by Lang Whitaker

Back in July, I wrote here that I had heard the Hawks and Pacers were ready to swap Al Harrington for more or less nothing — a first round pick and cash.

Last night it finally happened: the Hawks traded Al Harrington (and Johnny Edwards) to Indiana for a first round pick in 2007. And that’s all. No, really. That’s all.

It’s a great deal for Indiana. They’ve turned into the Hawks of the Central Division with a swingman-heavy roster, but Harrington will rebound, help spread the floor with his improved three point shooting and give the Pacers size.

For Atlanta, this is a mess, and as a Hawks fan I’m angry. The Hawks have screwed this up all the way around. They could’ve re-signed him during the season, which might have kept Al from trying to do too much and playing outside the offense, like he frequently did in an attempt to show his value. That hurt the team once. They could’ve moved him at the trade deadline to a contender for a pick this summer. That hurt the team a second time. And now they got ripped off by the Pacers. That hurt the team a third time.

Harrington himself said it pretty well last night: “I definitely look at it like Indiana got over on Atlanta. I don’t care what anybody says, a draft pick can’t replace 19 and seven (Harrington’s scoring and rebounding averages from last season). When you talk about winning and going to the next level, you can’t say one thing and do another. That’s just how I feel.”

He’s right. Hawks GM Billy Knight told the AJC‘s Sekou Smith, “There were a lot of good and interesting players involved in the conversations we had. But with our team the way it is currently constructed, none of them made sense for us right now. Obviously, we didn’t think that any of those deals would be good for us, and that’s why we didn’t do a deal that brought us back contracts we didn’t want.”

Contracts you didn’t want? The Hawks could’ve asked for David Harrison, who makes $2 million combined over the next two seasons, and could’ve provided size and rebounding. Or what about Jeff Foster, who has 3 years and about $17 million left? You’re telling me a team that won 26 games last season couldn’t use either of those guys?

But no, the Hawks didn’t want to spend money, which is what it really comes down to. According to people I talked to, Billy Knight had his hands tied by the Hawks ownership, which didn’t want to take on money. How horrible is that? It’s like the Hawks are being run by Scrooge McDuck. It’s time like these that I wish relegation existed in the NBA, so that the Hawks would get sent down to the minors, the owners would lose all their money and someone else would buy the team. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing worse than an owner that refuses to put his money where the fans are.

The only way this works in the Hawks favor is if the increased playing time for our young guys (Marvin Williams, mostly) pays dividends down the road. But in the short term, deciding that you don’t care about getting better right this second tells fans that they shouldn’t care about you, either.