Danny Ferry's next task: Keep Hawks competitive

Hawks general manager Danny Ferry engineered trades that allow his team the chance to make major improvements in the long term.

Now Ferry's challenge is ensuring the Hawks can remain competitive in the meantime. There are reasons to believe the Hawks still can be good next season in spite of the talent deficit created by those trades, which are set to become official next week.

The Hawks are set to send away guard Joe Johnson, a six-time All-Star. The Hawks also agreed to trade forward Marvin Williams, a good wing defender who collected rebounds and had a career-best season shooting 3-pointers in 2011-12.

In return for Williams and Johnson, the Hawks mostly received players whose value is derived largely from contracts that expire after next season to create cap space. One of those players, guard Jordan Farmar, is expected to negotiate a buyout of his contract.

But in spite of the talent drain, the Hawks still retain forward Josh Smith, guard Jeff Teague and centers Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia. The Hawks also will add rotation-quality players Anthony Morrow and Devin Harris as part of the trades and John Jenkins, their first-round pick in last week's draft.

If the Hawks enter 2012-13 with those seven players, they will have the nucleus for what still could be a playoff team in the East. Consider that the Hawks posted the fourth-best record in the conference last season with Horford missing all but 11 games because of injury and several other players also sitting with ailments.

No doubt a major reason why the Hawks were able to remain one of the East's top teams was because Johnson raised his level of play. The Hawks also got key contributions from its bench players, all of whom are free agents.

But Smith probably was the team's best player last season with across-the-board production and defensive impact. Pachulia proved to be a starting-caliber center while filling in for Horford. And Teague showed improvement in his first season as the full-time starter at point guard.

To rebuild their bench, the Hawks will be able to use exceptions that allow them to spend above the salary cap for free agents. They can offer a contract starting at up to $5 million for next season if they choose to add major free agents and also can sign players using lesser exceptions.

The Hawks will have 10 players on the roster once the trades involving Johnson and Williams become official, Farmar is bought out and their two draft picks are signed. Forward Ivan Johnson also is expected to return after the Hawks extended him a qualifying offer to retain salary-matching rights if he signs an offer sheet with another team.

Assuming Johnson returns, the Hawks would have to add at least three players and can add many as five to round out the roster. As it stands now, they are lacking a true small forward and also could use depth at center.

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