The Atlanta Hawks, who looked old and slow getting swept out of the playoffs by New York, will have a decidedly different look next season.
After trading point guard Mookie Blaylock the day before the draft, the Hawks completed a much-rumored purge of their backcourt Monday by dealing Steve Smith to Portland for guards Isaiah Rider and Jim Jackson.
The Hawks also sent little-used guard Ed Gray to the Trail Blazers, but the most dramatic decision was dealing an upstanding player like Smith for someone with a troubled history like Rider.
"People care about wins and losses," said Hawks general manager Pete Babcock, who has always made a point of going after players with solid character. "Unfortunately, that's the way our society is."
Rider has averaged 18 points a game for his career, but he was suspended for 12 games during three seasons in Portland for violations ranging from flagrant fouls to spitting on fans.
"It was a concern," Babcock conceded. "It's up to him. He's a tremendous talent. We're not going to predetermine anything until the end of the season. Then we'll make a decision about what's best for our franchise."
Rider, 28, will make $5.4 million next season in the final year of a $25.5 million rookie contract. The 29-year-old Jackson, who averaged a career-low 8.4 points last season, will get $3 million over the next two seasons.
The Hawks were reported to be talking with the Los Angeles Clippers about trading either Rider or Jackson for center-forward Lorenzen Wright. The Hawks also have expressed interest in re-signing Grant Long or signing Charles Oakley to bolster depth in the frontcourt.
Babcock didn't rule out further moves, but he denied that a deal for Wright was imminent.
"We're not even close," he said.
Smith, 30, requested to be sent to a winning team, and the Hawks complied by working out a deal with his No. 1 choice.
"I think they have a great chance to win a championship in Portland," said Smith, who will make $36 million over the next four years. "It's a great situation for me to go to a team that's loaded with talent. Maybe I'll be the one to get them over the edge and win a championship."
That's just what the Trail Blazers have in mind.
"We have a very deep roster and a very talented roster, and one of the things we wanted to try to accomplish was to thin it a little bit," team president Bob Whitsitt said. "We also wanted to try to increase our leadership ability."
The Blazers, who lost to NBA champion San Antonio in the Western Conference finals, decided they could part with both Rider and Jackson. Second-year guard Bonzi Wells, who will back up Smith, has shown dramatic improvement over the summer.
The one drawback with Smith is his creaky knees, which caused him to miss 14 games in the lockout-shortened season. He pointed out that he veraged more than 36 minutes per game in the previous five years.
"The thing about my knees is a poor excuse," Smith said. "I hope they didn't use my knees as the source of this trade."
Rider and Jackson were not immediately available for comment. The Hawks, in fact, were still trying to reach Rider on Monday evening to inform him of the deal, which had been reported for several weeks.
The Hawks, who finished second in the Central Division to Indiana, were routed by the Knicks in the second round of the playoffs. They have not made it beyond the second round since moving to Atlanta in 1968, forcing a dramatic overhaul of a team that rarely made more than one major move a year.
Blaylock was traded to Golden State for the No. 10 pick in the draft, which was used to select Arizona point guard Jason Terry. He will get a chance to start alongside Rider or Jackson in a backcourt that will be doing a lot more running than the Smith-Blaylock combination.
"It was important for us to get more athletes and improve our speed," Babcock said. "We want to be committed to the run. You need athletes for the running game."
Smith led the Hawks in scoring during each of his four full years in Atlanta, including an 18.7 average last season. He played in the 1998 All-Star game and was a member of Dream Team II, which captured the 1994 world championship.
Gray, a first-round pick in 1997, spent two troubled seasons with the Hawks, including an arrest on charges of drug possession and driving under the influence. He played in only 30 games last season, averaging 4.9 points.
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