HAWKSVILLE - If continuity means anything in the NBA these days, the Hawks have done right by their own this summer.
Marvin Williams touched on it last week during a conversation we had the day before he signed his new contract, and again this afternoon in a teleconference with the media to discuss his new deal. A day after my initial talk with Williams, Al Horford and I discussed continuity briefly while he took a break from his work with the Basketball Without Borders program.
Dating back to last summer and extending all the way through training camp this year, the Hawks (if they can come to terms with captain and All-Star Joe Johnson on an extension) will have spent millions to keep their core in place for the foreseeable future.
“I think management is making the commitment to keep us together,” Williams said Tuesday. “And each year we’ve gotten better.”
Josh Smith’s $58 million deal was the first domino, albeit an offer sheet from Memphis to the restricted free agent power forward last summer that the Hawks matched before the ink was dry on the offer sheet. That swift move was followed up this summer with deals for Mike Bibby (3-years, $18 million), Zaza Pachulia (4-years, $19 million) and Williams (5-years, $37.5 million-base). Johnson’s 4-year extension, if signed, would be in the $64 million-range.
Full disclosure, math was never my strongest subject in school. But that’s a lot of cash spent, rightfully, on the heart, soul and guts of your team. Any team dreaming of winning big at the NBA level has to invest in its core or risk vanishing into the ether.
What the Hawks have done is neither groundbreaking nor extraordinary in the world of professional sports. But for a franchise mired in a malaise of mediocrity for the better part of a decade prior to the last 13 months, it’s a pretty impressive feat. ”Obviously, I think it’s pretty important to build on to what we’ve started,” Horford said during our phone conversation last week. And he would know, having played on successful teams every year of his college and professional career to date. “I’m glad Marv got his deal done, because we’re going to need all our guys back and ready to go this season.”
By no means does this excuse the Hawks from the responsibility of filling out the roster with quality players capable of supporting that core group. But it certainly helps that the core is in place right now – a nucleus with three wildly talented youngsters in Horford, Williams and Smith. That would be a heck of a core group by itself. So to have JJ, Bibby, Zaza, rookie Jeff Teague and even Jamal Crawford to add to the list makes the list that much more impressive. It’ll look even better with the addition of a name like Joe Smith, still in the works according to some well-placed sources that insist the Hawks won’t give up until someone pries Smith from their dead claws.
Will it win a championship in a league where the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers have stockpiled elite talent to go around Kobe Bryant and the Boston Celtics have assembled a star-studded army to battle the Lakers, Cleveland and Orlando for supremacy? No way. But the same can be said for solid young teams in places like Portland and Chicago as well. That’s just the reality of the situation.
What a rock-solid core does is give the Hawks a fighting chance to be relevant now and into the future. And despite cries for titles (things, mind you, that Hawks fans have never experienced) relevancy is the tangible goal that all teams must focus on before moving into championship mode.
Having witnessed my favorite team’s lone championship season of my lifetime (scroll down to the bottom, it’s there, I swear), I can sympathize with the desire to shed the middle ground for the higher ground. Having witnessed that championship season also made it painfully clear to me just how rare those occasions are, even when you have seemingly all the resources in the world at your disposal, that your squad actually cashes in on the big prize.
Would I trade 40 years of rooting for a a competitive or even upper-tier team for one title? Absolutely. But if I can get both, even if the titles only come once every 50 years, I’m not turning that down either. Back to my original point, and I apologize for swerving off course a bit but it is football season (and I smell a comeback season cooking in Ann Arbor), it all comes down to perspective for me.
Is it more important to be relevant and potentially a true player or not? I say stay relevant (given whatever constraints might be in place, and it’s no secret the Hawks have many) as long as you can. We’ve all seen the flip side and it’s ugly, real ugly.
Where the Hawks fit in the grand scheme of things depends on your perspective, as well. If being the fourth team in a three-team Eastern Conference race doesn’t strike you, that’s understandable. And they will have challenger for that fourth spot. But they certainly seems sure of themselves.
“I feel like people are obviously starting to respect our ball club,” Williams said during his teleconference. “People realize they are not going to come into Atlanta and get an easy win. I don’t think anybody in the league is doing that anymore. We’ve shown the last few years we can compete with anybody in the league. We certainly feel like we can compete with anybody in the league.”