Atlanta Hawks: Al Horford: ‘I am going to war with who I’ve got’ (Update: Hawks sign Etan Thomas)

Horford and Hawks hoping they have enough guys who can do this.

Horford and Hawks hoping they have enough guys who can do this. (AP Photo)

When Al Horford said earlier this summer that the Hawks needed to add an “impact center” to be a serious contender in the Eastern Conference, I’m going to guess he wasn’t talking about Jason Collins (who had no impact for the Hawks last season) or Etan Thomas (whose impact lately has been blunted by injuries).

Yet as training camp approaches that’s what the Hawks have behind Horford and Zaza. They re-signed Collins early, struck out with Shaq (who had endorsements from both Al and Smoove) and Brad Miller and today added Thomas.

I bumped into Al at Philips today and asked him if that’s going to be enough to help the Hawks break through the ceiling that for this franchise has been short of the East finals for so long.

“I am going to war with who I’ve got,” Al said

What he’s got at center is Zaza, who came on at the end of last season and stacks up favorably against other NBA backups though he isn’t a stout deterrent at the rim; a leaner and apparently more-motivated version of Collins; and Thomas, a tough banger in the post who will try and show that injuries have not robbed him of his rebounding and shot-blocking ability.

Those three players plus Al, Smoove and Josh Powell will make up Atlanta’s frontcourt. That rotation, with L.D.’s plan to play Al at power forward and Smoove at small forward at times, is going to have to be enough.

Horford had hoped Atlanta would add an impact center who could split minutes with him at center and shore up the interior D against the likes of Dwight Howard and Boston’s frontcourt (and that was before the C’s added Jermaine O’Neal and Shaq). Now he will roll with Zaza, Twin and Thomas.

“I haven’t seen him, but I know that Jason Collins is coming in in great shape and has really worked,” Horford said. “He is a guy who could have been utilized a little more last year. And we’ve got Etan Thomas who will be here soon and he will be a great help, as well.”

After a long day of physicals with Atlanta’s medical people, Thomas had to smile when I asked him about his health. If he came through all the poking and prodding with passing grades, he must be good to go. “Everything is fine,” he said.

Why did he choose to sign with the Hawks?

“This is a great situation,” he said. “I was with Larry Drew in D.C. and I have a lot of respect for him. I like what he is doing here.”

Thomas said Drew made “no promises” about his role and just told him to be ready. Does Thomas think he still can provide the physical presence the Hawks are looking for?

“That’s what they brought me here for,” he said. “I’m going to put in a lot of hard work.”

Thomas, who will wear No. 36 for the Hawks, has earned a rep for physical, high-energy play around the basket.

“We need that inside toughness in here,” Al said. “The more that we have, the better.”

Jamal Crawford’s pending pay-me-or-trade-me request notwithstanding, it looks like Atlanta will send out the same top nine for 2010-11 as they did for 2009-10.

So how can the Hawks improve on No. 3 in the East and the second round of the playoffs, particularly with Boston still Boston, Miami shooting past them on paper, Orlando’s so-far unconquerable core still intact, and Chicago and Milwaukee creeping up from behind?

“I know that I’m excited personally with what Coach Drew has been talking about,” Horford said. “He wants to change the offense a little bit and do things a little differently. Having said that, it all depends on the kind of level that our key guys like Joe Johnson and Josh Smith [reach] coming in. Mentally, I think that’s going to be a part of how good we are as a team.

“I think there is room for growth. There definitely is. We have to work harder if we want to be any better because, man, the East. Milwaukee is better. Chicago is better. Miami is better, it goes without saying. It’s going to be an interesting year for us.”

The same can be said for Al, who is heading into the final year of his rookie-scale contract fresh off his first selection to the All-Star game. The Hawks can extend him for up to five years and $82 million by Oct. 31 or tender him to make him a restricted free agent next summer.

Indications are that the Hawks plan to make an aggressive push to sign Al to an extension but that process hasn’t started.

