The somewhat ominous lack of sound you aren’t hearing is not the silence before the storm. We’ve already seen the storm. That silence is the collective held breath of the Atlanta Hawks fan base as we all wait to see what general manager Rick Sund says and does.
Head Coach Carousel
You knew this topic was coming, and it’s already hit the general sports columns. I began mentioning Larry Drew as a possible replacement a couple of years ago, before moderating the fan blog. I kept him in mind and mentioned him a day or two ago. Why? Former Hawks beat writer and blogging legend Sekou Smith made mention of him on occasion, and still does (on an NBA.com radio podcast). I personally don’t know what Drew’s coaching style is like, but I find it very interesting that someone who was close to the team felt that differently (and that positively) about him. That alone makes him worth a look, to me. In the meantime, we know the Hawks have trouble grabbing big names of any kind, to do anything. But is grabbing the big name the best way to go? Do you hire Avery Johnson just because his name is Avery Johnson? Don’t get me wrong, I think the man has some coaching substance to him, but there are always doubts, no matter how much you like a guy. He failed to go the distance with a highly talented Dallas team, tends to be the most often mentioned discredit. On the other hand, tell me who has succeeded with that team? Dallas continues to have the same issues it always has had, and Rick Carlisle is the latest to find out what they are. They keep getting knocked out of the playoffs (this time another embarrasing first round punchout). Perhaps Avery wasn’t what was wrong, eh? Who else is available, and what would attract them to this team? We have no idea, really, what the ASG is willing to pay for a different coach. We have no idea how their now-much-quieter situation will affect the thoughts of any potential candidates.
Back to Larry Drew. What Drew represents is what I mentioned a day or so ago. A cheap alternative, but a familiar voice. Perhaps Sund and his bosses want change, but not too much change. Maybe bringing in a totally different regime is too much shock to the system, as it were. Or, maybe that is exactly what is needed. Larry Drew might be able to accomplish a mixture of both, seeing as how he’s been around these guys. Is he the best option?
I’ve always thought that when a general manager comes to take over his duties for a ballclub, he wants to remake things in his own custom way. Sund did not do that when he got here. He did not pluck a coach of his liking out of the air and send Woodson on his way. He waited and watched. I think that was both a smart and fair move, but that’s just my opinion. Apparently it was acceptable to Woodson as well, since he signed the contract. Has Sund had an eventual or “if necessary” replacement in mind? Maybe he’s had his eye on a guy all this time, unless Woodson proved himself to be indispensable. Is it possible that we assume too much that Woodson is as good as gone? Would Larry Drew represent a viable option, or at least stop-gap for now, as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks? What would we as fans like to see in a head coach? Who are we prepared to accept as head coach?
The 2 Year Contract
Something tells me this wasn’t just for Mike Woodson. No, I think Sund also wanted to take two years to see what this roster of players could do. After all, the coach can’t make certain things happen. We have some guys that are still young and have not hit their prime yet. They haven’t hit their ceilings yet, either, in all likelihood. The ones who figure to be under the most scrutiny are Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, and Al Horford. Jeff Teague spent a rookie campaign mostly on the sidelines, so he doesn’t get looked at quite as closely. But the other three guys? They are the ones who were part of this “core” that was so often talked about. Smith and Williams were re-signed to reasonable contracts. Horford is due up for one and will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2011, if I’m not mistaken (those of you who have a better knowledge base of this, please correct me if I’m wrong).
I believe Sund wanted to see if these players could or would develop, or show signs of development in their games. All three showed something. Horford showed enough to get placed on the all-star team. Smith showed some maturity and performed well enough to have been considered an all-star snub. Williams showed that he is lost in the mix. We could debate the whos, whats, whys forever (and we no doubt will). The point is, you expect to know something about a player after watching him for two years. Sund knows something now, and could be more prepared to toss the dice. Will he? Should he? We’ll see.
