Last summer, prior to Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld receiving a two-year contract extension, there was a fleeting rumor that Washington was interested in the services of Danny Ferry. Ferry had recently resigned as general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, following the team’s firing of coach Mike Brown, and before the team’s star Lebron James very publically announced that he would be moving on to a new team.
Ferry was hired as the general manager of the Cavaliers in 2005, architecting the teams featuring James, as well as a complement of role players that would help the team achieve a 272-138 record during his tenure. While Ferry was often maligned for some signings that failed to yield results (Larry Hughes and Donyell Marshall, most notably), he also surrounded James with solid veterans like Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mo Williams, and Drew Gooden. The results would be two consecutive seasons with the NBA’s best record, several deep playoff runs, and one appearance in the NBA Finals.
Ferry was hired as President of Basketball Operations and General Manager of the Atlanta Hawks on June 25, 2012 and immediately began making serious changes to a team that was seemingly mired in competitive purgatory. The Hawks were a perennial playoff team; however, their financial commitment to their star players resulted in a roster that would remain constant indefinitely.
Ferry’s first noteworthy move was trading Joe Johnson, the Hawks’ franchise face, to the Brooklyn Nets for a potpourri of players including Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, Jordan Williams, and DeShawn Stevenson. Johnson’s contract was thought to be one of the most onerous in the NBA before he was jettisoned by Atlanta. At the time of the trade, he was owed nearly $90 million over the course of the next four seasons.
Ferry followed the Johnson trade by making another savvy cap space-clearing transaction, trading the underwhelming Marvin Williams to Utah for Devin Harris. Williams had two years and $15.8 million remaining on his contract, while Harris would be owed $8.5 million in the final year of his deal.
With the aforementioned moves, the Hawks reduced their payroll significantly, giving the team the immediate ability to be players in the free agent market going forward. Entering the 2013-2014 season, Atlanta will have approximately $18 million committed to players, including two team options. Its current payroll is nearly $67 million.
In a recent interview, Josh Smith, Atlanta’s current centerpiece, was asked his thoughts on the team’s front office since Ferry assumed his role. His response was that he was very satisfied and that Ferry’s “winning attitude” has trickled down the coaches and players.
In a sport where a franchise’s success hinges greatly upon the acumen of its leadership, it is clear that hiring decisions can lead to either rapid success or sustained futility. If Washington truly missed an opportunity to hire Danny Ferry, it will have an intra-division reminder of its own failing for years to come.