Magic at Atlanta Hawks Game 4: Personnel, Philosophy and Payroll

Expanding my print edition story . . .

Personnel

If the Hawks are interested in moving forward instead of standing pat, that means they are chasing the Magic. The disparity in talent (basketball, not physical), depth and single-minded execution in this series has been apparent. In addition to Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis, the Magic can send out at least seven additional players who effectively fill major roles.

To get to that level, the Hawks need more and better perimeter players, starting with a point guard. That’s true whether they re-sign J.J. or not, which I’ll get into more under the “Philosophy” heading. The Hawks need to see what they have with Teague, and sending him to summer league is a good start, but they also need a veteran other than Bibby who can possibly start or play big minutes.

The Hawks need more depth. Look at the bottom of the roster right now: Joe Smith, Jason Collins, Randolph Morris and Mario West. The Hawks need better players to fill those roles (backup center, power forward, and defensive wing) and either Woody or the next coach has to make it a point to work them into the rotation.

Philosophy

When the Hawks, including co-owner Michael Gearon Jr., say they are a better team when the ball is moving, what they mean is they are better when J.J. isn’t dribbling out the ball on one side of the floor while his teammates stand around. So before the Hawks even begin to ponder how much they think J.J. is worth, they first must decide if he can play a different style. If the Hawks re-sign J.J. and add a point guard who can get to the rim and create open shots, can J.J. thrive as a spot-up shooter and cutter? Or does he need to play his deliberate, slashing style? If the Hawks keep Woody, would he be able to get J.J. to change for the sake of the team? Can any coach do it at this point?

At first I defended the merits of Iso-Joe, which included the Hawks’ excellent efficiency numbers during the regular season. Slowly I came to realize the psychological toll it has on this team, which has several guys who need to be involved to stay sharp. And now we see that in the playoffs good defensive teams, which most of them tend to be, can neutralize Iso-Joe or Iso-Anybody. Actually, we saw that before the playoffs, when the Hawks kept losing those road leads with low-scoring second halves.

The Hawks’ need for a point guard ties into the defensive philosophy, too. Since two of the Hawks’ four primary perimeter players are weak defenders, Woody has had to use switches on screens (Woody is a big fan of Bibby but I think he’d use him as a reserve if he had a clearly better option.) If Woody stays and the Hawks acquire a couple more strong perimeter defenders, would he then scrap the switches? (I think he would.)

The chemistry issues also tie into philosophy. Perhaps if the Hawks ran an offense with more player and ball movement they wouldn’t suffer so many of those demoralizing scoring droughts. Surely a defense that keeps Al and Josh near the basket would help with the negative rebounding margins, fatigue and frustrations that can occur when big men are forced to defend on the perimeter.

Payroll

It’s easy to say ASG simply needs to go for it and start spending serious money. The Magic has three guys (Dwight, Rashard and Vince) making more than J.J., and those three guys have taken it to the Hawks. Still, none of the rest of the Magic are particularly high-priced, but there are lots of them. The Magic picked the right guys behind the stars and a coach who’s gotten them to buy into a defense-first approach.

So it’s not only about payroll. But the Hawks didn’t use either of their salary-cap exceptions this season, and that’s a major way to acquire solid, veteran players who can fill a major role. It’s what teams with real championship aspirations do even if they don’t go out and sign max guys. The Hawks’ $66 million payroll is well below that of the serious contending teams. They’ve gotten next to nothing from the minimum-salaries guys at the end of the bench.

But the reality is, there are only a few superstars ASG could acquire who would provide a reasonable chance at a return on their investment in this market. The list starts with LeBron, Wade, and Kobe and doesn’t go on much longer, if it all. Without getting into the many reasons offered for why people haven’t turned out for Hawks games, the attendance and revenues haven’t kept pace with the victories. The Hawks had to sell deeply discounted tickets (or in some cases give them away) for playoffs games. This is not an environment that would inspire any owner to take on payroll unless they can get a guy on that short list of box-office draws.

I saw that effect in Miami. The Heat traded for Shaq and suddenly they were the hot thing in Miami. Three years of sellouts and dramatically increased revenues followed. Then things went south, teh crowds and revenues started drying up again and Shaq was on his way to Phoenix. That’s how it tends to go unless a franchise is located in a rabid basketball town with deep ties to the local team.

