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Monday, July 3, 2006
Updated: July 12, 6:00 PM ET
Hawks lure Speedy Claxton away from Hornets

By Marc Stein

The Atlanta Hawks, roundly criticized for bypassing Chris Paul in the 2005 NBA draft, addressed their void at point guard by signing Paul's backcourt mate: Speedy Claxton.

Point Guard
NO/Oklahoma City Hornets

71 12.3 2.7 4.8 .413 .769

It is believed that Claxton will receive a four-year deal worth $25 million.

The Hawks targeted Claxton after a two-year, $13 million bid to wrest Sam Cassell from the Los Angeles Clippers fell short. Cassell, one of the biggest difference-makers during the Clippers' breakthrough season, opted late Saturday to stay in Los Angeles when the Clippers matched Atlanta's offer.

The Hornets have been the league's surprise spenders since free-agency season began Saturday at 12:01 a.m. ET, luring sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic from the Indiana Pacers with a five-year deal worth more than $60 million. But it quickly became clear that the Hornets were cutting ties with Claxton when the team reached a three-year agreement worth an estimated $17 million with Memphis guard Bobby Jackson. Stojakovic and Jackson both worked with Hornets coach Byron Scott when Scott served as an assistant in Sacramento.

Claxton logged key playoff minutes at point guard for San Antonio's 2003 championship team and emerged as a top Sixth Man Award candidate with the Hornets last season as Paul's backup. Yet, Scott frequently played Claxton and the eventual Rookie of the Year together in a small-but-quick backcourt alignment that helped the Hornets (38-44) make an unexpected playoff bid in their first season in Oklahoma City.

The move to Atlanta will likely make Claxton an unquestioned starter, enabling Joe Johnson -- the Hawks' marquee free-agent acquisition last summer -- to play at his natural shooting guard position.

"I may be the happiest guy in the bunch," said Johnson. "Having Speedy will definitely free me up to score a lot more."

Claxton said the Hawks "are not far at all" from being a playoff team.

"I think they've got better pieces than we did last year," Claxton said, comparing the Hawks and Hornets rosters. "We've got some talented guys here. Hopefully, we can make a playoff push this year."

The Hawks took versatile forward Marvin Williams in the first round last year and selected power forward Shelden Williams in the first round this year as general manager Billy Knight waited to sign a veteran point guard.

"I think everyone can see we're a young group of guys and we're deep at the wing positions," Knight said Wednesday. "We feel we need a veteran point guard to run our team."

The average age on the Hawks' team at the end of last season was 23.

"No disrespect to the point guards who came out of the draft this year, but I felt we needed a veteran point guard who can be an extension of me and my staff," said coach Mike Woodson, who as an assistant coach worked with Claxton in Philadelphia in the 2001-02 season.

"The fans in Atlanta are going to be excited about his style of play and how he pushes the ball," said Woodson of the 5-foot-11 Claxton.

Senior writer Marc Stein covers the NBA for Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.