NBA Daily: The Legend Of Bobby Sura

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A week from Thursday will mark the 14th anniversary of one of the most legendary performances in NBA history. As the clock wound down in a meaningless blowout over the playoff-bound New Jersey Nets, Atlanta Hawks guard Bob Sura sought to become the first player in seven years to record a triple-double in three consecutive games. Egged on by teammates, Sura threw the ball off the backboard to intentionally miss a layup so he could collect his 10th rebound.

The NBA later rescinded it, ruling that since Sura hadn’t made a legitimate shot attempt, it couldn’t be counted as a rebound. His final stat line included 22 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. It left Sura as a footnote in history, both as an infamous triple-double seeker, and for his impact on the Hawks’ position in the 2004 NBA Draft Lottery.

To appreciate Sura’s magical half-season in Atlanta, we rewind to February of 2004 when the Hawks unloaded recently-acquired forward Rasheed Wallace to the Detroit Pistons for Chris Mills, Sura and a first round pick Atlanta turned into high schooler Josh Smith that summer. The transaction grew out of an earlier salary dump in which the Hawks sent Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff and Dan Dickau to the Portland Trail Blazers for the expiring contracts of Wallace and Wesley Person.

Abdur-Rahim was owed $28 million and Ratliff $21 million over two seasons for a Hawks team that was up against the luxury tax despite the league’s fourth-worst record. Dispatching Abdur-Rahim also ended a sad Hawks era that followed the disastrous decision to trade the draft rights to future Hall of Famer Pau Gasol to obtain him.

Former Hawks PR director Arthur Triche said he believed Atlanta never intended to keep Wallace.

“What this does is accelerate the process of rebuilding,” Hawks GM Billy Knight told the Associated Press at the time. “This was a deal that gets us financially healthy and makes us a player in the free-agent market.”

With that goal in mind, Wallace was sent to the Pistons, where he would win an NBA championship the same season, while the Bob Sura Era commenced in Atlanta. Sura concluded his partial season with the Hawks with 20 games scoring in double-digits in 27 appearances. That included 32 points, eight rebounds, and five assists in an April 2 win over an Orlando Magic team that would finish with the league’s worst record and ultimately win the first overall pick, which it used to draft Atlanta native Dwight Howard.

Three games later, Sura notched a triple-double in a win over the Chicago Bulls, followed by another in a win over the Celtics before falling short against the Nets. That made Sura a significant contributor to the Hawks winning four of its final seven games to finish with a 28-54 record identical to the L.A. Clippers. The Hawks went 10-19 after obtaining him.

Which brings us to Sura’s true lasting impact on the Hawks organization. Just over a year after his final game for the Hawks, Sura would play his final NBA game as a member of the Houston Rockets. He wasn’t a part of Atlanta’s long-term plans … or any other team’s. But when the Hawks tied the Clippers for the fourth-worst record, it put Atlanta in a precarious position in the NBA Draft Lottery.

The expansion Charlotte Bobcats, now the Charlotte Hornets, were set to enter the league in the 2004-05 season and were assigned the fourth pick in the draft. This meant that any team that failed to gain a top-three position via the lottery would pick no higher than fifth.

The Magic held the best odds with a 25 percent chance at the first overall pick and a 64 percent chance to stay in the top three. Orlando won the right to pick first, then the Clippers crashed the top three by moving up to pick second. Since the Hawks finished tied with the Clippers, the two teams split the 209 winning lottery combinations the fourth and fifth-worst teams would normally have.

Per NBA rules, since the number of combinations was uneven, a coin flip gave 105 combinations to the Clippers and 104 to the Hawks. That coin flip would have also given the Clippers the higher pick in the event that neither the Hawks nor the Clippers moved into the top three. As fate would have it, one of those combinations moved the Clippers up to the second slot. The Bulls, with the second-worst record, won the right to pick third.

Among teams with the three worst records, the Wizards were victimized by L.A.’s move up. When Washington failed to secure a top-three pick, it tumbled all the way to fifth thanks to the Bobcats’ pre-assigned fourth position. That dropped the Hawks to sixth. Had the Hawks lost only one more game, Atlanta would have held a 38 percent chance to land in the top three while the Clippers’ odds dropped to 29 percent.

That’s not to blame Atlanta’s historic ineptitude in the draft on Bob Sura. Roland Beech of evaluated team performance in the NBA Draft from 1989 to 2008 and determined that the Hawks were tied with the Knicks for worst return on expected value. In the 2004 NBA Draft, Atlanta had the chance to select 3-and-D pioneers such as Luol Deng, who went to the Bulls with the seventh pick, and Andre Iguodala, who went ninth to the 76ers. Instead, the Hawks selected broken-shot journeyman Josh Childress with the sixth pick. Atlanta would select Marvin Williams over Chris Paul and Deron Williams with the second pick the next year.

But Sura’s blaze of glory in Atlanta does faintly echo through the events of Sunday evening. The modern-day Hawks defeated the Orlando Magic, owners of the league’s fourth-worst record, 94-88 behind a career-high and Bob Sura-esque 19 points from rookie wing Tyler Dorsey. The Hawks entered the game tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the league’s second-worst record. The win draws Atlanta even with the Magic with 22 wins while the Hawks remain a half-game lower in the overall standings with 55 losses to Orlando’s 54.

The Hawks jumped to the NBA’s third-toughest remaining schedule behind only the Lakers and Thunder once Sunday’s games became final. Memphis has the 15th-hardest remaining schedule, Orlando is 18th and the Phoenix Suns 19th. All five of Atlanta’s remaining games are against teams in playoff position while the Magic have three remaining against teams eliminated from the playoffs, the Suns two and the Grizzlies one.

In other words, had the Hawks lost to the Magic Sunday, they would have been in position to potentially lose their final five games. That would have left Atlanta with an outcome no worse than a tie with Memphis for the second-worst record and a split of lottery combinations like the Hawks had with the Clippers in 2004.

Through a buyout of out Ersan Ilyasova’s contract in February, the Hawks avoided a repeat of the mistake it made with Sura in 2004. Ilyasova had the second-best net rating among Hawks with at least 1000 minutes this season. Since he wasn’t in Atlanta’s long term plans, the team released him and allowed him to join a 76ers team that is ready to win now.

Since the NBA fined Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $600,000 in February for publicly stating a desire for his team to lose games to improve lottery position, the Hawks have beaten the playoff-bound Pacers and Jazz. Perhaps unwisely, the Hawks have also beaten the Suns and Magic in games that could impact the final NBA Draft order.

No one can question the Hawks’ will to win. But unlike the legendary Bob Sura, many of the Hawks who played Sunday are under contract beyond this season. Sura could chase triple-doubles with a carefree attitude since he was nearing the end of his career. The young Hawks could see the team’s future winning potential dramatically effected by where the team lands in this summer’s NBA Draft.