You can offer an argument that the city would rally behind (and spend money on) a low-key, superstarless team that plays fundamentally sound offense and rugged defense. But, really, is that realistic? The Hawks sent out an exciting, athletic team that won 37 games at Philips Arena while scoring a lot of points and still had trouble drawing. Would it really make a big difference if the newly-constructed team ran less isos and fought through screens?

As it stands now, the Hawks’ payroll is projected at roughly $45 million next season. The salary cap is expected to be at about $56 million. That means if the Hawks let J.J. walk without a sign-and-trade, they can could possibly sign a free agent whose salary starts at $10-$11 million $9-$10 million (edit: reader Robert Dinterman emailed to note that this would require the Hawks to renounce several cap holds–see here for details). If they end up at the cap limit, they then could add a player using the mid-level (salary starting at about $5.5 million), bi-annual ($2.1 million) exceptions and/or minimum-salary exceptions.

Perhaps that plan might work in the short term if the Hawks got the Personnel part right and found good value for a starting point guard, defensive wing, center and whatever else they decide they need. Maybe losing an All-NBA talent like J.J. is offset somewhat by the change in Philosophy that presumably would happen with him gone and a point guard added. It’s doubtful it would be a team that can break through to the East finals but maybe it’s a small step back before something bigger down the line.

MC

372 comments Add your comment

Westurd

May 10th, 2010
5:44 pm

Only losers call first!

Ben

May 10th, 2010
5:47 pm

We need to do something that’s all i know. Woody has to be gone for sure. This team would be much better with a REAL coach who knows how to run an offense and commands respect from his players. Woody doesn’t do either.

Ted Striker

May 10th, 2010
5:48 pm

You nailed it. And nailed it best in your last sentence. “…a small step back before something bigger down the line.”

I’m not a fan of blowing things up, but the sum of the parts here is less than the parts individually, and there’s no chemistry. Conclusion: BLOW IT UP.

Bucks Fan

May 10th, 2010
5:50 pm

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Westurd

May 10th, 2010
5:50 pm

It needs to be built around Al. Al is the only player with a winning pedigree. You can see it in how he has played against the Magic. He is the only one playing with a chip on his shoulder as he and the rest of the Hawks should.

STEEL (Formerly VenomSpitter)

May 10th, 2010
5:52 pm

Sadly I don’t really have faith that this team will make the right moves.

I hope they prove me wrong.

SWAT Native

May 10th, 2010
5:57 pm

For what it’s worth, both Marvin and Mike Bibby were also NCAA champs.

Grandad

May 10th, 2010
5:59 pm

[re-post from previous blog] * fits in here as well.
I always manage to get the last post on the previous blog.

Whiteside, Orton, Alabi, (reaches/projects) all of them.
Think poor man’s Hasheem Thabeet, but not as experienced.
Thabeet = D-league.

We have Al, & Josh + Marv, possibly J.Childress in their prime.
*(Zaza) as well
Teaguer’s either got to produce on the floor or thru trade.[NOW]
[Wdsn wasted J.teague'e 1st yr,] and Jamal in his latter prime.
*(all but Al / could be in play as trade chips) this is reality.
* [5 yr. window with this group]
We cannot waste 3 or 4 yrs. with a project…^…see above.

Bibby’s contract will be moved, freeing some $.
Mo will not re-up…^…same.
Joe Smith, Cheeseburger, Mario, RandMo…will be replaced,
one way or another, [FA-signing] or minimum contract guys.

Draft = someone who can be a rotation player NOW!

If your looking for a Big that can help now:
‘Aleks Maric’ – Euro [FA] Best Big in europe, Aussie,
played 4 yrs,@ Nebraska, (this yr, played for *Partizan),
*team that Olympiakos [Childress' team] defeated in semis.
25 years old, experienced, 6-11, 270,
more ready than any collegean. Even my guy – Zoubek.