“I haven’t heard anything yet,” Horford said. “I think anything will start coming once training camp gets going. I am just kind of leaving to that to the owners and my representation and just seeing what happens. I am going to keep working hard and keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

MC

382 comments Add your comment

Tee

September 2nd, 2010
3:02 pm

Great work MC. ASG, please lock up Al now, he’s the heart and soul of this team! I hate to say it, but we may need to move Jamal to get a perimeter defender. Jordan Crawford will have to suffice for bench scoring.

The Real JC

September 2nd, 2010
3:05 pm

Love it – I mean, who says that? One of the few true team players left in the NBA.

Fear th Deer

September 2nd, 2010
3:09 pm

SteveW

September 2nd, 2010
3:15 pm

4th!!!! – I’m such a loser

SteveW

September 2nd, 2010
3:16 pm

Good to hear Al’s good attitude – what we’ve come to expect from him. A healthy Thomas is a beast by the way.

SteveW

September 2nd, 2010
3:18 pm

Let’s see, would you rather go to war with RandMo and Joe Smith (who played well in his role last year BTW) or Etan Thomas and Josh Powell – War – Etan and Powell hands down.

SteveW

September 2nd, 2010
3:20 pm

I think you could make the case we have improved slightly inside over last year.

shawn

September 2nd, 2010
3:22 pm

The reality is that Hawks are not better than Orlando or Heat. ASG did not do anything to make me believe that we are going to take it to next level. just look at who they hired as coach..nothing against LD, but what makes you believe that he is going to make this team better being the assistant under Woody?

Michael Cunningham

September 2nd, 2010
3:22 pm

SteveW: “A healthy Thomas is a beast by the way.”

i liked him when he was younger and healthier. is he fit now? we’ll find out.

Westurd

September 2nd, 2010
3:23 pm

This will be Al’s team soon…….as of right now, its not ones team and that bothersome. Finally someone step up and said, “I got some effing B*lls and will run this ship.”

Gil

September 2nd, 2010
3:28 pm

MC, Is this as nice and proffesional a guy as you’ve seen in the league?

GT Alum

September 2nd, 2010
3:33 pm

I bumped into Al at Philips today and asked him if that’s going to be enough to get the Hawks over the ceiling that for this franchise has been set short of the East finals for so long.

“I am going to war with who I’ve got,” Al said

Honestly, it sounds like he’s answering that question, I don’t think so, but I’m going to do everything I can to get us over that hump anyway.

Al Horford sounds like a smart, competitive young man. Seems like, if it’s what he wants, he could have a future in the front office after what will hopefully be a long and productive playing career.

Astro Joe

September 2nd, 2010
3:35 pm

MC, is the team captain chosen by the players or by the coaching staff? Obviously, having the title is meaningless unless your peers respect you, but some way, some how, Al needs to be established as the team’s first, second and third leader amongst the players. And I’m not trying to hear any comments about salaries… because for all of this love for Carmelo, Billups and Kenyon are the leaders of the Nuggets… Melo just takes the shots.

Air Zaza

September 2nd, 2010
3:37 pm

LOL, a younger Thomas was serviceable. This one is just there. We should be better for the regular season, it’s the off-season where I expect the worst.

Air Zaza

September 2nd, 2010
3:37 pm

post season. edit.

Hoops

September 2nd, 2010
3:40 pm

Al should be the captain of the Hawks in 2010-11. JJ works hard and leads by example, but Al leads by example and he also leads verbally.

Hawks Hack

September 2nd, 2010
3:41 pm

I’m sick of reading about the Hawks and there apathetic ownership!!

85Souf

September 2nd, 2010
3:43 pm

I see why they didn’t want to break up the core, granted they definitely needed some more Punch off the bench scoring wise, defensively inside & out, and just heart on the bench, The Hawks can truly sore Higher if the core plays better than they did… Joe’s fine except for when he’s in The Playoffs I don’t know if he can work on that but he needs to, Jamal was fine, Josh could score a tad bit more & maybe not give up in a Playoff game, Al could maybe score a bucket more, Jeff(new core player) if he plays solid cool but if he shines wow, Bibby could try to be more in shape & yawn less on the bench in Playoff games, AND MARVIN could double up ALL his numbers, if this were to happen which its no where near the realm of Impossible, it actually should’ve been happened The Hawks will be a Really Dangerous team in the regular season & in The Playoffs

The Grinch

September 2nd, 2010
4:08 pm

Shawn, it doesn’t matter who Drew is or who he’s coached under. The very fact alone that he ISN’T Mike Woodson will automatically mean this will be a better coached team than last year.

