King-size surprise: Hawks, not LeBron's Cavs, get Bibby

The Eastern Conference has finally given us a go-for-it team in this February trading frenzy.

But there's a much bigger news bulletin here.

The breaking and shocking news: It's the famously inert Atlanta Hawks who not only swung the first trade in which the biggest name is going East but, dare we say it, look pretty smart in the process.

It's the Hawks -- widely assumed to be paralyzed by their dysfunctional ownership situation when it comes to making major moves -- who wound up getting Mike Bibby after LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers chased Bibby for more than a year.

The inescapable truth for Atlanta's Billy Knight is that he'll always be remembered as the GM who passed on Deron Williams and Chris Paul in the 2005 draft and on Brandon Roy in the next draft. Those are obviously choices that haunt the Hawks every day.

Knight's team, though, no longer has a huge hole at lead guard. Not after Saturday, when the Hawks got themselves a proven shot-maker and gave us another biggie to digest after the trades (and near-trade) of Pau Gasol, Shaquille O'Neal and Jason Kidd by convincing Sacramento to part with Bibby for one lottery disappointment, three expiring contracts and a future second-round pick.

Knight would be happy to trade reputations with Sacramento counterpart Geoff Petrie faster than it takes pests like me to keep dredging up the story of Paul's getting passed up after saying he wanted to be a Hawk. Yet on this occasion, Knight was able to land the playoff-tested veteran Atlanta so badly needs by surrendering just one of his failed top-five picks (Shelden Williams) and a few guys (Lorenzen Wright, Tyronn Lue and Anthony Johnson) required to make the salary-cap math work.

No one is claiming that Bibby, who'll be 30 in May, is a vocal leader or a pure point who can make Hawks fans forget about Deron Williams, Paul or Roy. He's always been better at scoring than at creating for teammates, and scouts will tell you that Bibby will find it hard at first to adjust to the fact that he'll no longer be able to play off a passing big man of Brad Miller's caliber. According to the latest rumblings in Sacramento, furthermore, Bibby actually wanted to stay with the Kings at least through the end of the season.

But Atlanta made this score without throwing in any future first-round picks or surrendering any of its prized young talent.

Atlanta made this score without having to take back the contract of Sacramento forward Kenny Thomas, which we've heard for weeks on the GM grapevine would be a condition the Kings insisted upon if they were to trade Bibby or Ron Artest before Thursday's trade deadline. (Thomas has two seasons left on his deal after this season at just over $17 million total.)

Most of all, Atlanta made itself look uncharacteristically proactive with this score, hatching a deal almost immediately after slipping out of the top eight in the East. A four-game losing streak and a 7-15 record in 2008 have dropped the 21-28 Hawks -- who haven't reached the playoffs since the lockout-shortened 1999 season -- to ninth for the first time in weeks.

Neither Bibby nor new backcourt mate Joe Johnson is a true set-up man, but you have to like the idea of putting them together with Knight's two successes in the draft: Josh Smith and Al Horford. Especially as Bibby is moving to the land of opportunity known as the Leastern Conference … and especially given Atlanta's glaring lack of a vet who has had some playoff success. And as a bonus that had to appeal to those cost-conscious owners, Bibby is under contract only through next season, in case it doesn't work.

Petrie's motivations are understandable, too, even if I (like the first few GMs I spoke to Saturday) expected Bibby to fetch more in return.

With the expiring contracts of Lue, Wright and Anthony Johnson, Sacramento can't clear enough salary-cap space to be a major spender this summer but will get some payroll relief this offseason instead of waiting until summer 2009, when Bibby's deal would have expired. The Kings also get a free swing to turn Shelden Williams into a player -- and address their needs for shot-blocking and athleticism on the front line if they do -- after his troubled stay in Atlanta.

Williams not only struggled to cope with the pressures created by Knight's drafting him one spot ahead of Roy but also struggled for minutes after the arrival of impressive rookie Horford. As if those indignities weren't enough, Williams was subjected to a real-life scare when he was carjacked outside an Atlanta barber shop in December.

The Kings will pair Williams with rejuvenated Miller, push Kevin Martin farther into the spotlight as the team's franchise player, and give even more responsibility to point guard Beno Udrih and swingman John Salmons with Bibby gone.

This also divorces the Kings from the last vestiges of their glory years of Bibby, Chris Webber and Vlade Divac while establishing Artest as the biggest name in Sactown. Which just might click with Artest and thus prove pretty important if the Kings decide they're not moving their enigmatic swingman before Thursday's 3 p.m. deadline.

Uncertainty about Artest's future will persist until the deadline passes, but that's hardly the greatest point of curiosity our latest Big Deal has generated.

What I want to know: If LeBron looked so glum when he found out his buddy Jason Kidd likely was headed to Dallas, how's he going to take it when he hears that Kidd and Bibby might be unavailable now?

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.