Don Mills

May 10th, 2010
5:59 pm

Atlanta has too much going on in the city and too many transplants, you have to bring in a superstar with personality to bring the attendance up, the way Vick did for the Falcons. Like Deion Sanders and those guys, who wants to spend all their money to watch boring Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. Unfortunately, ASG doesn’t have any money and should have never been allowed to buy the team. They need to sell to Author Blank

SWAT Native

May 10th, 2010
6:00 pm

MC, yet another blog that’s even better than your article! The paying customers miss all this great stuff.

Westurd

May 10th, 2010
6:01 pm

Swats Native: You’re right….

Hawk n the Ham

May 10th, 2010
6:12 pm

FIRST!!!!

LOL, but really MC…..Great, great writeup. “The man’s a Shakespeare!”

STEEL (Formerly VenomSpitter)

May 10th, 2010
6:12 pm

I agree with Don Mills. They need to sell this team to Arthur Blank.

drew2106

May 10th, 2010
6:12 pm

Magic will take game four tonite.
Charles says – Have your fishing poles ready.
Come on Hawks win this one tonite so the Magic can win it all at home.

Ryan

May 10th, 2010
6:14 pm

This will be hilarious! Who cares about the Hawks or the NBA? This city loves baseball and football and that is it. Would be nice if the Hawks just moved out of Atlanta. They will never get past the second round. Orlando 104 Atlanta 85 in front of about 10,000.

Ryder

May 10th, 2010
6:18 pm

Westurd is right…even though Atlanta will get dominated by Orlando in this series, I don’t think that JJ is the problem. It’s obvious that Woodson doesn’t have the pedigree to take this team to the championship. I keep JJ and bring in another coach who can utilize the skills of Al Horford, Jeff Teague, and Josh Smith. I really hope that Jeff Van Gundy changes his mind and comes back to coaching. I do believe that he can get the most out of Josh Smith.

Also, they should drop Marvin Williams to the bench, he has shown he does not have the agreesiveness needed to take it to another level in the playoffs. Base your offense around Horford, and watch the fortunes of the Hawks change.

Grandad

May 10th, 2010
6:19 pm

Great read Michael!

PS – It would not hurt the Hawks to find a
*radio flagship station*
that could broadcast outside the city limits.

GT Alum

May 10th, 2010
6:19 pm

Ryan, I would contest your contention that this city loves baseball. The Braves’ attendance has been dwindling for years. For the majority of Atlantans, sporting events are social events. They go to see the big names superstars, and to see and be seen and socialize. If the Hawks got a superstar, they would sell out every home game, even if they lost all of them.

Ryan

May 10th, 2010
6:23 pm

GT Alum, the Braves still average right around 30,000 per season. Pretty darn good if you ask me over 81 games. The pathetic Hawks averaged 16,500 this year. Now, if an average of 30,000 go to a Braves game over 81 games, don’t you think that Phillips Arena should be FULL with 19,000 fans over 41 games? Nice try though making your point.

Hawk Str8Talk

May 10th, 2010
6:27 pm

Well, this pretty much sums up what I’ve been saying for about 2 years in my blogs. I spent the postseason just talking about how bad psychologically our philosophy and setup as an organization and team is. So, despite 53 wins (which happen because our talent is much better than about 3/5ths of the league – 3/5ths of 82 = 49 wins), we never were going to matter this season. The bad part about it is that all of this was true LAST postseason. Only it was accepted due to a few injuries, but trust me – that series vs. the Heat should have told everyone that it was not going to end well…www.hawkstr8talk.com

Mark

May 10th, 2010
6:28 pm

JJ’s not the problem. The problem is the ISO-Joe and it started during the season. Even the ISO-Jordon didn’t work for the Bulls. They had to get people around MJ so that they could keep him from being worn down as the only option. When they learned to play team ball, and relied on Jordan near the end of close games, they became winners.

The Hawks have complimentary players but the coaching staff keeps going back to the ISO-Joe option when things aren’t working. They did this all season and they can’t change in the playoffs. JJ has to be one of the most frustrated people on the team. He is always asked to shoot with time running out and poor position. Between that and the ISO-Joe, there is no real offensive plan.