If Crawford’s demands get in the way of re-signing Horford, he has to go.

niremetal

September 2nd, 2010
4:09 pm

Milwaukee is not better.

JerryT

September 2nd, 2010
4:16 pm

Adding players isn’t the only way to get better. Several of these guys are young and still have room to improve. Dwight Howard didn’t just wake up one day with arms like that. There’s a whole ‘nother level of commitment that we probably haven’t seen here yet.

I Heart Atlanta

September 2nd, 2010
4:24 pm

I agree with niremetal, Milwaukee is not better (other than bogut being healthy)
They lost: Luke ridnhour (i know i can’t spell), Thomas, Stackhouse, gonzureach (lol again)
Gained: Douglas roberts, Magettie, Gooden, Dooling

bigdave

September 2nd, 2010
4:24 pm

great read MC..

IMO the only way this team takes that next step is if Joe plays at a “superstar” level (im still not sure what that is) and if Josh consistently plays all-star basketball which we all now he can.

Rufus1

September 2nd, 2010
4:50 pm

Niremetal Co-sign 4:09 post

Rufus1

September 2nd, 2010
4:54 pm

When Al Horford said earlier this summer that the Hawks needed to add an “impact center” to be a serious contender in the Eastern Conference,

Al you need to become that impact center, the Hawks aren’t going to pay 28mil a year for 2 impact PF.

jason

September 2nd, 2010
4:58 pm

three year deal for jamal and a five year deal for AL i think we have somethin goin on in this team that nobody see’s except me

northcyde

September 2nd, 2010
5:00 pm

What did people expect Al to say? “No . . . I don’t have enough help” . .?

He’s not going to throw his new teammates under the bus like that. Al is a profrssional, and has always carried himself as such. JJ and Smoove are the same way when interviewed about the team and its needs.

Still, all the talk is about what Drew is doing with the offense, but no chatter about what he’s going to do about the defense. Gotta play defense to deep into the playoffs.

I Heart Atlanta

September 2nd, 2010
5:01 pm

I c it Jason

ILL-Logical

September 2nd, 2010
5:05 pm

I am still trying to understand the value that some attach to All Star Al rregarding the team’s future prospects. He has had a good professional career to date with a somewhat contoversial All Star selection last year but to conflate extending his contract with thesurvival of the franchise strikes me as just a little over the top.

My unease is centered around the fact that NBA history is replete with “undersized” (6′9 and under)centers leading their teams to championships. From Bill Russell to Ben Wallace, there have been guys whose savy,skill and heart have enabled them to overcome their relative lack of size to overcome or at least compete with the Wilt Chamberlins and Shaqs of their era. I would even add Alonzo Mourning to that list because he certainly got the most out of his ability as a feared defender of the rim.

And having seen all of the aforementioned players play,I can say without hesitation ,that Al is not in their class. And further, from what I have seen-and I attended several of the big games like the Cavs and Lakers games as well as game 7 of the Bucks series- if he plays the 4 as he has “requested”, his ceiling there is at best Buck Williams,an offensively challenged but relentless rebounder.

In short, ASA is at best a 10 year plus starter.No more,no less and the desire to throw large sums of money at him while ascribing some shaman like leadership skills is confusing to me. Let’s face it,people are not lining up at Phillips’ or any other box office to ASA play. We enjoy his work when and if we get there but he is not a box office draw.

So maybe he will add 20 lbs of muscle; develop a killer low post move and become a premier shot blocker but in the meantime, he is just another very good player. Again,let,s not confuse effort with ability.

Dos Hawkquis

September 2nd, 2010
5:06 pm

I truly hope that the Hawk don’t “low ball” Horford with an offer like 5 yr $65mil and tick the man off. Their negotiating strategies aren’t the best. They low balled Chills and Josh…

“I don’t always watch basketball, but when I do, I prefer the Hawks. Stay thirsty my friends.”

northcyde

September 2nd, 2010
5:11 pm

Rufus . . . that’s right on point. It’s going to have to be Horford that elevates his level of play. He can start by becoming a DOMINANT rebounder, instead of just a very good rebounder. He needs to average 12+ rebounds a game, instead of 10.

