Smith: Win or it’s a “wasted season”

 

This was the scene last year against Boston, but three playoff wins won't satisfy the masses this time. (AJC photo.)

This was the scene after a win over Boston in the first round last year in Philips Arena. But three playoff wins won't satisfy Josh Smith -- or the masses -- this time around. (AJC photo.)

 

The last time the Hawks won a playoff series was 10 years ago. We could not have known then that it was a signal for impending doom.

A first-round win over Detroit was followed by four straight losses to New York, which was followed by management’s decision to go in a new direction, which was followed by presumed dementia by general manager Pete Babcock, because that’s the only possible explanation for his next decision — trading Steve Smith for Isaiah Rider and a giant flushing sound to be named later.

Welcome to recovery.

The Hawks open the playoffs Sunday night against Miami. They are the better team. They have the home-court advantage. They should win. If they don’t, it certainly doesn’t mean the franchise will circle the drain for the next several years. But what will the last six months have meant?

How many playoff rounds do you think the Hawks will win?

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“Honestly, to me it would be like the whole season was for nothing,” Josh Smith said. “I mean, I feel as though we’ve got something special going on right now. But if we don’t get past the first round, I’ll be disappointed and it will feel like a wasted season.”

For a guy whose maturity has sometimes come into question, Smith shows remarkable perspective.

The Hawks won 47 games this season, their most since 1998. They held onto the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference for the last three months of the season, illustrating an improving and maturing roster and possibly an improving and maturing coach, Mike Woodson.

But this isn’t a year ago. When an eighth seed takes the league’s best team to seven games in a playoff series before losing, as the Hawks did with Boston, satisfaction comes easy. Expectations are higher now.

Win this series, and the regular season is validated.

Lose this series, and feel free to flush.

This is when Joe Johnson needs to show he can make a difference in the postseason. This is when Mike Bibby needs to make his case for being re-signed.

This certainly is when Woodson needs to show that improving win totals in each of the past four seasons is not an aberration, because the man was given only a two-year contract this season, an indication his future may be on the line.

There’s a significant difference in ripple effects between the Hawks winning four games and losing four games — way beyond this postseason. Winning reaffirms that the plan doesn’t have to change. Losing mandates change.

“I feel like a lot of people didn’t even expect us to make the playoffs this year, so in that sense it was a really good season,” Al Horford said. “But at the end of the day, a team gets judged by their playoff performance. This is when great teams are made.”

Miami is not a great team. But it has the only player in the series (Dwyane Wade) who can take over a game. It has the only x-factor. If you’re wondering why some are struggling to pick a winner in this series, there it is.

Well, that and the Hawks’ relative lack of a postseason resume.

“Probably some people won’t believe we can win in the playoffs until we actually do,” Smith said.

“I don’t want to be one of those players who, seven or eight years down the line, is someone who still hasn’t made it past the first round. I don’t want to have to live with that.”

There’s an easy solution.

Jeff Schultz can be reached via email (jschultz@ajc.com), Facebook, Tweeter (SchultzAJC) or carrier pigeon (make a right off 400).

53 comments Add your comment

Ted Striker

April 17th, 2009
6:57 pm

Jeff: Was going to send you an important message via carrier pigeon — but the bird dropped it down the front of my shirt before flying off.

BarkingBulldawg

April 18th, 2009
1:44 am

Good article there, Schultzie! Lord, Buck Belue is a lamo….

fred @ The Rock

April 18th, 2009
6:05 am

If the Hawks do not get past the Heat in the first round, Mike Woodson has to go. I believe we have too much talent to not get to the second round. We win or We Get Another Coach.

Dr. Warren

April 18th, 2009
8:21 am

Where is Dominique when we need him?

Randy Whitman

April 18th, 2009
8:28 am

So if Woodson gets canned…who’s out there to get?

This is a player’s league – not a coaches. I don’t see any coach coming in here and making a huge difference.

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2009
9:59 am

Striker: Tragic.

Randy: Management should make a decision that a coach is either the right man for the job or he’s not. If he’s not, then you find somebody else. Yes, you need to have candidates in mind but that shouldn’t be an issue. But that’s way down the road. Let’s see what happens in the series first.

