When he was evaluating the Hawks at the end of last season, GM Rick Sund took a look at the other seven teams to play in the conference semifinals and did his own round-robin calculation.
The way Sund sees it–and he said most GMs look at it the same way–the elite teams are those that earn homecourt advantage in the first round and advance to the second round.
“When you get through that first round, that validates that you are an elite team,” Sund said. “Now what I do is I take the record of all the final four in one conference and the others and see how you do against each other. It’s a great barometer because you play 20 games against [common] opponents.”
So how did each team fare against the others?
The Cavaliers were 13-7.
“That’s an incredible record,” Sund said.
The Magic were 12-8, no surprise since they steamrolled through last two months of the regular season. The Lakers were 10-10. And the Hawks? They were 11-9 against Cleveland, Orlando, Boston, Utah, Phoenix, San Antonio and the Lakers.
So scored by Sund’s 20-game litmus test, the Hawks were third in the East behind Cleveland and Orlando, each of whim beat the Hawks three out of four during the regular season.
“We weren’t ready to advance in that second round against those teams, particularly one of those teams we went 1-3 against,” he said. “But that all goes into your [evaluation] of your club.”
The problem for the Hawks, of course, wasn’t that they couldn’t beat Orlando. It’s that they couldn’t compete with them. Clearly that’s the reason Woody is no longer the coach.
Sund could have gone further and sent away some players, too. But the 53 wins and the 11-9 record last season against the other teams Sund considered elite–while no reason to throw a parade–also helped convince him that dismantling the team would be premature.
He said he learned from Jerry West and Wayne Embry not to blow up a good core too soon.
“Fans may not understand and media certainly wouldn’t understand because they like the hype of all the moves in the summer,” he said. “But when you look at our club, we’ve got a pretty damn good club and a good nucleus given that we [operate] under the luxury tax.”