When this NBA season started, Rick Sund admitted he pretty much was like the rest of us. He didn’t know whether to judge the Hawks on three playoff wins or 45 regular season losses (as well as all those that preceded them). So he steered clear of sweeping changes.
He called this season, “a barometer.”
It’s late February and nothing has changed. The Hawks stood pat at the trade deadline. They are nine games over .500 (32-23). But any assumptions that the new general manager suddenly has his blueprint for the future would be a mistake.
The players aren’t safe. The coach isn’t safe. The team’s grade this season: incomplete.
When asked what the expectations of the Hawks should be moving forward, Sund paused, then said: “That’s a question that should be asked and answered at the end of season.
“My feelings are consistent with what I’ve said all along, that this season is a barometer. We’ll analyze it when it’s all over.”
Wise man. To take any other position would be a mistake. There has been too much baggage to assume success, and too many warning signs, even now. Josh Smith still can’t decide if he wants to be a superstar or an 8×10. Joe Johnson isn’t playing well and has been dragging since mid-Janaury. Mike Bibby, an impending free agent, has been carrying this team, which is good for his marketability but not for the big picture.
There is good news: Entering the weekend, the Hawks held a three-game lead over Miami for the fourth playoff seed in the East.
There is bad news: They are a sub.-500 team (11-13) since a 21-10 start.
Understand, this is not merely another year in a building process for the franchise. This is the fork in the road. This season potentially has more impact on the Hawks’ future than any other since Billy Knight started bragging about cap space.
Sund didn’t hire Mike Woodson as coach. He only kept him – and even then only with a two-year contract. A one-year contract wasn’t an option. One-year contracts scream, “Coach on the Green Mile!” Woodson didn’t get the three- or four-year deal he sought, which would’ve suggested a vote of confidence, not a postponed decision.
For Woodson and everybody else, a first-round playoff loss isn’t going to get it done this time. Expectations have been raised. If they aren’t met, the potential ramifications are significant: Woodson could be fired. Bibby may not be re-signed. Johnson, with one year left on his contract, could start thinking about going elsewhere (especially given his chemistry with Bibby).
There are contract/trade decisions to make with Marvin Williams (who is up) and Josh Childress (who may return from Greece). And about Josh Smith: Do you keep hoping he grows up or start exploring trade options?
See how quickly this thing blew up?
When asked if this season will significantly impact his plans, Sund said: “That’s a good word to use.
“We have a lot of options – but that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. We’re like every other team in the league. Look at the Lakers: Kobe [Bryant] can opt out next year. [Steve] Nash and [Dirk] Nowitzki can be free agents in the next year or two. Everybody is keeping contracts short-term now. A lot of teams may be shuffling the deck.”
We’ve seen too much to presume stability.