While NBA owners tussle once more with their players today in New York City, one would-be new owner will not be joining the party.
The Atlanta Hawks were taken off the market Friday after the sale to California developer and pizza chain owner Alex Meruelo was terminated.
The Hawks’ ownership group, headed by Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon Jr., said Friday that the agreement for Meruelo to buy the team had been mutually terminated. Just last week, there were reports the NBA was delaying approval of sale because of concerns about Meruelo’s finances, though he insisted he had enough money to purchase the team and run it in a first-class manner.
Meruelo issued a statement, listing the ongoing NBA lockout as the main reason for the sale falling through.
“I want to thank the Atlanta community who welcomed me with open arms. I am humbled and blessed by their warmth and hospitality,” Meruelo said. “Basketball is my passion, but professional basketball is a business. Although all parties negotiated in good faith, we were not able to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement on some key issues given the current uncertainty surrounding the labor issue. As a result, we mutually decided to terminate the deal effective immediately.”
This marks another wrong turn for the star-crossed Hawks franchise, which is stuck in the no-man’s-land of NBA mediocrity – good enough to contend for a playoff spot every year but not nearly good enough to challenge for even a conference crown. They’re capped out after 2010’s short-sighted splurge for non-superstar Joe Johnson (six years, $123 million) and the five-year, $58 million offer sheet they matched for inconsistent forward Josh Smith in 2008. They’re clearly the third wheel in Atlanta behind the Braves and Falcons, and the gap between second and third is Georgia Dome wide.
And to add salt in the wound, the Hawks’ decision to draft Marvin Williams second overall over Chris Paul (and Deron Williams) continues to be one of the worst draft-day blunders in NBA history, and seems to look even worse after every masterful season by Paul. (Fun fact, the Atlanta Hawks have started Tyronn Lue, Salim Stoudamire, Speedy Claxton, Anthony Johnson, Acie Law, Mike Bibby, Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich at point guard in the six years that four-time All-Star Chris Paul has won Rookie of the Year, made the All-NBA team three times, and finished top five in MVP voting twice. The bright side: Chris would’ve probably Bankhead bounced his way out of ATL in 2012, anyway.)
Where the Hawks go from here is anyone’s guess. Their current ownership group, Atlanta Spirit, has had well-documented struggles in turning the team into an elite franchise. Between the in-fighting between the team’s owners over the 2005 trade that brought Joe Johnson over from the Phoenix Suns, and the bad financial moves that have destroyed the franchise’s long-term flexibility (not to mention the lockout that’s holding everyone up), it’s hard to imagine ATL will be joining the NBA’s elite anytime soon.