Did Atlanta REALLY just lose to the Bobcats (the BOBcats!!!) after benching an increasingly petulant Josh Smith, mere minutes after he posted a 13 point, 4 board, 2 block first half???????
OK, so almost everyone who’s been paying attention wasn’t actually surprised, even though it still looks ridiculous either writing or reading that line. If you didn’t already know it, let me point out that Miami overtaking the Hawks for the 4th seed, and home-court advantage over the Hawks in the first round, has been a pretty likely outcome since Riley and the Heat upgraded their roster with O’Neal and Moon before the deadline, while the Hawks chose to stand “Pat” on a roster that Woody seems to view as 8-deep. The only hiccup was Miami’s stinky performance in Atlanta a week ago, which highlighted the importance of home-court advantage. But unless Wade goes down before the end of the year, these guys are going to pass the Hawks, and then dispose of us in the first round.
It’s understandable that folks are going to choose sides on this Woodson/Smith debacle, but the truth is that they may both be gone by next fall. Woody is the more obvious candidate, as the franchise can spin an underwhelming conclusion to this season on Billy’s Guy. But Smith may well join him in leaving the ATL.
Here’s the plain truth about this year: since the Hawks exploded out of the gates, with playoff-like intensity (a specific point I made at the time, wondering out loud if their start was really anything more than youthful exuberance, at a time when the rest of the playoff-quality teams were typically easing their way into the marathon that is the NBA’s 82-game regular season), capture a 6-0 start, they have been, 56 games later, a .500 team since then; eerily close to the 2 games-under-.500 team I predicted they would be, going into the season.
And if you look at how they are playing, consider the increasingly obvious chemistry issues that exist, and peruse the schedule for the remaining 20 games, you may find yourself arriving at the same general expectation that I’m formulating: 8-12 down the home stretch, limping to a 42-40 finish (I’ll claim dyslexia for predicting 40-42), and an underwhelming first-round exodus.
Woody goes, as Sund looks to put his stamp on the future of the franchise, and a decision will have to be made on whether Smith’s physical upside, and the fact that he’s never had the benefit of playing for a different head coach, warrant further patience.
Yes, this is the best Hawks team in over a decade. But, having played the last 56 games at exactly a .500 clip, they are the definition of average. Several folks have made note of the ‘06-’07 Bulls, young, exciting and talented, ending that season with a 49-33 record (which will be far better than where the Hawks finish), as a cautionary tale of how sub-par coaching and questionable personnel decisions can flatten a rising franchise more quickly than their fans can comprehend.
This team isn’t as good, or as deep, as that Bulls squad. So assuming that an upward trajectory for the Hawks, is a foregone conclusion, seems like pretty risky business and more wishful thinking than sound logic. The potential is obvious, but no more obvious than the question marks. Management will be challenged to make solid, aggressive decisions this summer. And money will be a factor, if knowledgeable folks like Bill Simmons are to be taken seriously.
Again, with a rightful nod to the observations of an increasingly vast (and the sheer volume of those observations speaks “volumes” to the credibility of this concern) number of bloggers/fans, on both Sekou’s and the Hacks’ blogs, Joe Johnson seems to be playing the ‘Bachelor’s Jason’ to his team’s ‘Melissa’. After professing his true love, he has realized that he and Melissa have far less chemistry than he thought, and he’s starting to imagine a much more satisfying existence with ‘Molly (ie: any other attractive NBA franchise)’. And his public displays of regret are not unlike the uncomfortable public break up that Joe, er, Jason leveled on the unsuspecting Hawks, er, Melissa.
So as America acknowledges that Jason wasn’t so much wrong to follow his heart, as he was REALLY wrong to do so by unnecessarily doing it in public, at the expense of Melissa’s feelings, we are left to wonder why the obvious drama that exists within the team/coaching staff dynamic is playing itself out, repeatedly, in front of 15,000 ticket buying fans (on any given night), a large television audience, and the unavoidable repetition of close-up replays, on both local and national sporting news telecasts (has anybody mentioned to these guys that the cameras are rolling?). Is there not anyone in the organization that can get through to the players and coaches that they need to resolve their love spats, er, differences of philosophy either before or after the actual games?
So much for “there is no I in team”. Somebody call up Dr. Drew. Maybe bring in Gary Busey as the Hawks’ “life coach”. I thought this kind of selfish implosion occurred AFTER a team won the World Championship.
It’s time for an intervention and some celebrity rehab…………………