HAWKSVILLE – You’ve never seen so many smiling faces the day before training camp.
It wasn’t just the players. It was the coaches, the front office brass and even a good portion of the assembled media.
You’ve never seen so many smiling faces on the eve of a camp, at least not recently. And these weren’t forced smiles. These were the genuine kind, the ones you see on faces of teams bound for the playoffs.
It’s strange, in a good way, the effect winning has on people.
“On paper we looked good,” Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson said from a corner of the practice court Monday afternoon. “We look real good on paper, so that’s why you see so many smiles around here right now. We’re excited about what this season holds. But the real work starts (in the morning). When the sweat hits the floor, that’s when you know what you’ve really got.”
There’s no doubt the Hawks have their deepest and most balanced training camp roster since I’ve been here, and at least two people in attendance Monday observed that it’s the most seasoned and accomplished group to assemble for a Hawks training camp in a decade.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Marvin Williams said. “Our team itself is pretty deep, probably the deepest team we’ve had since I’ve been here. You could split this group for camp up into four groups of five and have some nasty competition. I know there won’t be any drop off when that second unit is on the floor. but we’ll see in the morning. We’ll see all week.”
Williams admitted to never being terribly excited for a “training camp” but confessed that he’s been eager for Tuesday’s start of real action for quite some time. “Our team has gotten better and we have some new guys that we’re all excited to see in action,” he said, “and I think that’s where the real intrigue comes in for everybody.”
One of the new guys, rookie point guard Jeff Teague, put the finishing touches on the meet and greet portion of his experience with his new teammates Monday. He finally got a chance to meet Joe Smith, the one player he had yet to see since being drafted by the Hawks in June.
“The thing you realize when you see everybody here together is that there’s already a great nucleus in place,” Teague said. “It’s something to be a part of. So you get in here now and realize that you want to get off to a good start and get things rolling right away.”
They kicked things off Monday with a team dinner, a function where Hawks coach Mike Woodson said he would lay out some specifics for his team regarding goals and detailed responsibilities for this season.
“The message is that expectations are always high from where I sit,” Woodson said. “And you can’t be scared of it, you can’t run from it. I’m not scared. I’m not running from it. And the fact that expectations are high means that we have to now try and take that next step. The next step is trying to be in that elite group.”
I reached out to several members of the national media about that very topic regarding the Hawks and received some interesting feedback. While it certainly seems like a possibility, no one is ready to bet house money on the Hawks doing so.
“The NBA remains a league that belongs to the superstars, and unfortunately for them they have none,” ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande wrote in an email. “They have talent and now there’s experience and cohesion to go with it, but they don’t have that one guy who can singlehandedly take over a playoff game on the road. Kobe, Shaq and Tim Duncan played on eight of the 10 championship teams between this decade. The Hawks don’t have anyone of that caliber, not to mention the updated Eastern mix of LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Boston’s Big 3. Because of the consistency the Hawks learned last year they could get to the second round — if the Bulls don’t beat them out for that final berth in the conference semis.”
Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports expressed similar concerns about the Hawks vaulting into that upper tier of the Eastern Conference for the same reasons.
“I think the Hawks’ situation is interesting because more is expected because they were ablet o take another step to the Eastern conference semifinals last year,” he said. “But no one seems to be talking about them in that realm with the big three in the conference. Everybody is talking about Boston, Cleveland and Orlando in the East. So I still think they have a chip on their shoulder. And if you think about it, this team is going to be better for a lot of reasons. First, they’ve got another year of experience and they’re more playoff tested. They were able to re-sign key players and didn’t lose anybody of importance. Their one major weakness, their bench, was aided in impressive fashion, with Jamal Crawford, Joe Smith and Jason Collins and the rookie Teague, all guys that can start if someone gets hurt. So if you look at the Hawks, they’re actually better than they were a year ago. I think what’s hurt them is the fact that they didn’t finish strong in the playoffs, even with their injury problems. And that kept people from taking them seriously as a team that has a chance to move up into that top three. I do see this as a dangerous team with a chip on their shoulder. When it’s all said and done, it’ll be interesting to see if the Hawks take another step forward and live up to their expectations or everybody else’s.”
We’ve talked about it many times around here since that Cleveland series. But what are your realistic expectations for this team this season?
I like Mike Bibby’s take on things, personally, simple but true.
“We got it on paper all day,” Bibby said. “We just have to put it together. Everybody has to have one main goal this season and that main goal is to win. Everything else will take care of itself if we’re operating with that as our No. 1 goal at all times. Individual goals have to be set aside for team goals.”