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Hawks enter free agency with money, options

ATLANTA — The Hawks don’t face a fork in the road as they plot the direction of the franchise.

They are staring at Spaghetti Junction.

NBA free agency began Monday, and the Hawks are armed with plenty of salary cap space to assemble a viable roster. General manager Danny Ferry urged patience as he continues to build what the organization hopes is a championship-caliber team capable of long-term success.

“We are in a unique situation,” Ferry told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There is not just one path that will lead us to success. With all the cap space and flexibility, there are many different ways we can approach this. It’s not about creating a big headline, but it’s about creating the right team that fits well together, complements each other and believes in what we are doing.”

Win games, not press conferences.

Ferry, new head coach Mike Budenholzer and co-owner Bruce Levenson lead the Hawks’ contingent that has begun the recruitment process. They started in Los Angeles. Ferry met with Dwight Howard on Monday and remains one of five teams vying for the services of the unrestricted free agent center.

There will be many more conversations with other free agents. There could be trades. It is a work in progress.

Ferry said his biggest pitch to potential free-agent signees will be the players already on the roster, the team’s ability to add other pieces and the city of Atlanta itself.

“We are going to continue to show that the basketball here for the Hawks is going to be done very well,” Ferry said. “We are focused on what we can control and that is building a strong organization, a high-caliber group of coaches and players.”

After Howard, now that guard Chris Paul is off the market, there are good free agents available this year but no other franchise-type players. If the Hawks miss on Howard, they could very well keep their salary cap flexibility and look to next year.

After trading the maximum contract of Joe Johnson in one of his first moves, Ferry is unlikely to overpay for a player. Under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, a bad contract can hurt a team not only now but for years to come. Ferry seems to be building with a mix of young players and favorable contracts. He now turns to fill out the roster with established veterans who share the franchise’s vision of chemistry, character and talent.

The Hawks know the limits of an un-cap friendly contract such as Johnson’s. Or they can look at the New York Knicks, who signed Amar’e Stoudemire three years ago to a five-year, $100 million contract. He has played just 76 games the past two seasons at over $20 million a year. The signing created big headlines in New York but little else since.

Limiting so-called bad contracts, or getting rid of them quickly, are part of the Spurs’ formula for success. It’s a lesson Ferry and Budenholzer learned during their stints in San Antonio and one they are trying to duplicate in Atlanta.

“We are going to talk to potential free agents and lay out our vision for the team and the culture that we are looking to build,” Ferry said. “It’s important that we find the right players who we can build with and build a strong foundation moving forward. We need to be proactive in how we bring in players and how it affects our future from a flexibility standpoint.

“It’s important we do this in a smart manner. We can’t worry about the headlines as much as what our team can look like for the next several years. That can take a lot of paths.”

Ferry said the team in not targeting one or two specific positions. He said there will likely be meetings with players from last season’s roster, including Josh Smith. Ferry said there is no rush to assemble a roster. He’s more interested in getting it right.

“Any player that we bring in is going to come here because of the entirety of the team we are building, ownership commitment to a championship-caliber organization, our aggressive path to build a strong competitive team,” Ferry said.