When an NBA team ships off one of it’s two biggest stars, loses a couple of other key players, and only gets a few expiring contracts and journeyman players in return, the expectations for that team can’t be high. When that same team also has a new general manager, and is obviously trying to rebuild, those expectations dip even lower.
That’s where the Atlanta Hawks found themselves at the beginning of the 2012-2013 season, and to make matters worse, one of the better players they acquired in their off-season moves–Lou Williams–was lost for the remainder of the season in January with a torn ACL in his right knee.
The formula for winning on a consistent basis in the NBA has become to have at least two (preferably three) big name stars to build the rest of your team around. The NBA is a star-driven league unlike any other in professional sports, and to compete for a championship with a collection of various talent and some B-level stars is unheard of.
So how is it that less than two months from the NBA Playoffs, the Hawks find themselves sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference standings, still within striking distance of the third and second spots in the conference, now occupied by the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers, respectively.
Atlanta has done all this with the distraction of the Josh Smith trade rumors swirling around the locker room for over a month (which turned out to be pointless), and the entire league basically ignoring them outside of trying to obtain J-Smoove before last week’s trade deadline.
When you look up and down the Hawks roster, outside of Smith and Al Horford, you see a lot of “who?” kind of names. Some fairly recognizable names like Zaza Pachulia and Kyle Korver might jump out at some hardcore fans, simply because of the time they’ve logged in the league. But for the most part, Atlanta is a team full of role-players, with a couple of semi-stars thrown in.
It’s hard to say if this unexpected success can be more attributed to new GM Danny Ferry and his vision, or head coach Larry Drew‘s approach, or just the team chemistry in general. But whatever it is, it’s working pretty well. The Hawks are playing some of their best basketball of the season heading into the stretch run for the playoffs, and Al Horford is blossoming into a legitimate big time player right before the eyes of fans at Philips Arena.
The only thing that’s lacking, and that could put this team over the line from being just a playoff team to being an actual championship contender, is a prime-time A-1 superstar–a name who’s not only known for his endorsement deals, but for being a solidified premier NBA player.
It’s only a matter of time before Danny Ferry starts pulling the strings to get one or more of those guys to join him in Atlanta.
Hawks fans can look at this team in two ways. They could say this is a team that probably really shouldn’t even be contending for the playoffs this year. It should have been a year of continued roster shuffling and molding the team into whatever image Ferry sees for the franchise, so to be sitting in a position to challenge for one of the upper seeds in the playoffs is a bonus.
The other–less pragmatic–way fans can view the team is to say it’s just the same old Hawks. A probable first round victory followed by a second round beat-down at the hands of one of the teams who have beaten them down all year. For as most Atlanta fans know, the Hawks have never gone past the second round of the playoffs since moving to Atlanta in 1968.
This may not be the Hawks team that breaks that streak, but if Ferry and Drew can get this must accomplished with the players they have now, I’m very curious to see what can be done when they eventually attract some real superstars to play in Atlanta.