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Fire Billy Knight first

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Fire Billy Knight first

| Saturday, February 2, 2008, 10:57 PM

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

This should not be taken as an endorsement of Mike Woodson, because it s generally not wise to endorse a coach with a career record of 88-201, unless, like, your name is Mrs. Woodson.

But in light of the relative deathwatch that s hovering over the Hawks coach, a question: Has everybody lost sight of the bigger picture?

The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 21. Notwithstanding Saturday s 104-92 win over the seemingly comatose New Jersey Nets, the Hawks are in need of a new plan and a makeover. The last plan and makeover by the all-knowing (just ask him) general manager, Billy Knight, has gotten them to 19-24. Now, you might believe that 19-24 represents significant underachievement for this roster. But I m inclined to think Woodson probably was on the mark when he said before the game, I thought we d be at about .500 right now. (That should pump up second-half ticket sales.)

So ask yourself this: With the trade deadline approaching, what would better serve the Hawks future: 1) Firing the coach; or, 2) Firing the general manager? (I know. You want the obvious third option. I want world peace. Don t get greedy.)

If only because of timing: Fire Billy Knight first.

Let his replacement analyze this mismatched roster. Let his replacement orchestrate moves before the deadline. Let his replacement make the call on Woodson, whether that s on his first day before lunch, or next week, or following the season.

When you build a new house and things start falling apart in three months, you don t phone the plumber, or the electrician, or the sheetrock guy. You phone the builder who handed you the blueprint, then hired the plumber, the electrician and the sheetrock guy.

It works the same in basketball. How do you dump the coach before you dump the general manager who not only hired him, but also passed up Chris Paul and Brandon Roy in consecutive drafts? I realize the whole point guard thing has been beaten to death. But Paul and Roy both were named to the All-Star Game last week. So the two being ignored by Knight in consecutive drafts is sort of timely.

A new coach might help you in the short term. But Knight shouldn t be given that hammer.

Yes, Woodson s record in three and a half seasons is a cartoon-like 88-201 (.304). But it s not as if he has been a drag on Knight s career. Knight s cumulative record in four and a half seasons: 116-255 (.313). Woodson would have to win another 26 in a row just to surpass the winning percentage of Lon Kruger (69-122, .361). But Knight is making Pete Babcock who made the playoffs eight of 13 seasons look like a visionary.

The fortunate upside to the Hawks record is they play in the Eastern Conference. They re not dropping out of the playoff race any time soon. But this is when serious teams with serious general managers make moves. Los Angeles just completed a deal for Pau Gasol. Other teams are circling the Nets for Jason Kidd (who drifted through Saturday s game like his head was elsewhere).

If you re an Atlanta Spirit partner, do you going to trust Billy Knight to make a move?

Asked before Saturday s game if a trade could send the right message to players in the locker room, Woodson said: It could. We ve kind of sat intact with this team for the last four years, when you talk about Josh Smith and [Josh] Childress and [Tyronn] Lue. There s never really been a major trade since I ve been here. I m not saying that s the answer. All I m saying is, if something makes sense that can better your team, you have to do it.

Woodson s lifeline is remarkable. This same ownership group trusted Don Waddell to fire Bob Hartley because they were convinced the Thrashers coach had lost the team six games after a playoff season. Given Woodson is still employed, we have to assume he is somehow held in higher regard after over 200 losses.

But since they have waited this long, they might as well make the move that makes more sense. Fire the builder, not the plumber.

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