Dallas– When the post All-Star game discussion turned to the best team in the East looking to add Amare Stoudemire, Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson let out a “Whew!” and smiled.
“They are just being selfish,” J.J. joked.
“They are trying to stack it, man,” Johnson said of the Cavs. “They are trying to do whatever it takes to keep ‘23′ (LeBron) there. And not only that they really, really are trying to shoot for a title. What they’ve got now, I think it’s a possibility, and getting Amare makes it even stronger.”
Does he expect the other East contenders to react to Cleveland’s move?
“Probably not,” he said. “A lot of the top teams, when you look at Boston and Orlando, they are pretty much set where they are at and feeling like they can win a championship with what they got.”
And what about the Hawks?
“I think we’re solid,” he said. “With what we got, we’ve got to be real scrappy and want it more than the next team. That’s the only way we are going to get over the top. We can’t come out relaxed or being too cool. We have got to come out and hit first every night.”
My translation: As it stands now the Hawks may not have the talent or depth to match up with the Cavs or Magic (the latter being the more pressing concern as a potential second-round opponent), so they’ve got to do it with effort and edginess.
The theme for the Hawks when they return from the All-Star break today is “refocus,” and J.J. said he’s ready to take the lead.
“Going down the stretch run, we really have to come together and find our identity and see what kind of team we want to be in the playoffs,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back and pretty much set the tone with what kind of team we want to be. We need to have a no-lose attitude, coming out and paying closer attention to detail and focusing in on what we need to do to position ourselves to get a good spot in the playoffs.”
The improvement likely will have to be internal since there’s been nothing to suggest the Hawks will waiver from GM Rick Sund’s stance that he would not make a major trade before Thursday’s deadline. Those moves have already been made as the Hawks built the core of the team through the draft (Al, Marvin, and Josh) and trades (J.J., Bibby, and Jamal). It’s stayed together through re-signings as the victory totals have increased.
Now the Hawks will see how far this group can go. Johnson said he understands the philosophy.
“We’ve been together for four or five years now,” he said. “Honestly, each year we’ve gotten better, we’ve gotten further. We are still growing as a team, we are still getting better.
“Who knows how good we will be this year? We’ve still got a lot more room for improvement. We’ve got to just keep working and know what’s at (stake).”
Meanwhile, Cleveland will get the headlines over the next few days as it looks to add Stoudemire. The Hawks will quietly try to get better with what they’ve got.
“The owners and Rick feel that way,” Horford said after the All-Star game. “We have grown in the short time I have been here. Hopefully we keep growing and keep developing.”
He added with a laugh: “Stay in the West, Amare.”