I would much rather see Horford average 15 pts – 13 rebs . . . than 18 pts – 10 rebs.

The Truth

September 2nd, 2010
5:11 pm

If Jamal comes to camp, he will either be disgruntle or satisfied. We shall see. Since he was the heart and soul of our bench, his attitude (if he plays for the Hawk) will determine the outcome of the Hawk’s season since he was labeled as “The Difference” or the “X-factor” on this team. Many have already forgotten how important his contribution was on the team. As much as I like AL Horford, he is not what strikes fear into our opponents mind. He is however the best center we got. He is the “Mr. Yeoman” on the team with his consistent work ethics on most nights. But our fear factors are Josh Smith ability to change a game defensively and JJ and Jamal ability to score. Since we only suited-up just 12 players on most nights, we were a very efficient team when are clicking on all cylinders. However, if one of our big guns go down, we went from being a good team to just average as we struggled to close out games sometimes even at full strength. This revelation was not so apparent last year because the team stayed relatively healthy. However, we did witness a few moments when a key player went down to injury while another player stepped-up to fill the void. But those moments were rare. If a key player is absent either physically or mentally for an entire season for what ever reason, contract or otherwise, then this team is not built to roll with any degree of consistency as the Celtics were. Yes we do have some additional players that will bring something new to table, but their contribution will likely be negated with the upgrades of players on teams throughout the eastern conference. Al Horford summed it up best:

“We have to work harder if we want to be any better because, man, the East. Milwaukee is better. Chicago is better. Miami is better, it goes without saying. It’s going to be an interesting year for us.”

i_am_soulstar

September 2nd, 2010
5:18 pm

I hope the positivity is infectious.

Grandad

September 2nd, 2010
5:19 pm

Michael Cunningham:
Any recent news on Pape Sy concerning his contract with Le Havre?

I Heart Atlanta:
Bogut’s injury remains a concern for the Bucks.
It was a very serious injury.
More so, I think than is/was generally perceived.

Grandad

September 2nd, 2010
5:28 pm

Miami has the (3) super fiends.

Boston had their Big (3)

That’s all the rage.
Get three super-stars.
-Personally-
I’m still a Team guy!
-However-
In the spirit of the times;
We have our Big-Bad-Super-duper (3) + (1).
Joe > Al > Josh + Jamal = playin’ team ball!

That rhymed in case you missed it.

northcyde

September 2nd, 2010
5:31 pm

And some of you gusy be killing me with the acronyms. “ASA”? I was initially like . . “he meant ASG, right?” But I guess “ASA” stands for “All-Star Al”

LOL . . smh . . . you need an acronym thesarus on here.

ASA = All-Star Al ( Horford )

E#2 = Employee #2 ( JJ )

JC2 = Jordan Crawford

JC3 = Jason Collins

Any other player acronyms I need to know about?

Rufus1

September 2nd, 2010
5:44 pm

@Northcyde

I agree either Al or Josh need to average 13rbs a game, but both need to average 10rbs. I think their rbs numbers will increase if they spend less time on the perimeter playing defense….because it doesn’t make any sense that the Hawks are one of the best offensive rbs teams, but bad on the defensive glass.

shawn

September 2nd, 2010
5:53 pm

The Grinch,
What LD has done to make him a better coach than Woody? My friend, you live in fantasy and I am talking to you about facts. Just look at LD resume and then talk to me about facts.

jason

September 2nd, 2010
5:55 pm

so its official on Hawks.com i heard that the hawks have finally signed free agent center Etan Thomas. what does he bring to this team? well for one defense. I mean have u taken a look at those biceps? And he is agressive to the rim which is what al horford lacked last season(but he brought some shooting which was pretty phenomanal). What do i expect from this team next year? not a championship but we are going to be give orlando somthin to rethink about for next season. But this post season isnt’t over yet. it has only just begun. in training camp i want to see atlanta go for that small foward say a guy like jerry stackhouse. Marvin mo and zaza i want to see traded. They were how i call our “dead weight” appearently there are some teams interested in them. Trade all of them for cash and we get some 2nd rounders. now I want a point guard that can run this team with his veteran presence and his playoff expirience. If you saw the orlando series u saw that mike bibby and jeff teague were spun like a top when jameer nelson was “scoring” all over the court. I use scoring as somthing to describe him. im talkin about Allen Iverson. Now i have heard from blogs that people say that he has a big ego. Now i do agree but we are trying to win a championship here! We can also get him cheap. So i post this to tell the fans that i think we can do pretty well next season if we make these transactions.

