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Stern: Atlanta Spirit committed to winning NBA title

NBA commissioner David Stern has confidence in the Atlanta Hawks ownership group.

NBA commissioner David Stern has confidence in the Atlanta Hawks ownership group.

ATLANTA — NBA Commissioner David Stern expressed confidence in the owners of the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, saying they are “way down my list of current worries.”

The group known as Atlanta Spirit already sold its NHL team, the Thrashers, who moved to Winnipeg and are now known as the Jets. The Spirit also had an agreement over the summer to sell the Hawks to California businessman Alex Meruelo, but the deal fell through and the Hawks are now off the market.

That’s just fine with Stern, who was in Atlanta to attend the Hawks’ game against Indiana. He said the Spirit is committed to building a championship team and boosted its financial resources by selling the Thrashers.

“They have sort of demonstrated to me a new resolve to continue to do the things they were already doing pretty well as an ownership group,” Stern said. “This is a desirable asset. They could be sold if they were interested in selling it. But, without naming names, they are way down my list of current worries.”

Stern said the new collective bargaining agreement with the players, reached after a lockout that reduced the schedule to 66 games, will help lower-revenue teams such as the Hawks, as will enhanced revenue sharing among the owners.

“If the season ended tomorrow, they would be playing these same Pacers in the playoffs and we’d be looking forward to that game,” Stern said. “So they’re doing pretty darn well. They’re an intriguing team on the court.”

The commissioner praised the Hawks’ owners for putting together a team that has made the second round of the playoffs three years in a row and doled out a maximum contract to Joe Johnson when he became a free agent, refuting critics who say the Spirit doesn’t have the financial resources to compete with the NBA’s elite franchises.

“They’re committed to paying the luxury tax, which not many teams in our league do these days, or try not to do,” Stern said. “And they’re committed to hiring the personnel needed to show the fans this is a franchise worth supporting.

“I think they’re committed to Atlanta and I’m committed to them.”

On another subject, Stern took several good-natured but pointed jabs at Charles Barkley, the outspoken analyst for Atlanta-based TNT. Barkley has criticized the league for rushing back after the lockout and setting up a compressed schedule that gives teams fewer days off and puts more physical demands on the players.

Barkley will be one of the coaches at the Rising Stars Challenge on All-Star weekend, joining fellow TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal in drafting the teams.

“I think Shaq will be a better coach than Charles,” Stern said, smiling. “And he was a better rebounder than Charles. I’m leaving open the question as to whether he’s a better commentator than Charles.”