It’s almost over, that seemingly never-ending drought known as summer.
If you’re a diehard basketball fan, it can’t come quick enough, and still won’t in the month of September. But there is some good news, and that news is that training camp is less than a fortnight away. And just like the rest of you, I’ll be peppering Michael Cunningham (the Hawks beat writer) for any and all information he can throw us poor, starved Hawks fans. Although it’s ahead of time, here are six questions we might consider going into training camp. Mind you, some of them are questions we’ve already asked, and there will be some that I haven’t thought of, or simply didn’t list. By all means, feel free to give answers to the ones I pose, pose some of your own, and so on. But for now, here’s my six, along with some opinionated commentary -
1) Will Jeff Teague show aggressiveness and a willingness/ability to take the reins early on? Larry Drew has already stated that going into camp, Mike Bibby is the incumbent starter at point guard, and that Teague would have to earn the starting spot. Those in the know say that Bibby has some pride, and will not go easily to the bench (though this is not to assert that he would have any attitude issues about it). Nick Van Exel was hired to help with Teague’s development, sending the signal that Drew at least realizes they need to invest in their young point guard if anything is to be gained or gleaned from his talents. But which Teague will show up to camp? The guy who dunked on Lamar Odom in a regular season game last year, or the guy who talked about giving the ball up to the shooting guard at the half court line, in the first couple of summer league games this year?
2) Will the players finally buy into each other? A lot is made of whether or not the players will buy into Larry Drew and his philosophies. I have no doubts that they will, based on their own comments at the very least. But they also bought into Mike Woodson, and it didn’t last. Perhaps the real question is whether or not they will buy into the coaching staff, but whether they will finally buy into each other. After all, can it be said that Woodson did not try to get them to do it? Surely he did, even if some of his methods may or may not have been the most conducive to achieveing such a goal (yes yes, the dreaded ISO offense would be the first to come to mind, no?). But they never really did it, or they would not have experienced such catastrophic meltdowns when things got tough. A revamped coaching staff won’t be enough. A new and completely different coaching staff might not have been enough, either. Sometimes organic growth means more than we think it does. If this growth does not occur, look for similar results.
3) Which young guard will shine the brightest, Jeff Teague or Jordan Crawford? Some might say this is an unfair scenario, as Teague is one of only two actual point guards on the roster, and he will be given a realistic chance to win the starting job. Meanwhile, Jordan Crawford will be hard-pressed to find minutes behind last year’s top two scorers in Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford. Add in Mo Evans who is a natural shooting guard, and Crawford may find more splinters in his rear end than Teague did last year. So it would seem that Teague has the edge. But does he? Jordan Crawford seems to play with a natural ease of flow in the game, rarely hesitates to do his thing, and may not be as defensively inept as some would claim. And, he may find one of the two shooting guards ahead of him gone by the time camp comes around. Speaking of which…
4) Will the situation with Jamal Crawford evolve into a source of distraction, or a source of stability? Jamal was all class and humility when he came to town. Now, he’s demanding a contract extension or a trade. Nevermind the fact that nobody seems to know how many millions he wants, or for how many years. In a way, that’s not the point. Jamal may be getting bad advice from agents or other members of his inner circle. Or, he may just be handling himself like a businessman. Or….he may see the writing on the wall. Under Mike Woodson and his offensive philosophy, Crawford prospered, having arguably the best year of his career. But the nature of that offense put his talents on display and gave him more individual freedom than an offense like Larry Drew wants to run. Jamal probably knows his value is only going to go down, and with a new CBA in the works, the potential paychecks will be even smaller still. Again, under Drew, Jamal’s role may very well change. Especially if other players step up, as there will less of a need to have him in the game to replace either of two starters (Bibby, Williams). With a (hopefully) renewed zeal on defense, Jamal becomes a guy you don’t want on the floor at the end of games. At some point, having a streak shooter who isn’t afraid to take any shot, doesn’t cover the inability to even remotely defend the opposing team with some modicum of effectiveness. Some of the more knowledgeable whispers are that Jamal isn’t going to back down off of his “pay me or trade me stance.” The Hawks aren’t liable to be in a hurry to usher out another extension to anybody not named Al Horford. Some think Jamal will be a good team player and report to camp regardless of what happens. Others are saying “no way.” If Jamal is forced to play out his contract, it could be a long year. If you think this won’t impact him, his teammates, and his play, think again. Or is that presumptive?
On a related note, if the Hawks decide to ship Jamal, where should they ship him, and for whom/what?
5) Will Marvin ever turn that blasted corner? It doesn’t matter how many tough guys you add to the bench. If you’re running a lineup that includes three guys who are around 6′9″ and 245 pounds at most, it needs to be a highly athletic and active trio. Oddly enough, Marvin has the most impressive wingspan of the three, at 7 feet and 3.5 inches. All of Marvin’s purely physical measureables say he fits here, but how do you explain what happened to him last season? Either Marvin finds his niche and becomes solid on both ends of the floor, or it’s time to admit that this proverbial “core” is fractured. Marvin must become a good defender, and a solid scorer. He does not have to be the best on the team at either, but he has to be good enough to not only justify his status as a starter, but for this team to experience greater success than it has. Some would suggest that former coach Mike Woodson held him back and misused him. Well, there is no better time than the present to prove that theory right, and to make Larry Drew look like a savior. Otherwise, he makes himself and everyone who has supported him look foolish. Blame coaching or not, in the end it comes down to Marvin himself.
6) Will the Hawks get some actual contribution from their big man reserves? Guys at the end of the bench are there for a reason, but the Hawks need the guys they’ve picked up to be real contributors, like it or not. Jason Collins was a non-factor last season. Joe Smith wasn’t much more than that. Randolph Morris was a foul disaster waiting to happen every time he touched the floor. Collins is back and reportedly in actual game shape this time (or at least weighing less). Etan Thomas and Josh Powell were reportedly added to the roster to provide some toughness. Hard to be tough for your team from the bench, and it won’t give any help to all-star center Al Horford, who has been asking for help. Will Powell earn and get the playing time he fled L.A. to Atlanta to pursue? Will Etan Thomas show some of his old moxie, or become little more than a token veteran voice in the locker room? Can Collins contribute this time around, or will he merely be the best paid towel-waver on the sidelines (again)? Management better get ready for more heat from the fan base as teams take a gander at the freshly waived Erik Dampier. If the Hawks’ bargain basement big men don’t produce, the inevitable wail for what might have been will return in earnest.
So what do you think? Have a question of your own? Have an answer? Go for it!
(UPDATE) : Who would have believed it around draft time, or even shortly thereafter? Hawks 2nd round draft pick Pape Sy has actually joined the team after his contract was bought out from his French team, and the Hawks have another backcourt player. Will this have any effect on the Jamal Crawford situation? How will Sy fare during training camp? Can he contribute this year, or perhaps the next? Is this a vote of confidence in Larry Drew from management and ownership?