While the Atlanta Hawks organization could only hide its face in embarrassment, the Suns were still waiting and watching on the sidelines Tuesday as a proposed Joe Johnson trade took yet another interesting detour.
A Boston-area superior court judge granted Hawks coowner and governor Steve Belkin — who is blocking the proposed trade that would send Johnson to Atlanta for two first-round draft picks, guard Boris Diaw and a $4.9 million trade exception — a temporary injunction that prevents the rest of his ownership group from voting him out and completing the deal.
"It is hardly apparent on the present record that the deal for Johnson ... talented he may be ... is in the economic best interest of the franchise,’’ Judge Allan van Geste wrote in his decision. "Sometimes the cost is just too great.’’
Belkin has said in the past he agreed with the decision to obtain Johnson, but he feels the Hawks are giving up too much, especially the two picks, for Johnson. Belkin’s lawyer, John Fabiano, told the judge, "Steve Belkin simply thinks that’s too much to pay for Joe Johnson.’’
The team’s other eight owners, who own 70 percent of the team to Belkin’s 30 percent, and the Hawks’ front office contends it’s just another attempt by Belkin to keep costs down.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported today that the Hawks’ other owners met Tuesday and will ask the league to remove Belkin as the man in charge of the franchise.
Atlanta general manager Billy Knight is also incensed. When Belkin tried to shake Knight’s hand during Tuesday’s court hearing, Knight refused. And former Hawks star and current team vice president Dominique Wilkins said he can’t believe Belkin won’t sign off on the deal.
"As a basketball player, we know this game, and this deal makes sense to us, plain and simple,’’ Wilkins told the Associated Press. "This is what everybody wants — what our city wants, what our franchise wants, what our fans want.’’
Suns general manager Bryan Colangelo said the team remains in a watching and waiting mode and refused any comment on the matter. "We’re not in a position to say anything right now,’’ he said.
Which way will things go from here? There are more possibilities, it seems, than there are Hawks owners:
• The eight owners against Belkin could appeal to a higher court or take the matter to NBA commissioner David Stern for relief.
• The Hawks could try to adjust the trade in a manner that would be agreeable to both Belkin and the Suns —probably without one of the two first-round picks. But there is no indication that the Suns would be amicable to taking any less for Johnson.
• Atlanta could withdraw from the trade and sign Johnson to a five-year, $70 million offer sheet that includes a first-year payment of $20 million. But Suns owner Robert Sarver has said on several occasions within the past week that the team would match such an offer and keep Johnson.
• The Suns could seek a reconciliation with Johnson and sign him while the Hawks continue to spin their wheels. But there is no indication the Suns and Johnson, or his representatives, have been communicating during the delay.
• The Suns could find another trading partner. There has been speculation that other teams may be interested in Johnson. Teams with enough cap room to sign him include the New Orleans Hornets.