Hawks ownership at odds over Joe Johnson trade

BOSTON -- A judge stepped into the feud among Atlanta Hawks
owners Tuesday, blocking the removal of Boston businessman Steve
Belkin as managing partner.

Judge Allan van Gestel granted Belkin's request for a temporary
injunction, saying a contract signed by all the owners last year
prevents the group from voting him out.

The dispute stems from Belkin's refusal to approve a
sign-and-trade deal for the Hawks to acquire guard Joe Johnson from
the Phoenix Suns. As the team's NBA governor, he must sign off on
all trades.

As part of the nine-member Atlanta Spirit LLC group, which also
owns the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers and the operating rights to
Philips Arena, Belkin owns 30 percent of the team.

The other members had planned to vote Tuesday to replace Belkin
with co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. Instead, they asked NBA
commissioner David Stern for permission to remove Belkin.

The ruling extends indefinitely a temporary restraining order
obtained by Belkin last week and can be appealed to a higher court.
The judge said Belkin's refusal to approve the Johnson deal was not
grounds for his removal.

"It is hardly apparent on the present record that the deal for
Johnson, however talented he may be ... is in the economic best
interest of the franchise," the judge wrote. "Sometimes the cost
is just too great."

The five-year contract the Hawks offered Johnson -- worth about
$70 million, including $20 million for the first year -- would have
made him the team's highest-paid player. Atlanta would also give
Phoenix two first-round picks, second-year guard Boris Diaw and a
$4.9 million trade exception.

"Steve Belkin simply thinks that's too much to pay for Joe
Johnson," Belkin's lawyer, John Fabiano, told the judge.

The feud has overshadowed attempts in the offseason to improve
the team with the fewest wins in the NBA last season.

James W. Quinn, a lawyer representing the other owners, compared
the Johnson deal to the Celtics' acquisition of Larry Bird, a move
that led to three NBA titles for Boston in the 1980s.

"This transaction -- the Joe Johnson transaction -- is one that
is critical to the future of the Atlanta Hawks," he said.

Johnson, a five-year veteran who has played for Boston and
Phoenix, averaged 17.1 points for the Suns last season.