Whopper Dawg

April 18th, 2009
11:11 am

Nice little team, with the number of lotto picks we have had, it should be. They are one more substantial player away from really contending and for my money in spite of Bibby’s acknowledged contributions, I think it is a point guard. The trick is, now that they are good enough to float in the middle of the NBA pack and thus out of the lotto, how do they acquire that player? You have to be really astute in the draft or through trade, not a Hawk strong point historically.

That being said, they should beat the Heat if they play well, Go Hawks!!

Somebody Has To Say This!!!

April 18th, 2009
11:31 am

Jeff
I have to expose you for who you are, the ultimate TROLL. If the Hawks win the first round, you will go silent. If they lose the first round, you will write a validation article entitled “YOU SEE, I TOLD YOU SO”. You (and your BOY Terrance) will for ever be linked to Michael Vick and his misfortunes. When you go digging and searching for manure as you did with Vick, you came out smelling just like it. Therefore you will for ever smell like manure. This is the explanation as to why you are still stinking-up the place at AJC. I can’t believe you got an interview with Josh Smith with your baggage.

Just curious, is everything in your life half empty? Or is it only half empty when it comes to the rising stars of the BLACK ATHLETE in the ATL? It is only when these players earn a certain amount of national prominence when you start to prey on them. What is your real agenda? Is Josh Smith your next victim? The national image of the ATL will always suffer with guys like you on the beat.

Chris Murphy, Atlanta, GA

April 18th, 2009
11:54 am

Huh. So the only problem with black pro athletes in Atlanta is the sportswriters. Jeff, I sure hope you’re listening, and are practicing your foul shots right this minute.

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2009
12:22 pm

Whopper: the thing about the Hawks is they have A LOT of flexibility if things don’t work out. Bibby’s contract is up. Joe only has one year left. I think Marvin has a year left. I don’t think they’ll have to blow it up or anything but the point is they can make moves if they want to.

Somebody: I didn’t go digging for manure with Vick. He dropped it on everybody’s doorstep. But if you want to blame the world (or me) for Mike Vick’s problems, that’s up to you. Now, if you want to talk Hawks basketball, I’ll be happy to chat. Have a wonderful day.

Chris: I just work here. (I think I may put that on a business card.)

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2009
12:45 pm

By the way, noticed the Hawks are running big whopper ads online and in print for playoff tickets. I don’t doubt that they’ll fill the arena but does it strike anybody else as surprising that they haven’t sold out yet?

Somebody Has To Say This!!!

April 18th, 2009
1:50 pm

Chris Murphy, Atlanta, GA

Can you read? I said rising stars of the BLACK ATHLETE in the ATL. There is a difference.

Jeff Schultz
The intent was not to talk football. I was making an analogy between your conduct during the Vick era and your attitude toward our beloved Hawks. To your credit you haven’t gone ballistic yet but I see you are beginning to circle the wagon. Maybe it is proportional to the rise in the Hawks popularity. I hope I’m wrong about you.

Here is an opportunity to prove yourself: I CAN SAY I AM A HAWKS FAN; I LOVE MY HAWKS!!!!

NOW, YOU SAY IT :)

Ted Striker

April 18th, 2009
1:58 pm

I’m surprised there are tickets available but not VERY surprised. I’d say the Richter scale of ’surprise’ measures a 3.1.

On the otherhand, I’m chagrined the public is either waiting for round 2 or disinterested. So, the ‘Disappointment’ Richter currently measures 6.4.

Favorable expectations for round one? Nothing’s ever guaranteed in sports, but “Favorable Expectations’ Richter is 7.6.

Ted Striker

April 18th, 2009
2:01 pm

This is an interesting forum and discussion but my “Need to Immediately Surf the Web for Marisa Miller” pics is eking up over 9.1

Art Vandelay

April 18th, 2009
3:26 pm

Somebody,

Maybe you need to turn your anger elsewhere and stop making ridiculous accusations of racism while hiding behind a screen name. Jeff isn’t paid to be the Hawks’ number-one fan. He’s paid to write columns that examine different elements of the Atlanta and national sports scenes, for better or worse. If you really think that somehow Jeff Schultz and/or Terence Moore are responsible for Mike Vick’s felony convictions and that they take delight in watching hometown teams struggle, well then maybe you need to rent a jackhammer to break up that massive chip on your shoulder.

