Having lost badly to the Magic yet again, it would be too easy for the Atlanta Hawks to hang their collective heads. But that’s the last thing they should do. Progress comes at different speeds for different teams. Being able to beat one good or great team is not a guarantee that you can beat another. Beating two doesn’t mean you can beat three, and so on, and so forth. Yet progress is progress, whether it comes in steps or leaps. The Hawks have made progress. Will it be enough progress? That depends on how the season ends, the goals that were set, and what is deemed acceptable by those who are involved with decision-making. For now, it would seem that the Hawks have made strides that are quite acceptable by most standards, what with 30 wins before February. Where were we this time last season? How had we fared on the road last season? How had we done against the top teams in the league? The answers all point to solid signs of progress.
It’s That Time Of Year
As the all-star break nears, the yearly trade rumors start heating up. Some names are popular every season. Some are new to the list. And then there are those that only the true insiders know about. Will the Hawks make a move? Should they? Off the top of my head, I can think of only two reasons or motivators for the Hawks making a trade by the deadline. But hey, if you can think of different reasons (or better ones), then by all means, tell us all! Okay, first….I don’t know what the front office plans to do about the Joe Johnson situation, and I have even less idea what Joe Johnson is thinking. Players will tell you a million times that they are not thinking about the future, they’re just concentrating on playing right now. In some cases, I believe it. In others, I don’t. Let’s take Lebron James, for example. He wants to win a championship. It can actually happen in Cleveland. So if he says he isn’t worried about what happens this summer, I take it with a grain of salt, while also recognizes the kernel of truth there. Cleveland once again leads the East, and they’ve already made a statement or two against last year’s NBA Finals participants by beating the Lakers twice, and the Magic once. But then there’s Chris Bosh. What does he truly have to look forward to in Toronto? The playoffs? Yeah, probably. A first round win? Not likely, and second round win even less so. So maybe he has more to look forward to in the future than he does in the present, eh? Without a gutsy and genius move via trade of free agency, where is Toronto going in the next few years? Not too far, would be my guess. Well, one can speculate anway.
So it is with Joe Johnson. How far does he expect the Hawks to get this season? Mike Woodson talks about this team having a chance to do something special this season, but what would that be exactly? Winning the Eastern crown? An NBA championship? Furthermore, what are Joe’s expectations for the following year if he were to stay in Atlanta? What Joe wants most, is the mystery. Does he want a change of scenery or does he want to be the #2 guy or a co-captain, neither of which is his role here with the Hawks? Should the Hawks even entertain the idea of moving him before the trade deadline, what with the success this team is enjoying, with an eye toward the inevitability of the future? Or should that be dealt with in the offseason? Not only is that a very shaky, hair trigger move to make, but one would have to KNOW that Joe wasn’t coming back, and that whatever he was traded for would have to be the best Atlanta could get out of what was going to happen anyway. While it’s likely to be labeled as something that is way too early to speculate on, the possibility of this being a discussion has to exist in at least one mind, however slim and small the thought.
Second, do the Hawks think they are set with their current roster? By asking that question, one has to infer that the Hawks either do or don’t think they have what it takes to make a run at the Eastern Conference Finals. And they have to be prepared for all scenarios, come playoff time. They can’t bank on facing the Cavs, but not the Magic. Or the Celtics, but not the Cavs. They can’t bank on anything, really. Then again, are they even expecting to challenge for that position? I’m sure that Woodson and the team would say yes. What about management? In the meantime, I think most parties involved with the team feel that they currently have what it takes to win more games than they did last season, and very possibly secure a higher playoff seeding.
In conclusion, neither of the two motivators I mentioned are a sure thing when it comes to trade talks. Personally, I think the second one (a roster move to make the team a bit better/more capable) is more likely than the first (deal with the Joe Johnson situation now, rather than later). And yet, neither may make that much sense, depending on what is offered or can be had, in the grand scheme of things. One last thought on that before you tee off on the subject. Any trades made that are significant ones (as in not minor tweaks here and there) involve chemistry issues. It takes a strong leadership presence from both the sideline and on the court to absorb such a change, and effect a positive/successful result. Do the Hawks have what it takes to deal with such a transaction? And while you type madly on your keyboards in response, let’s think about WHO should be traded or traded for, should such a move become a solid thought. A free prize to be named later for the person who guesses what Rod from College Park thinks, before he says it. Just kidding. About the prize, I mean. We love ya, Rod.
Revenge of the Risen
With all else that’s going on, the Hawks have to move on, as the title of this blog suggests. As good as they have become (and having swept the Boston Celtics for the season) you can say that the Hawks have risen, rather than fallen (despite losing to Orlando again). But they’ve still got work to do. That means taking care of business that should have been taken care of before. You know, like beating the teams that aren’t as good as you are. The Hawks have beaten inferior teams more often than not this season, but they’ve flubbed a couple of opportunites to beat the better ones of that segment. Such as it is, they will have a chance to rectify that in two out of their next three games. And this time, the shoe will be on the other foot, sort of. That’s right, revenge time against the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder, two athletic teams that like to hustle and play hard. Last time, Atlanta got a nasty little surprise in Chicago. The rematch takes place in Atlanta. Before, the Hawks let the Thunder come into their house and slap them. They now get the opportunity to return the favor in Oklahoma City, in Tuesday’s matchup.
In both cases, the Hawks face teams that are younger and like to run as much as the Hawks wish they did. In both cases, they can’t fall asleep on the boards, on offense, or on defense. In both cases, the Hawks have advantages that they should be able to exploit. These used to be easy victories for good teams. Now they are hard fought wins. If the Hawks feel like they are now as good as or better than the Celtics, then they better prove it by beating the good-but-not-as-good teams. Getting swept by a team that has grown closer to you over the years is one thing. Getting beaten by a team that’s fresh on the winning scene? Now that’s something else entirely.
Call me crazy, or call me wrong, but I’m going to put this one on two guys: Jamal Crawford and Marvin Williams. Jamal has been playing great for the Hawks, especially in the last couple games. But the first confrontation with the Thunder ended in a 3 point loss, in which Jamal came off the bench and shot a dismal 4 for 14 from the field. With the backcourt taking most of the shots again (go figure) and Joe Johnson putting in a 10 for 23 performance (which resulted, ironically, in 23 points), we really needed Jamal to step up his shooting. Not only did he not do this, he went an uncharacteristic 2 of 5 from the line. But he wasn’t the only sore thumb.
Marvin Williams has got to quit these disappearing acts. While it certainly can be argued that the fifth year forward has struggled in finding his role or niche, there are certain games where he has been such a non-factor for the bulk of the game. Williams collected 7 points and 2 rebounds against Oklahoma City. And while it’s arguable that he only got 21 minutes of work, it’s also arguable that his lack of effect on either end of the court is the very reason for his playing time. It wasn’t foul trouble. So what was it? Ineffectiveness. Of course, this is not meant to be taken in the usual exaggerated fashion. It’s not that Marvin has to score 18 + points, or grab 10+ rebounds (though it wouldn’t hurt). But he does have to find ways to contribute in games like this. When you are in the starting lineup, and you get limited to 21 minutes, and there is no injury or foul trouble to explain it…you’re either doing something wrong, or NOT doing something right. There was a reason why Joe played 45 minutes and Josh 43 that evening. And for once, I don’t think you can pin it all on Mr. Woodson. Better/more effective games for Crawford and Williams should help the Hawks to a decent victory in Oklahoma City, provided all else is equal, as it mostly was last time.