I just got back from reading Sekou Smith’s (the Hawks awesome beat writer) blog, and….I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this many well-wishers for guys who were looking to make the Hawks squad out of training camp. Is that really how far things have come? I mean, we talk about the evolution of this team, this organization, this coaching staff. But how about this fan base? Have we evolved along with this team as well? I think most of us can agree that we’ve complained about plenty of things in the past. And there are some things we STILL complain about. We’re fans. We pay for a product, we all want to see what we want to see, and we all have an opinion, though that tends to vary from person to person. Still, seeing that many people posting actual heartfelt replies about guys who we knew were longshots to make the roster says something. Maybe this entire Hawks culture is changing. Maybe we as fans are turning the page.
Uh, okay. Let me pump the brakes on that one. Fact is, the regular season has yet to start (7 days!!), and we have yet to see a win or loss that truly matters. So I guess I’ll have to save my half-way blissful pontifications for later and get back to reality. First, let’s congratulate Othello Hunter on making the cut, as it were. Although, if I’m Hunter, I’m not breathing a sigh of relief until the ink dries on a contract with my name and Sund’s (or whoever signs the official contracts) on it. Still, in the spirit of good will, let’s give him the official fan “welcome back.”
In the meantime, Mario West’s “feel good” story has come to an end, at least here in Hawksville. I think we all hope that it continues somewhere else in the NBA or overseas at the very least, but without a more developed offensive game….well, it had to end sometime. And unlike in times past, it would seem that this says more about the direction and progression of this team than it does about the front office’s ability or inability to effectively manage assets. Sorry to see you go, ‘Rio. Best of luck elsewhere. Turn your page man. Don’t let the book close, just because this chapter is over.
Moving right along, let’s take a look at the remaining preseason games. The Hawks have Miami on tap tomorrow, and Orlando on Friday. What’s the big deal, you say? Well, it should give us a few clues. Most teams, if not all, aren’t too worried about wins and losses in the preseason. What they are worried about is how well they get into their sets on both sides of the court, and how well they execute. It also gives them a chance to find out if they can use new or improved weapons. In the case of the Miami Heat, one of the keys will be Michael Beasley. Is he serious about the game now? If he is, and he dedicates himself to his craft, Miami becomes more dangerous. If not, then watch the Heat take a slide backwards and possibly struggle to make the playoffs. Other than Beasley, I’m not too interested in any other South Beach threats. Jermaine O’Neal is as slick as they come in the post, but he’s an injury away from doing what he normally does. That, and I can’t see Spoelstra motivating him nearly as effectively as Riley would.
Then there’s Orlando. The general consensus is that they will win the Southeast division. After that, it’s a question as to how far they can go, given that Boston is healthy (for the moment) and Cleveland has added Shaq and some more-important-than-you-think role players. What we get to find out on Friday is just how smoothly does this team work? Sure, we know all about Dwight. He’ll get 20 and 15 on any given night. But does Jameer facilitate nearly as well as Hedo did? We also know what Vince can do. Does he have enough space to operate in with Rashard Lewis and Jameer doing the bulk of their damage from the perimeter? What happens the first time somebody gets uptight about minutes or touches, and Van Gundy begins shooting his super-sized mouth off? The good news for Orlando is there will be no point guard issue. Jameer is clearly the man for the job down there. The bad news for US is they have even more weapons than they did last year, with some help for Dwight down low (don’t know about you, but outside of a Hawks uni, I did NOT want to see Brandon Bass in our division). They Magic are deeper than they were last year. So are we. Question is, whose depth will be more effective? One might easily say Orlando on paper, but the fact is, how effective the bench is depends partially on how effective the starters are. If our guys can play well together and exploit mismatches, then our reserve unit can cause problems. If not, the whole thing can tank.
We will also get a glimpse of something else in these last two games: how we play on the road, particularly against two divisonal opponents. Hey, no team likes to take a shot to the dome at home, even in the preaseason. The competition may not be at regular season level, but I’m sure both teams that we are about to face would like to make statements. We served notice last year about coming into the Highlight Factory. Now we need to serve notice that we can take it from opponents in their own back yard. Time to turn that page, and begin a newer, more successful chapter.