Michael Cunningham

September 2nd, 2010
6:03 pm

Blog updates with Thomas signing, quotes.

Grandad

September 2nd, 2010
6:03 pm

Per “Hoops World”
The Atlanta Hawks have signed free agent center Etan Thomas, according to Executive Vice President/General Manager Rick Sund. Per team policy, terms were not disclosed.

“We’re excited to add a player of Etan’s caliber to our roster,” said Hawks head coach Larry Drew. “He provides additional veteran leadership, physicality and toughness to our club, especially on the glass and the defensive side of the ball. We also add another versatile and multi-positional player to our frontcourt.”

Michael Cunningham

September 2nd, 2010
6:05 pm

@Gil: “MC, Is this as nice and proffesional a guy as you’ve seen in the league?”

he’s a pro but i’d say the vast majority of the guys in the league are that way. i know it’s not always portrayed that way to the general public but that’s been my experience.

Michael Cunningham

September 2nd, 2010
6:06 pm

@Astro Joe: “MC, is the team captain chosen by the players or by the coaching staff?”

that’s going to be up to L.D. good question i will be sure to ask next time i talk to him.

Michael Cunningham

September 2nd, 2010
6:08 pm

@JerryT: “Adding players isn’t the only way to get better. Several of these guys are young and still have room to improve. Dwight Howard didn’t just wake up one day with arms like that. There’s a whole ‘nother level of commitment that we probably haven’t seen here yet.”

this is not an unreasonable view. the Hawks have to show it, though.

terrell

September 2nd, 2010
6:09 pm

Dos, how is that low-balling? That’s 13 mill a year? A couple of million more than Josh makes. I like Al, but 5 yr 65 mill sounds about right to me. 4 yr 60 at the most.

Michael Cunningham

September 2nd, 2010
6:09 pm

@ northcyde: “Still, all the talk is about what Drew is doing with the offense, but no chatter about what he’s going to do about the defense.”

coming soon . . . Jamal stuff kind of pushed it back.

Michael Cunningham

September 2nd, 2010
6:11 pm

@Granddad: “Michael Cunningham: Any recent news on Pape Sy concerning his contract with Le Havre?”

nope . . . i keep seeing these reports pop up in Europe saying it’s done but each time i ask the Hawks about it they say there are still issues to work out.

Ken Strickland

September 2nd, 2010
6:13 pm

I don’t see the Hawks resigning Jamal Crawford. We didn’t make Jordan Crawford and Pape Sy our 2 top draft picks with the idea of resigning JaCrawford, and he knows it. Since both players can play SG, PG, score and play DEF, they would make Jamal expendable.

With his expiring contract and scoring ability, we could trade him for draft picks, use our $3M trade exemption, and take back a small fraction of his $10+M contract. Getting rid of his contract, and losing MEvans $2.5M contract, could free up enough money for us to easily resign Horford. Bibby’s contract will be expiring after this season.

Starting next yr, we should be able to get enough OFF production out of both players to equal Jamal’s production, and their DEF ability and versatility would make them even more valuable. Let’s not forget we’ll have them for the duration of their rookie contracts, plus they’d be restricted FA’s when their rookie contracts expire. There’s just no long term benefit in resigning Jamal.

Grandad

September 2nd, 2010
6:15 pm

northcyde

I’m glad you brought up the acronyms.
‘J-Cheese’ was here 1st, so how did ‘Jordo’
get to be JC2?
Should it not be the other way around?

jason

September 2nd, 2010
6:19 pm

im hearing from hawks.com that we are signing both jamal and horford in the same day.