Over the next month, CBSSports.com's Eye On Basketball will take a team-by-team look at the 2013 NBA offseason. We continue with the Eastern Conference hopefuls, the Atlanta Hawks. Check out the rest of the offseason reports here.
How they finished 2013
Sixth seed. 44 wins. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Back in the summer of 2010, the Atlanta Hawks committed to being a pretty good team with a very low ceiling in terms of playoff expectations. Every year was going to put them in the 4-6 range of playoff seeds. They were good for about 45 wins. They were probably not even going to pretend to be able to make it past the second round of the playoffs. This was the Atlanta Hawks' existence. It was fine if you were just hoping to make the playoffs and get that extra revenue. It wasn't fine if you wanted them to be a contender in the East.
The Hawks were a treadmill team. They were just running in place, burning calories, but not actually going anywhere.
Then Danny Ferry came in and cleaned out the contracts of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. And all of a sudden the Hawks had a new identity. The isolation ball of stagnation past was not going to exist unless it was in Josh Smith's hands. The Hawks had a more free-flowing offense even though the offensive rating was about the same. The pace of the game was different for the Hawks as they played much faster than the previous year. The foundation was laid.
The Hawks won 44 games and earned the No. 6 seed in the East. Sound familiar? There was something different about this No. 6 seed and playoff ouster. Al Horford's usage went way up. Jeff Teague's usage rate went way up. There was a lot more ball movement. And Josh Smith's usage rate went down. They weren't relying on the same old thing anymore. The Hawks had thrown away the bag of stale potato chips and were looking for a new bag to open.
Atlanta lost in six games during their first-round matchup with the Indiana Pacers. Once the Pacers realized they had to take this Hawks team seriously, they put them away relatively easy but it was a good experience for the Hawks' young players. They saw what they had to become to be taken seriously in the playoff atmosphere. Just making it wasn't going to be enough anymore and if they wanted to break through the previous ceiling, the Pacers were a good example of a team that stopped settling for the status quo.
To say goodbye to Josh Smith.
The talent is there with Josh Smith. The defense is tremendous with Josh Smith. But there's an inherent problem that has been there since he joined the Hawks and it's something he has never been able to solve. He has always been just good enough to want to keep around, even though you're terrified every time he grabs the ball 22 feet from the basket. The past two years, Smith had true shooting percentages of 49.9 percent and 50.1 percent, respectively. That's unacceptable for someone who was above a usage rate of 26.0 percent in both years.
Finding a capable replacement for Smith was a need. The Hawks also needed to resolve their coaching situation with Larry Drew, find some inside depth that can rebound and re-sign Kyle Korver to help keep the floor stretched out for Horford and Teague (if they decided to re-sign him as well). Thanks to Ferry, the Hawks had roster flexibility for the first time in a few years and were able to now reshape the direction of where they're headed.
The Hawks were active on draft night and really did an incredible job of adding depth. After playing musical chairs with the Celtics and Mavericks regarding the 14th, 17th and 18th picks, the Hawks wound up trading for second-year player Jared Cunningham and bringing in Dennis Schroeder and Lucas Nogueira. They also grabbed Mike Muscala in the second round to give their interior some depth and versatility.
Schroeder will be a backup point guard for the time being. He will get a chance to come into games to disrupt the opposing offense with his ball pressure and use his pick-and-roll instincts to run the second unit and the first/second unit hybrid the Hawks will throw out there. Sure, he is a bad shooter right now, but it doesn't take a lot of shooting skill to strip the opposing point guard at halfcourt and take it the other way for a layup.
With Nogueira, the Hawks are getting a skinny big man who can defend the pick-and-roll, protect the rim and catch lobs. He's still going to spend some time overseas to get seasoned before he makes his way to the NBA, but he's a really nice big prospect for the Hawks to have in the future.
Free agency and trades
The Hawks finally let Smith go, opting to sign Paul Millsap on an incredible two-year, $19 million deal and avoiding the Smoove price tag of four years, $54 million that he received from the Detroit Pistons. While Smith's defense is hard to replace, the big man combination of Horford and Millsap will be pretty hard to defend on a nightly basis. Millsap is also a better player overall than Smith. The question with replacing Smith was always going to be, "Can you improve on the position when you do that?" Apparently, the answer is yes.
Atlanta retained Teague after flirting with the idea of replacing Smith's bad outside shots for Brandon Jennings' bad outside shots, but ended up keeping Teague for four years and $32 million. They retained Korver for a front-loaded (according to the great Mark Deeks of ShamSports) four-year, $24 million deal. They grabbed DeMarre Carroll on a two-year deal for $5 million. They rounded out the interior rotation with Elton Brand on a one-year deal and picking up Gustavo Ayon off waivers.
Just as important as any move the Hawks made this offseason was their decision on coach. The Hawks grabbed long-time San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer. Budenholzer was an assistant under Gregg Popovich for 16 years and worked for San Antonio for 18 years. As the Hawks have moved away from isolation ball and more toward a free-flowing attack, this coaching move helps punctuate that decision.
Overall grade and accomplishments: A-
Before Ferry took over the Hawks, I hated their plan of 45 wins and a first-round exit just to grab some playoff revenue. Maybe they would get to the second round but you could guarantee it was never getting past that point and it just seemed like a successful treadmill team. In two years under Ferry, they now look like they have some breathing room, a ton of cap flexibility over the years, and a style that is a lot more modern in terms of where the league is headed.
The team has three or four good outside shooters in the rotation and a couple of big men that can stretch the floor, hit the boards, defend and play inside. Budenholzer's design on offense and defense will most likely mirror what the Spurs have done the past few years. If he can capture even 70 percent of what they do, it will be a huge win for the Hawks. The only problem this offseason is as Atlanta continues to transition from its old era to the new era, the top of the East has gotten a lot better.
I wouldn't be shocked if the Hawks won about 45 games this season and grabbed the sixth seed for their troubles, but it doesn't feel the same as it did before. It feels like they might take a step off the treadmill and go for a stroll outside just to see where they can end up.