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Hawks keeping free agent pursuit under wraps

By SEKOU SMITH
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/06/05
Nearly every free agent rumor floated in the past six months has included the Hawks in some form or fashion.

With an estimated $24 million in salary cap space and a plethora of needs up and down the roster, Hawks general manager Billy Knight expected as much.

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But even he couldn't have been ready for the deluge of misinformation that has spread like brush fire since the NBA's free agent negotiating period began at midnight on July 1.

No contracts can be signed before July 23, but recruiting pitches and conversations are ongoing. And the rumors — from the feasible to the completely ridiculous — continue to circulate.

"That's the way it goes," Knight said Tuesday. "Every team that has cap space is being mentioned with [free agents], even when they aren't talking to those guys. And guys are being mentioned with those teams, too, when they shouldn't be. It's not just us."

The Hawks have been active since 12:01 on July 1, when Knight says he made initial contact with the players the Hawks are most interested in. Knight declined to name names, choosing instead to pursue his targets without a spotlight, no matter how much agents and others want to press the issue in public.

"You sort of have to do the dance a little bit," Knight said. "So you're using your intuition and feel, trusting your relationships with agents or whoever. You're operating the best way you can.

"We've talked to the people I want to talk to, and we've stated our intentions clearly and communicated our intentions. But I don't like my conversations being made public. My philosophy is you talk to the guy you want to get, come to an agreement or you don't, and then you move on. There is really no gray area.

"We've had some good conversations with people. We won't know until the signing period begins if we'll get them signed or not, and there will still be a waiting period on some guys because they're restricted free agents. But the players we are really interested in, we made it very clear to them. We've stated our intentions very clearly."

With a quality center a top priority, the Hawks have been mentioned as an interested party for Cleveland All-Star center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, whose agent, Herb Rudoy, once represented Knight.

"There's a good number of teams we're talking to about a sign and trade, and there are a couple of teams under the cap that are talking to me," Rudoy told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "We're also talking to [Cavs GM] Danny [Ferry] about Z returning. Z's thinking about [remaining with the Cavs]. He'd like to stay."

Another intriguing rumor has a trade between the Hawks and Bulls, with Hawks power forward Al Harrington and Bulls center Eddy Curry as the principals. But like most everything else being bandied about, neither Hawks nor Bulls officials have verified such a deal has even been discussed.

Seattle shooting guard Ray Allen can also be crossed off the Hawks' wish list. He agreed terms with the Sonics on Tuesday, according to his agent Lon Babby.

That leaves Suns rising star Joe Johnson, Bucks sharpshooter Michael Redd and versatile Wizards star Larry Hughes as the top free-agent guards available. And since Johnson is a restricted free agent and Redd is rumored to be the top priority for Cleveland as well as the Bucks, who've already offered him a max deal between $80-90 million for six years, the Hawks' attention in Hughes could intensify.

Morris on roster

The Hawks released their summer league roster Tuesday and former Landmark Christian and Kentucky standout Randolph Morris is on the list.

Hawks rookies Marvin Williams and Salim Stoudamire will join forces with second-year players Josh Childress, Josh Smith, Royal Ivey, Donta Smith and third-year pro Boris Diaw for other free agents for three days of training camp (July 11-13) before heading to Salt Lake City for the Rocky Mountain Revue summer league July 15-22.


LET'S MAKE A DEAL

The Hawks are big game hunters on the NBA's free-agent market. Here's a look at four big names to keep an eye on:

• Eddy Curry, C, Chicago. The Bulls have made it clear that they intend to match any offer made to the 6-foot-11 low-post monster, though they've been mum on his status since health issues complicated matters. Last week doctors cleared Curry to resume regular activities after he missed the end of the regular season and playoffs because of a heart condition. If healthy, he could bolster a young and athletic lineup in need of a go-to-player. Curry would be a significant upgrade from the big men the Hawks had last season, including starter Obinna Ekezie, who was waived by the Hawks on Tuesday along with late-season NBDL call-up James Thomas.

• Tyson Chandler, PF/C, Chicago. The other half of the Bulls' young frontline nucleus, Chandler has actually emerged as the more promising of the two. He came on this past season as a true shot-blocker and defensive presence at 7-1. He's also has the type of nasty on-court demeanor coaches love. But like Curry, he's a restricted free agent, meaning the Bulls have the best chance of retaining his services for the future. The best-case scenario for the Hawks: Both Chandler and Curry get big offers from other teams and the Bulls are forced to choose between them.

• Sam Dalembert, C, Philadelphia. He's the prototype — young, physically gifted, room for improvement. But he's also a restricted free agent and much more importantly, he's favored by 76ers superstar Allen Iverson. With a new coach (Mo Cheeks) comes a fresh slate for the shot-blocking demon, who played some of his best basketball during a first-round playoff defeat to the Pistons. The 76ers insist they'll match any offers made to Dalembert, but if Curry and Chandler can't be pried away from the Bulls, expect the amount of money being thrown Dalembert's way to increase dramatically.

• Larry Hughes, PG/SG, Washington. Perhaps the most intriguing of all the free agents on the market, Hughes is the only one capable of playing two positions at an elite level. The Hawks need help at both spots. Alongside All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas this past season, Hughes helped the Wizards to the playoffs. The seventh-year guard scores at will (22 points per game), can run a team and defend at the highest level (led the league in steal and earned first-team All-Defense honors). The Wizards aren't interested in seeing Hughes, an unrestricted free agent, anywhere else next season. So expect a bidding war for his services.

— Sekou Smith