The Atlanta Hawks bowed out of their first round playoff match-up against the Boston Celtics, albeit not without a fight, and brought their season to a close. As is usually the case between these two teams, it was a closely contested and physical series. The Celtics won the series 4-2, but only one of the Boston victories was by more than seven points, and the Hawks held Boston to 90 points or less in five of the six games. With a few breaks for the Hawks (and changed calls that were blown by the officials) the series very well could have gone 4-2 the other way.
But now that the season is over, a myriad of questions are left for Atlanta, from personnel issues all the way up to the owner’s box. Fans are concerned, and rightfully so, that the team has taken a step back, or has plateaued and gone as far as they can with the current mix of coaching and personnel. During the off-season, a number of these questions will have to be addressed for this team to move forward.
1. Do the Hawks attempt to trade Josh Smith? – This is going to be the most pressing question of the off-season. Smith hasn’t been shy about his desire to be traded over the past two seasons, and he will be in the final year of his contract in 2013. The question really isn’t if the Hawks should trade Smith, but rather if they will be able to convince him to re-sign.
Management needs to get a gauge on Smith as soon as possible and see if he’s even open to the idea of returning. If all indications are that he’s going to leave regardless of what the team does next season, then Atlanta has no choice but to trade him while they can get value for him. He had one of his best seasons and was undeniably Atlanta’s best player in the post-season this year, so finding a buyer who will give good value to the Hawks in return shouldn’t be hard.
On the flip side, if Smith is open to returning, then undoubtedly the Hawks should bring him back. Smith can be frustrating at times, and make mental errors, but you take the bad with the overwhelming amount of good when it comes to his game.
2. Does Joe Johnson‘s contract make him unmovable? – The conventional wisdom is yes, he’s being overpaid and no team in their right mind is going to pick up the remaining years and dollars on Johnson’s contract. But I would disagree. Not only do I think Johnson can be moved, but I think he should be moved.
Joe’s contract is killing Atlanta’s ability to sign free agents, and to find bench depth. And honestly, he’s just not the right fit for Atlanta’s first scoring option. The Hawks front office needs to get a deal in place with a lottery team that is in need of a first/second scoring option (teams like the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers leap to mind) and who have cash available.
If Atlanta was willing to pay a portion of Johnson’s remaining salary, and Joe was willing to restructure the rest of his deal, I think it could be done. The important thing for the Hawks is to get multiple players and/or draft picks in return.
3. Should the Hawks look to fill holes and move pieces, or blow up the team and start from scratch? – I could go either way on this one. Sometimes when you look at this team, you think they are just a tweak or two away from being serious contenders. Other times you see no other option than to nuke the site from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure).
A lot of it will depend on the Josh Smith and Joe Johnson situations, but either way I think rebuilding is the best way to go. Al Horford is the only player I would have listed as “untouchable” if other teams inquired, but beyond that, the Hawks simply have too many needs to ignore.
One big problem is that Atlanta doesn’t really have any quality wiley veterans to help lead and mold the young players. The vets that they do have lack leadership and mentoring abilities, so bringing in more young talent may not solve some of the problems. Finding some leaders, and surrounding them with young guys who have potential may be the best way for Atlanta to go.
4. Should ownership do whatever is needed to keep GM Rick Sund in Atlanta? – Reports have been coming in that the Portland Trail Blazers are interested in Sund. Portland apparently asked permission to speak to the Atlanta GM, but were denied permission by the Hawks until after the season ended.
Sund’s contract expires on June 30th, and he is currently one of the lowest paid GMs in the league. Ownership needs to open up the snapper purse and pay Sund to stay in Atlanta. The team needs some stability in the front office – having gone through numerous GM and coaching changes over the last few years – and Sund hasn’t really had a chance to make his mark on this team yet. Losing Sund could cause a huge ripple effect and hurt this team in the end.
5. Is Larry Drew the right head coach for this team? – As much as I hate to say it, no….coach Drew just isn’t the right guy at this time. Drew did a phenomenal job this season in keeping things glued together, despite all the injuries and adversity. But the truth is, Atlanta needs a coach with a little more fire. They need someone who can corral the talent and gel it together into a well oiled unit.
The Hawks haven’t had a big-name coach since Lenny Wilkens left in 2000. The time might be right for Atlanta to go find a marquis coach and to let Larry Drew catch on somewhere else while he is still looked at as a positive commodity.
There are a lot of names out there who aren’t coaching right now, who very well could be, and may want to be. It’s time for the Hawks to shake a few trees and see what falls in their lap. And if the Orlando Magic let Stan Van Gundy go (as many suspect they will), the Hawks should do whatever they can to bring him in to Atlanta.
6. Will the Atlanta fans ever support a team owned by Atlanta Spirit, LLC? – This is the easiest question to answer. Quite simply, no. Whether justified or not, the ASG has lost all credibility with the fans in Atlanta, and support for the Hawks will always be something that has to be fought for as long as they remain in their luxury boxes at Philips Arena.
New ownership – preferably by a person, and not a group – would give the fans in Atlanta a shot in the arm, and could refresh the outlook for the team. Even if the ASG makes all the right moves and puts together a championship caliber team, fan support will always be waning due to the lack of trust and belief that the fans have for this ownership group.