The Hawks liked their bench players so much last season they are hoping they can lure them back for 2012-13.
“When we go forward I would anticipate–because our bench was so good for us last year [and] in our exit meetings with our veterans to a man said, ‘Can we get our same bench back?’–we are definitely going to make an effort to do that,” Hawks assistant GM Dave Pendergraft said. “Because, as you know, that was one of the deeper benches I’ve been involved with. It helped us sustain the injuries. I think they enjoyed the experience.
“I feel like the guys who came off the bench felt they had an identity. I think they felt appreciated by the starters. I think we would be their first choice. Now, I think a lot of things play into that but we talked to all of them and they had a good experience. ”
All of the 2011-12 reserves except for Ivan Johnson (the Hawks plan to extend him a qualifying offer to retain salary-matching rights) will be unrestricted free agents next month: Jason Collins, Erick Dampier, Willie Green, Kirk Hinrich, Tracy McGrady, Jannero Pargo, Vladimir Radmanovic and Jerry Stackhouse.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see a scenario in which the Hawks rebuild their bench by bringing back most of those veterans if possible while supplanting one of them with their first-round draft pick, a player they hope can immediately join the back of the rotation.
“We have got to play it out,” Hawks GM Rick Sund said. “You can’t make any decisions even in your head right now. You can only play out scenarios because you don’t know what the [luxury] tax is going to be, you don’t know what the cap is going to be, you don’t know who you are going to draft.”
The Hawks did have a solid bench last season but, for various reasons, there is some risk in bringing back each of those players.
The Hawks might be pressing their luck to hope Green can duplicate his career-best season–his inability to create shots in the playoffs against Boston’s defense may have been a sign. Also, he’ll be 31 next month after lingering injuries cost him 13 games last season.
Pargo also had the most efficient scoring season of his career but, like Green, the lasting impression was being overmatched by the Celtics. Larry Drew really likes Hinrich because of his defensive tenacity but Hinrich’s offensive production and efficiency continued to drop off and he looked beat up for most of the season.
On the wing, McGrady’s occasional flashes of his old play-making magic couldn’t compensate for his physical deterioration and his seeming inability to fully come to grips with that. Radmanovic also couldn’t stay healthy and went through stretches where he seemed reluctant to do the one thing the Hawks signed him to do, shoot 3-pointers. Stackhouse played in just 30 regular-season games and none in the playoffs.
Whatever the individual weaknesses of those players, Sund said he believes they collectively created a good blend for the Hawks.
“Last year I think we were the deepest team in the from league one through 15 once we picked up Dampier,” Sund said. “We had a great composite with the versatility and flexibility. It gave a lot of options for Larry, which he used a lot. He changed lineups and he could match up well.
“Also I think the really good teams can play the different styles. You can play an up-tempo game, you can play a defensive game, they can grind it out. I think the team with the best record, San Antonio, was the best at that. I think with all the versatility we had that was a plus. We could do that. And we were one of the best defensive teams in the league.”
Of course, the realities of the marketplace could trump whatever misgivings the Hawks have about bringing back last season’s reserves or signing other similarly-flawed free agents. You have to take what you can get if you are limited to filling out the roster with minimum-salaried vets.
If last season’s reserves don’t find much love on the free-agent market then perhaps they return.
“I think some of the guys are definitely in the mix,” Drew said. “My feeling is a lot of the guys are probably going to try to obviously get the best offer they can and go where the best offer is. We will be talking to most of them to see what they are thinking. We are going to have to make sure we are strengthening our bench and guys who can fit in with the core.
“There are certain pieces we are looking for. Last year I thought was a pretty good blend, a pretty good mix, and we kind of have an idea now of the type of players we need to bring in. We have already started to look at that free agent list and what’s out there and whether we can afford them or not. But with nine free agents got our work cut out for us. I don’t know who we can get.”
Some of last season’s reserves talked about the possibility of returning as they headed out the door.
Green: “I’ve got nine years in the NBA and I’m just looking forward to the next challenge. We will see what happens. If the opportunity is here [in Atlanta], this is where I will be. If not, I wish the Hawks the best.
Pargo: “Just looking for any team that wants me. Once I find out what teams want me, then go from there. If [the Hawks] will have me, I would love to be back.”
Hinrich: “Talent-wise, we are one of the better teams in the East. You play in this league for a certain amount of time and you want to be on a winner. We will see what happens. I could be back here, or could not.”
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat