Though it seemed earlier this week that Phoenix’s sign & trade deal sending Joe Johnson to Atlanta was all wrapped up, turmoil within the Hawks’ ownership group has the Suns guard/forward in limbo explains the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Tim Tucker.
The bitter battle within the Atlanta Hawks’ ownership group escalated Thursday when one of the owners took his partners to court and got a restraining order against them.
The order, sought by Steve Belkin in a Boston court, temporarily prohibits the majority of the Hawks’ owners from removing him as the team’s NBA governor ” a position Belkin has used this week to block a trade his partners want to make with the Phoenix Suns for guard Joe Johnson.
In an e-mail to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Belkin wrote: “Some of my fellow co-owners took action to prevent me from doing what I believe is in the best interests of the franchise, consistent with my role as NBA governor. There was no option but to seek legal protection.”
Dominique Wilkins, former Hawks star and current team vice president, did comment: “This is real damaging. This can’t work if everybody is pulling in different directions.”
At the center of the dispute is a proposed trade that would send guard Boris Diaw and two future first-round draft picks from the Hawks to Phoenix for Johnson, who would sign a five-year, $70 million contract to play for Atlanta. The trade is favored by the Hawks’ management and all of the owners except Belkin.
Belkin’s lawsuit, which seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting his removal as governor, contends that his partners “seek to oust [him] . . . merely because they disagree with [him] over the day-to-day management of the Atlanta Hawks, because Belkin has been unwilling, based on prudent business considerations” to approve the Johnson trade.
Belkin has declined to be interviewed this week about the situation, but in an e-mail to the Journal-Constitution on Thursday, he said he wants Johnson on the team but is opposed to the proposed deal because he believes the Hawks would be giving up too much in return.
“As NBA governor . . . I have the responsibility to manage the business and affairs of the team and to look out for the best interests of the team,” Belkin wrote. “In that capacity, I am charged with authorizing any player signing or trade. Like my fellow co-owners, I have supported signing Joe Johnson for the Hawks under contract terms proposed by general manager Billy Knight.
“However, I cannot support, in my capacity as NBA governor, a sign-and-trade that involves two first-round draft picks and a quality player, which I believe would be giving up too much of our future. I remain hopeful that Joe Johnson will be wearing a Hawks uniform next year, and that a deal can be completed in a manner that allows us to build around Joe in the future.”
Phoenix CEO Jerry Colangelo told reporters in Phoenix on Thursday the Suns would only agree to the current deal with the Hawks.