Blog Entry

As March rolls in, Hawks start to roll out

Posted on: March 12, 2011 1:55 pm
Edited on: March 12, 2011 3:24 pm
Posted by Royce Young

It's kind of easy to forget, but five years ago the Atlanta Hawks were right up there in terms of futility with the Los Angeles Clippers, Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Pirates. They were always awful.

In 2004, they finished with 28 wins. In 2005, 13 wins. In 2006, they doubled that total ... to 26 wins. The Hawks went over a decade without a quality winning season or playoff berth. Post-Dominique, post-Highlight Factory, the Hawks just weren't relevant.

Then, things started to move for them in 2008, with a 37-win season and a surprising playoff appearance. Instead of selling at the deadline, the Hawks became buyers, targeting Sacramento's Mike Bibby in a trade that said Atlanta was going to try for the postseason. It worked. They were supposed to get swept by the 66-win Celtics. Except the young Hawks squad pushed the eventual champs to seven games.

It was a start, and a far cry from the dismal sub-30-win seasons. Really, before the Oklahoma City Thunder became the poster child for using youth to rebuild, the Hawks had done it, and successfully. In 2009, the Hawks won 47 games and finished fourth in the East. Last season, third with 53 wins. A roster built around Joe Johnson, who was slickly signed from the Phoenix Suns, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Al Horford, who were drafted, and Jamal Crawford, who was also plucked in free agency, the Hawks had finally built a winner.

Except, there's a problem. They're stuck. They don't seem to be going anywhere. They're sprinting full-speed on a treadmill. They just can't seem to move the needle.

In those three playoff appearances, the Hawks' best effort was a first-round victory over the Heat in 2009, after which they were swept by the Cavs. Last season, the Magic absolutely humiliated Atlanta in one of the most lopsided series ever.

Problems seem to start for the Hawks right around this time of year. Take Friday night. The Hawks, who are fifth in the East, rolled into Chicago as losers of three straight. All three at home. With a chance to make a statement and establish new momentum heading into April, the Hawks fell asleep at the wheel and careened off a bridge. They scored 26 points in the second half -- twenty-six! -- en route to a 94-76 beating. It was just the latest setback in a season that's seen plenty.

General manager Rick Sund saw this coming. He knew the team wasn't going anywhere. They flirted all offseason trying to find an extra big man to help Horford and Smith inside. Talks with Shaquille O'Neal seemed to go on and on and on. But nothing ever happened, and Atlanta eventually settled on Etan Thomas. Big move, I know.

At the latest deadline, Sund saw the need to move Bibby, who was letting down the Hawks defensively at the point of attack. So he snagged veteran point guard Kirk Hinrich in a very good move. But that's the thing: Kirk Hinrich isn't the piece to move you over the top. He's not the one that's going to take you to the Eastern finals.

The Hawks have committed to this core long-term. Johnson got that wild $120 million extension. Horford signed a big $65 million deal. And Smith is signed through 2013. Crawford will likely walk this summer and Williams doesn't appear to be an integral part. But the Hawks have their core -- except their core is still missing the key piece. Johnson isn't capable of carrying that load. He's being paid like he is, but it's obvious the Hawks need help. Painfully obvious. Nothing said that more than the Orlando series last year.

But how do you get help when 80 percent of your payroll is tied up in three guys? The Hawks made their bed. Now they're got to sleep in it.

(Is this where I mention the Hawks whiffed on Chris Paul, taking instead Marvin Williams?)

It's funny, because in 2011, this Hawks franchise is in a far better place than it was five years ago. They have a young, quality group that's winning consistently. I'm sure everyone in Atlanta much prefers this incarnation over the miserable 13-win campaigns, but right now, this season is headed for the same place: failure.

Sure, they get to play a few more games in April and sell some playoff tickets and get people excited for two or three games, but these Hawks are stuck. They don't have the chops to make a run to where they want to be. At some point a rebuilding project has to progress to "built" and the excuse of being young isn't a good one anymore.


Since: Mar 14, 2011
Posted on: March 14, 2011 10:27 pm

As March rolls in, Hawks start to roll out

Joe Johnson's game has declined while the rest of the Hawks have improved.  If Joe were playing at the level he was in 2007-08, the Hawks could be amongst the elite.  Wouldn't hurt to have a true center too.

Since: Jul 18, 2007
Posted on: March 13, 2011 11:01 pm

As March rolls in, Hawks start to roll out

They need a true C, trade Marvin Williams and draft pick for one or free-agent, Hortford would be a beast at PF.

Since: Jan 25, 2008
Posted on: March 13, 2011 4:39 pm

As March rolls in, Hawks start to roll out

Boy do I know how to pick 'em.  My favorite teams are the Atlanta Hawks, Tennessee Titans, and the Los Angeles Dodgers.  No a good group in the bunch.  On top of it all, I do not like Kentucky and they are really good.

Since: Feb 3, 2009
Posted on: March 13, 2011 12:16 am

As March rolls in, Hawks start to roll out

30 NBA teams. Not 32.

Since: Sep 22, 2006
Posted on: March 12, 2011 10:34 pm

As March rolls in, Hawks start to roll out

True, and yet ... 

Would you rather be Atlanta or Golden State, which has been rebuilding unsuccessfully since the days of "Run-TMC"?
Would you rather be Atlanta or the Wizards, seemingly last contenders when they were still the Bullets?
Would you rather be Atlanta or the Clippers?

There are only a few teams that ever "get it right" and form dynasties (Lakers, Spurs, Celtics), a few more that are perennial contenders (Utah, until recently, is the best example) or even one-year title contenders, ala the Magic or the Mavericks.  Very few get it right and win the title.  There are 32 teams, and only one champion.  Atlanta fans should be proud of the accomplishment; running full-speed on a treadmill sure beats falling face down on it like so many other teams do so often.

Since: May 7, 2009
Posted on: March 12, 2011 8:12 pm

As March rolls in, Hawks start to roll out

Great article, really great. You have made it.

Since: Feb 3, 2009
Posted on: March 12, 2011 7:40 pm

As March rolls in, Hawks start to roll out

As a Philadelphia 76'ers fan I would personally like to thank the Atlanta Hawks for making my life much, much better. As if the youth and exhuberence of the young Sixers wasn't enough to make it more enjoyable being a Sixers fan, but with the Hawks current swoon in the standing, I am now realisticly looking forward to emerging as the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Thank you very much and I wish you many more weeks of stagnation and defeat.

Since: Aug 24, 2006
Posted on: March 12, 2011 6:07 pm

As March rolls in, Hawks start to roll out

Yes, without a doubt, the Hawks are a middle of the road team, with no way to succeed as they sand now. Also, with their money tied up in a few players, and a lower salary cap on the horizon, things will probably get a lot worst before they get better. As previously stated, the Hawks are a lot better than a few years ago, but will not be able to get better as they are now. As an Atlanta fan my entire life, I have seen a lot of the ugly and a little of the good with the Braves, but not as much good as I would like to see. The Falcons seem better, but it is wait and see with them. The Braves are competitive, but that is all. Perhaps one day the Hawks will win a championship before I die, but I will not hole my breath. 

Since: May 30, 2008
Posted on: March 12, 2011 5:45 pm

As March rolls in, Hawks start to roll out

Four letters, A-M-E-N. I couldn't have stated it better if I had tried. "They're sprinting full-speed on a treadmill." that is a perfect analogy and all of us Hawks fans are getting tired of it. Max paid players should ALWAYS display max effort to win all games. You can not be a $120,000,000 laid back, go with the flow, second fiddle player but if you are a Hawks player I guess you can (Joe Johnson).

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