Western Conference elite and relevant for possibly the first time in their franchise’s history.

The Los Angeles Lakers number one priority this offseason is to resign Dwight Howard and build their future around him. Losing Howard to free agency would be a massive setback and leave them scrambling to find the next star to carry the franchise after the Kobe era comes to an end.

Most reports up to this point seem to favor both Howard and Paul returning to their respective ball clubs. The benefits of resigning with their current team is getting the extra 5th year in their contract instead of just 4 years if they decide to walk. Also, both Howard and Paul will get a slightly higher per year increase in salary by staying versus leaving their ball clubs. Lastly, by staying, they’ll get to avoid the media and fan backlash if they leave.

The Atlanta Hawks are in a great position this off-season. The Hawks have only 3 players that are definitely under contract this coming season with Al Horford, Louis Williams and John Jenkins; the total salary for these players amounts to roughly 18 million. Jeff Teague and Ivan Johnson are still under their rookie deals and the Hawks can make the qualifying offer for a little less than 5 million combined. After that, no other contracts are on the books that can’t be eliminated by passing on a team option, bringing their total team salary to less than 23 million.

The salary cap limit for the upcoming 2014-15 NBA season is expected to be set at around 60 million, which will leave the Atlanta Hawks with 37 million dollars to spend freely on free agents this off-season. That is enough money for 2 max contract deals; with some dumping of their contracts via trade, they could potentially open up enough salary for 3 max deals.

Here is the scenario that can potentially occur and devastate both franchises in Los Angeles:

Step 1:

The Hawks trade Al Horford and his 12 million dollar salary to a team far enough under the cap to absorb his contract for either draft picks or a low salary player. NBA teams that have the opportunity to be well under the cap are Houston, Sacramento, Utah, Charlotte and Milwaukee, to name a few; all of these teams, as well as others, would love to pick up a former All Star big man for nothing more than draft picks.

Why?

Eliminating Al Horford’s 12 million dollar contract would place the Hawk’s 49 million under the salary cap and the space to sign close to 3 max deals.

Step 2:

Commit verbally to Josh Smith and his agent come July 1st (first day that teams can negotiate with free agents). Smith reportedly turned down a contract extension last season from the Hawks estimated at 15 million per year; therefore, they’ll likely have to agree to a max deal starting at around 17-18 million per year based on his 9 years in the league and the estimated salary cap limit for the 2013-14 season.

Why?

Josh Smith has known Dwight Howard since his pre-school days and played on the same AAU team as a teenager. With Smith being secured a place in Atlanta he can be the attractive piece to entice Howard and play the role of recruiter for the Hawks.

Step 3:

Sign Dwight Howard and Chris Paul with the remaining 30-32 million dollars in cap space. Howard is eligible to receive a maximum starting salary of about 20 million and Chris Paul will start at a max deal at close to 19 million. If they can get Josh Smith to agree to take less than the max and/or dump additional player contracts such as John Jenkins’ 1.2 million and/or Louis Williams’ 5.2 million contract, they’ll be able to offer the full maximum deals for both Howard and Paul.

Why?

To form the newest Super team and build a dynasty around Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Josh Smith.

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This idea isn’t all that far-fetched as it may seem when all of the steps are laid out in front you. The front office of the Atlanta Hawks has to see all of the advantages that they have in free agency this season. They have the flexibility to offer max deals to more than one free agent. They have ties to Dwight Howard with his close relationship with Josh Smith and being situated in  his home town of Atlanta.  Once Howard and Josh Smith are in place, the situation in Atlanta would become very attractive to Chris Paul who is a fierce competitor in the quest for a championship and also grew up in nearby North Carolina.

This is all predicated on the idea that both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul are open to leaving their current situations with their respective teams in Los Angeles. While many aren’t anticipating either player to jump ship, both Los Angeles franchises have to be feeling the pressure and terrified at the possibility.

Come July 1st, both the Lakers and Clippers will be in the same precarious position of trying to hold on to their prized star player and protecting the viability of their franchise’s future. They know full well that the team possessing the greatest threat to ransacking their star players is the Atlanta Hawks. The question now is will the Atlanta Hawks make their move on Los Angeles?

Do you see either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard leaving Los Angeles for Atlanta or any other NBA team?

You can reach me regarding this article or anything else you’d like to discuss on my Twitter handle, @fullcourtfern.

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Tags: Los Angeles Clippers Los Angeles Lakers Nba Playoffs

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