This column has absolutely NOTHING TO DO WITH THE BLACK ATHLETE, other than the fact that 11 of the 12 players on the Hawks’ roster happen to be African-American — not at all an unusual ratio in the league. The tone of Jeff’s column isn’t negative in any way, and frankly, I think you’re just looking to pick a fight with someone. Take your baseless accusations of racism over to Fox News, where it would actually be warranted.

What if Jeff’s interview had been with ZaZa Pachulia? Would you be accusing Jeff of hating Europeans?

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2009
3:32 pm

Somebody — I would suggest you go back and read anything I wrote in the first six years of the “Vick era.” I think you’ll see how far off you are in your perceptions.

Striker — as always, you stand alone.

STUCK IN SC

April 18th, 2009
4:20 pm

I heard a rumour that the unemployment rate in ATL was close to 10%, do you think that might be playing a role in the ability of the Hawks to sell out quickly?

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2009
5:15 pm

Stuck — I’m sure the economy is a factor. Everybody’s been hurt. Also heard a rumor the newspaper industry was in trouble. (Pause for effect.) But I don’t believe it.

Truth-serum

April 18th, 2009
5:28 pm

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2009
12:22 pm

Schultz add Somebody has to say this to the list of hundreds of people who see you for what you are- a weak writer who must resort to race baiting and sensationalizing to get attention.
Why is it that every one can see this about you yet you still deny?

Ariose

April 18th, 2009
5:38 pm

We might need to sighn rasheed in the offseason if we can’t find anyone else……

El Bravo

April 18th, 2009
5:38 pm

Jeff, very good article and I get your point about Dwane Wade but I don’t think he is the only X factor in this series. I have seen Joe Johnson “quietly” take over games and he can, at times, elevate his game to a totally different level. I think this will be a defining series for him in Atlanta. Furthermore, Josh Smith has the skill set to dominate the paint against a team without a true center such as Miami. He needs to show the discipline, offensively and defensively, to stay within his skill set. If he decides to expand his offensive zone and/or freelance too much on defense then we are probably doomed… Win or lose it will be a very interesting series as it relates to the future of the Hawks…

Ted Striker

April 18th, 2009
5:56 pm

So this is what it’s like when Bea Arthur comes to blog…

Najeh Davenpoop

April 18th, 2009
7:21 pm

I agree with this article.

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2009
7:30 pm

# Truth, I only see you and “Somebody” spreading hate and bringing up race. How did you get to “hundreds”?
# El Bravo: Joe = little x. D-Wade = capital x. But JJ does step up, he could be the difference.
# Striker: Pictures of Bea Arthur will NEVER grace The Countdown.
# Najeh: Thanks.

pritdapit

April 18th, 2009
7:39 pm

read article read bout 20-25 blogs and only thing have to ask is, are you retarded somebody has to say this? this article has nothing to do with rasicm but simply is mike woodson’s stay in atl been worth it or time to go back to drAwing board and talking bout series with heat. sounds like you just dont like J.S. and arent man enough to say it over a blog instead, u try and throw the race card.you just need root for atl n be happy we n playoffs n “going to sec rd” and i,m sure if chipper jones, mike bibby, matty ice, etc screw up big time J.S. be all over them too because it his job hes a sportswriter who write about sports good and bad you do good you get good spotlight do bad you get bad spotlight. but more importantly go HAWKS,FALCONS,BRAVES, AND DOGS SCREW JACKETS

Jeff Schultz

April 18th, 2009
8:14 pm

I just checked out ESPN’s panel of “experts.” …Six pick the Hawks in the series, four pick the Heat. Doesn’t get much closer. … The breakdown: Six Hawks (Abbott, Adande, Broussard, Hollinger, Legler, Thorpe.) … Four Heat (Ford, Rose, Sheridan, Stein). … All pick the series to go 6 or 7 games.

Whopper Dawg

April 18th, 2009
10:50 pm

Somebody, The Truth, JSS, Whammer -

Wow, you guys are laughable. Vick created, financed and participated in a multi-state dog fighting ring, was caught, confessed (after his brothers turned state evidence) and was appropriately sentenced. And that is Jeff Schultz’s fault? Makes perfect sense to me.