The coaching is also why young players sit on the bench and don’t contribute. Would it be that bad to loose a few more games and get a rookie like Teague some minutes during the season? He can watch all the games he wants but there is nothing like the experience lessons learned on the court. If I am the GM, this alone is why I get a new head coach. The GM can only bring in the talent. The coach has to develop it and utilize it.

Someone also has to teach them how to take adversity and keep fighting. Emotionally it is easier to win than loose. What really takes guts is to get knocked down hard, and to come back under control and win. JJ can’t do it alone, but neither could MJ. What is needed is a Phil Jackson willing to put the rest together.

clarkekent

May 10th, 2010
6:29 pm

ditto on what “da Don” mills said

Richie Rich

May 10th, 2010
6:31 pm

anybody want to go to the game tonight?

GT Alum

May 10th, 2010
6:39 pm

No argument that the Hawks should be able to do better attendance-wise. There’s several possible reasons why the Braves well outdraw the Hawks. I guess my contention was that the word “love” is probably a bit of an overstatement when it comes to this city’s relationship to baseball. If you walked up to folks at Turner Field and asked them about players on the roster, I bet most of them wouldn’t know more than Chipper, McCann, Hanson, Heyward, Lowe, Hudson, and maybe JJ. And the fans rooting for the visiting team would probably know more about the Braves on average than the Braves supporters.

Horford Rox

May 10th, 2010
6:49 pm

No team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a 7 game NBA playoff series. Who falcon cares? To any Hawx fans on their way to the game, I encourage you to grab a broomstick, break it over your knee, and grab hold to some “Shock the World” Hawx gear. It’s time for tiny azz David to stand up and bust Goliath upside his head.

Regardless of the outcome, I will stand behind this team and support anyone who is man enough to don an Atlanta Hawx uniform. I ain’t mad at #2 and would love to see him stay with us. There is no shame in losing to a great opponent. The only disgrace is not competing. It’s time for this team to MAN UP and beat Orlando.

Go Hawx…Beat ‘em up if you have to!!

It’s time to SHOCK THE WORLD!!!

Maxx

May 10th, 2010
6:50 pm

MC- What are the chances of the Hawks landing Chris Bosh if J.J. walks?

Richie Rich

May 10th, 2010
6:51 pm

i have an extra ticket for somebody if they want it.

WestOfAthens

May 10th, 2010
6:52 pm

Something bigger down the line?

Is this not the best free agrent crop in decades?

Why wait?

My Three Questi… Um, Three Cents

Greg

May 10th, 2010
6:53 pm

If the Hawks keep Woodson, they have given up. Surely that’s not even something they are considering. Don’t give me this crap about “who would they get to take his place?” I’ve seen church league coaches who have better ball movement and do a better job of inspiring their players. But you can always count on Woody to summarize what the problems are after the fact. Unfortunately, he asks the same questions the rest of us do and doesn’t have any answers.

I’m going to tune into about 10 minutes of the Hawks funeral procession tonight just to see how many empty seats there are and how loudly JJ gets booed when he is introduced.

Michael Cunningham

May 10th, 2010
6:57 pm

@SWAT: different style, different audience and unlimited space on the blog. glad you like it.

Richie Rich

May 10th, 2010
6:58 pm

good seats to fellas….all you have to do is show up.

Don!

May 10th, 2010
6:59 pm

Until further notice, these are the Atlanta awks. There’s no ‘H’ in this team.

Later,

Don!

GT Alum

May 10th, 2010
7:00 pm

Richie, I’d show up if someone would guarantee me the Hawks will.

lewis

May 10th, 2010
7:01 pm

Hawks are falling apart like a cheap suit.
This is bad business. This is sad.
Playoffs don’t lie.

Good stuff MC.

Michael Cunningham

May 10th, 2010
7:04 pm

@Mark: very nice take, your reasoning is sound. but i might quibble with the part about J.J.’s frustrations and “teaching” how to fight through adversity.

J.J. often brings that on himself with the overdribbling. when he says “we need to move the ball” it seems lost on him that doing so is largely within his control. i’ve seen so many times when Woody calls a play and it looks pretty good until it gets to J.J. then he backs it out, sets up his man and goes Iso. that’s why i wonder if it’s just such an ingrained part of his game now that he wouldn’t be able to change.

also, pros shouldn’t need to be taught to keep fighting. they should take pride as professionals. i think the key is to find more guys who have that as part of their makeup.

