ATLANTA — The Hawks’ second straight playoff appearance left Atlanta general manager Rick Sund with the team’s lowest first draft pick since 2003.
Sund says he has a relatively simple strategy for the No. 19 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft. “When picking after the top six, you want to pretty much look at the best player available,” he said this week.
The Hawks face pivotal decisions with several free agents.
Point guard Mike Bibby is an unrestricted free agent. Another starter, forward Marvin Williams, is a restricted free agent.
Guard Flip Murray, who averaged 12.2 points as the top scorer off the bench, and backup center Zaza Pachulia also are restricted free agents.
It may be difficult for the Hawks to re-sign both Bibby, who made $14.9 million this season, and Williams, who made $7.4 million. Pachulia made $4 million.
Coach Mike Woodson said the trade for Bibby in the 2007-08 season was the final piece that sent the Hawks to their first playoff appearance since 1999. The loss of Bibby would create a huge void.
Sund says he’d like to keep as many players as possible.
“Of the eight teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs, we were the youngest,” Sund said. “Our goal is to try to get as many players back as we can within the confines of the economic pie we have. That presents some challenges. You have to do the best you can with the situation you have. We have a lot of free agents this year.”
Long-suffering Hawks fans don’t have to be reminded of Bibby’s value.
Point guard was a weak spot before acquiring Bibby. Former general manager Billy Knight passed on point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams when making Marvin Williams the No. 2 overall pick in 2005. Deron Williams and Paul were the next two picks.
Marvin Williams, who averaged 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds last season, is only 22. He hasn’t matched Paul’s All-Star credentials, but he is viewed by the Hawks as an important part of a young nucleus that also includes center Al Horford, forward Josh Smith and guard Joe Johnson.
Bibby, 31, averaged 14.9 points and five assists as the Hawks finished 47-35 and were eliminated by Cleveland in the conference semifinals.
The Hawks have consistently protected their young players in their building process, but it’s not clear how age might affect offseason decisions on free agents.
Michael Gearon Jr., one of the team’s owners, said in a recent interview “Bibby to me is a young guy.”
If Sund expects Bibby to receive long-term offers from other teams, the GM might look for a less expensive option at point guard through free agency or the draft and focus on re-signing Williams, Pachulia and Murray. Acie Law, who played only 10 minutes per game in his second season, could be ready for a more important role at point guard.
The Hawks could try to clear salary room for both Williams and Bibby by trading their first-round pick, perhaps in a package with point guard Speedy Claxton. Claxton, bothered by persistent knee problems, appeared in only two games this season after missing the 2007-08 season.
Smith’s name is consistently mentioned in any moves.
But the Hawks quickly matched the restricted free agent Smith’s offer sheet from Memphis last summer and are not expected to part with the Atlanta native whose blocked shots and powerful jams make him one of the team’s most popular players.
Smith, 23, was the team’s most productive player in the playoffs, averaging 17.1 points and 7.5 rebounds. He averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds in the regular season.
Sund would not comment on trade rumors.
A trio of North Carolina players — point guard Ty Lawson and forwards Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington — are among the players who might be available with the No. 19 overall pick. NBAdraft.net projects the Hawks choosing Ellington.
Sund also might consider two high-scoring Georgia natives, Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks of Norcross and Florida State guard Toney Douglas of Jonesboro.
The No. 19 pick is the Hawks’ lowest first selection since taking Boris Diaw at No. 21 in the 2003 draft.