The Smith Conundrum
While some want to ship Marvin away, others are solely focused on what happens with Joe, and the “Fire Woody” wagon continues to add pitch fork-carrying zealots every day….what about Josh Smith?
Do we really think that as long as we get a different head coach, everything will be okay? Does this roster only need a different sideline suit to seriously compete for the right to represent the East in the NBA Finals? I think not. Changes have to be made, and chemistry is still a problem. I believe that Smith is once again a focal point in these matters, and a player whom Sund must be very careful with when tossing the dice. Believe me, the dice is going to be cast with Smith no matter what happens. It’s a gamble if you keep him, it’s a gamble if you trade him. Yes, I said it : trade.
Smith’s surge into all-star mentionable circle was a thing of beauty to watch for the most part. He has certainly had far more good games than he has bad, and this team needs him to do so much. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Two main things surround Smith as the Hawks make their way into the offseason. One, can he ever be effectively moved to small forward? Two, can the Hawks improve their frontcourt and team as a whole, as well as their chemistry….with him? Or without him?
The first question is largely overlooked by those who seek to add size to the frontcourt by moving Horford to the power forward position, and bringin in some legitimate center. They want to keep Smith, and so the automatic thinking is to move him to the small forward position. There are a number of reasons not to do this, including the following: He is not a good shooter from the perimeter. He won’t be in a position to defend the rim or get as many rebounds. He is not a steady defender when it comes to ball-handlers, and could be drawn into foul trouble quickly when he gets taken off the dribble. The retorting questions however: With a good shooting coach, could Smith not learn to be a better shooter? Is guarding quicker ball-handling types something Josh is forever incapable of doing, or do we think that simply because we haven’t seen him guard those guys much? Doesn’t he block a lot of shots by coming from the weak side or following defenders? Doesn’t he get lots of rebounds by simply outfighting and outjumping opponents?
There you have it, so chop it up. Is the concept crazy, or is it doable? How does a different coach affect all of this?
Now for the second part. If the Hawks are looking at bringing a guy in to start at center, then you’re automatically looking at moving either Al Horford or Josh Smith, because neither is should be going to the bench. If the big man in question is being brought in to play center off the bench, then the issue is eliminated. But there are other issues.
Smith still does things that this team needs him to stop doing. Taking the ball up the court on a fast break after grabbing the rebound is the most heinous one. Clearly the Hawks need somebody who can convince/persuade him to stop doing that. This involves both a coach, and a point guard. It also may involve another teammate that can gain his ear. And that may be the very crux of what this is all about. Smith has proven in the regular season, and now in the playoffs, that he is not a leader in his own right. He may never really be such a thing, or he may be in a limited role (leader on defense), which is fine, and probably more appropriate. He also needs to have someone (or two someones) around him that can get him back on track when he begins to drift. The Hawks cannot afford for one of their top three players to lose focus for stretches of games, or for games at a time. They cannot afford for Smith to take another couple of years to finish maturing and figuring out how to focus on a consistent basis. They cannot afford mental lapses at crucial moments, time after time.
What should be done? Should Sund gamble on Smith performing better with a true floor general (pg)? Where does he get one? Can Smith keep himself in line, or will he continue to need influence from more than one external source? Will a different coach and system do the trick, or will he just rebel and regress? A tough set of questions to answer. The chemistry, toughness, and mental stability of this team depends not just on the free agent Joe Johnson, or whomever the head coach is going to be. It also depends on the players currently under contract, and chief among them is Josh Smith. Can this team get better by moving him, and how would that work? Is the idea of moving him absolutely sacrilegious? Am I making too much noise about the wrong thing?
The summer of Sund awaits. All eyes are on him in one way or another. What happens with the head coach situation figures to be the first and probably most important thing, especially with free agency moves not becoming official until July. But it won’t stop there. The remainder of the roster must be looked at as well.
What moves do you think Sund needs to make….or not make?