Richie Rich

May 10th, 2010
7:04 pm

i can’t gaurantee a win but the ticket is free

Michael Cunningham

May 10th, 2010
7:07 pm

@Maxx: lots of factors in a sign-and-trade. both players have to want to go to the new team (which includes considering what will be the makeup of the new team). both players have to agree to the money. and both teams have to agree to a deal. so, in short, i can’t say at this point what are the chances. it would start with the Hawks finding a team and player that’s interested and then trying to put all the other factors together.

steve brown

May 10th, 2010
7:08 pm

Has anyone seen Teague shoot a jump shot? Does he have one?

Richie Rich

May 10th, 2010
7:12 pm

section 112 behind the magic bench

Fear the Deer

May 10th, 2010
7:12 pm

Hahahahahahahaha! Worst playoff series loss EVER!

Blast

May 10th, 2010
7:13 pm

And to imagine Hawks wanted the Magic in the 2nd round! Hawks would have been better off coming out 4th in the East, though I can see now the Cavs would have swept them anyway. Boston is playing better in the playoffs than they did in the regular season!

Once Hawks gets knocked out tonight, least I would be able to root for Rando and the Celts. God knows I hate them less than I hate Cleveland. I would be a happy fan if Boston can somehow knock out Cleveland. Give me some satisfaction to mellow off Hawks disappointment.

Richie Rich

May 10th, 2010
7:14 pm

sorry fellas ticket is taken.

Horford Rox

May 10th, 2010
7:15 pm

Don!
You say there’s no “H in awks.” Sounds like you’re the type of “fan” that boos his team off the floor. Well, that caliber of “support” ain’t needed. Go stick a pacifier in your mouth.

Man up and be real fan DON! Never QUIT on your team. As for Richie “free tix” Rich… Get your butt to Philips and encourage this team to Shock the World!!

Go Hawx…Beat ‘em up if you have to!!

It’s time to SHOCK THE WORLD!!

Fear the Deer

May 10th, 2010
7:16 pm

Buh bye. Thank you for flying Delta. Buh bye.

GT Alum

May 10th, 2010
7:17 pm

Richie, I’m not even asking for a win – just for them to leave it all on the floor. I’ve just got better ways to spend my time than watching the Hawks just stand around and take jumpshots.

Sorry, you’re making a genuinely nice offer, and I used it to take a stab at the Hawks just because I’m completely disillusioned after watching them sleepwalk through game 3.

Willy

May 10th, 2010
7:20 pm

It’s a shame that the one guy on this team (Woodson) who’s truly committed to winning is on his way out the door.

GT Alum

May 10th, 2010
7:21 pm

Horford Rox, I think Richie was asking for someone to use an extra ticket he has, not his ticket.

Also, the fans only quit on the Hawks after the Hawks quit on themselves. If they don’t want to get booed, they should at least make it look like they’re trying out there. Even if they hadn’t been keeping score, game 3 would’ve still been a pitiful performance for the Hawks.

Allen

May 10th, 2010
7:25 pm

The Hawks team did not “quit”. Certain players just didn’t show up when they needed to. That’s the bottom line. You can’t put the blame on the entire team.

GT Alum

May 10th, 2010
7:29 pm

Allen, you’re right. Horford, Jamal and even ZaZa seemed to really be trying. JJ was trying to get his shot. But, for the most part, guys weren’t crashing the boards, going hard after loose balls – all the little things a team coming home down 2-0 in a playoff series should do.

Steve

May 10th, 2010
7:31 pm

Great young nucleus – Tony Parker is up for grabs according to ESPN – maybe see if they’ll take Jamal, Bibbs, and our 1st rounder this year. Then re-sign JJ and Chilz, and you have yourself a team!

Josh 24, Marv and Al only 23 – are only going to get better as well

Collins and Smith were the best guys available at the minimum salary, 2 vets with a winning pedigree and veteran work ethic for our youthful guys to example – Sund has done wonders – getting Jamal for nothing, drafting Teague – who I think has great potential. .