I think that Vick deserves a second chance. A second chance to earn a honest living, but not in the NFL. If I were commissioner I wouldn’t reinstate him and if I were an owner, I wouldn’t hire him. Not a chance – Why? No character. He has lied repeatedly to management, teammates and fans. What about the others still playing in the NFL that did about the same or worse – get rid of them too. Out the door and over the fence, whether they are black, white or whatever, I don’t care.

In regard to Jeff’s comments on Woodson, it is COMPLETELY appropriate to have him come under scrutiny if the Hawks lose in the first round. If they don’t win first round, it will be a step back, and I don’t think the management, GM, coach, players of fans would be content with that.

I look forward to your comments, I bet they will be doozies.

Regards,

The Whopper

pritdapit

April 19th, 2009
12:20 am

truth do you have a life??? answer no!!! and lets see you get 4 ppl dat have posted bad stuff damn thats alot…. not vick dug hinmself a hole and kept on digging get mad and upset at vick for letting us down not reporter he doin his job and be the way WHY THE HELL ARE WE TALKING ABOUT VICK????? MATTY ICE ARE FUTURE!!!! BUT REALLY TRUTH GET A LIFE MAN BECAUSE ITS OBVIOUS YOU DONT HAVE 1 YOU SPEND YOU DAYS TRYING TO PICK FIGHTS WITH A SPORTSWRITER LOLOLOLOLOL

Snowman

April 19th, 2009
12:52 am

Well, well, well…if it isn’t the little HATER himself. We have you been Jeff (the gardening section of the AJC)? And why did you come back. You didn’t take the buy-out?…was it offered?…Seriously Jeff you got to stop writing on Atlanta Hawk basketball…you just have to too!!! You are a HAWK HATER and right now we need all the POSITIVE Karma we can find. If you were writing for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland would you want Mike Brown fired?…If Cleveland does NOT win the NBA title this season, with ONLY two losses at home and 66 wins a failure?…Is Nate McMillan in Portland a failure if he loses in the 1st round after improving 13 games this year and making the playoffs?…Do the writers in those city’s HATE their local NBA team as much as you do the Hawks? By the way, last year in Cleveland (2007-2008 season), which is the year after they played in the NBA finals and were swept 4-0 by the Spurs, the Cavs went 45-37 and a 27-14 home win record. What an improvement over last year they made this year and the have the BEST player on the planet. Of course they made some off seasons move to provide Lebron some help this season. They won 66 and were 39-2 at home this season…hhhhhmmmmmmm…I guess the problem wasn’t coaching but better front officering huh?…

Did Josh really give you an interview?…By the way, (and this is btw me and you..seriously, I won’t say a thing, plus know one else reads your articles anyway) does anyone on the Hawks team or coaches speak to you at all (Horford did not really give the quote write…he was talking got a pool of reports, right?). That is a really, really a serious question because my gut tells me know one does. However I am giving you a chance to prove me wrong. Yes or No?…

In all the possible angles you can take with the Hawks there is nothing on the positive side?…What’s up with that?… Now to your article, 1st) Coach Woodson should get some COY votes (maybe not a ton but at least some). With the job he has done…are you kidding me? Let’s AGAIN review, losing record last year 37-45, no draft picks, lost Josh Childress, lost Kwame Brown and Roger Mason Jr. to other teams in the free agent battle. Signed Mo and Flip and I LOVE them both however we got a little lucky because know one thought Flip would play as well as he has right? We added no BIG (and I know we signed Randolph and still stand by my point) or a point guard and Acie has been extremely disappointing. We did not add a player or make a move at the trade deadline. Finally both Josh and Marvin missed SUBSTANTIAL time this year with injuries. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!…Seriously, are you kidding me?, how in the world did Woodson keep this group together and lock down the 4th spot while winning 47 games and a 31-10 record at home.

Ok, to the to your article, did Cleveland circle the drain (I don’t even know what that means) and fire Mike Brown the year after they went to the NBA finals and the next year went just 45-37 and lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs?..N-O!…Horford is right about two things he said, 1st, “yes it was a really good season” CONGRATS!…and “Great teams get measure by how well they do in the Playoffs”…however this is NOT a great team (news flash!!!)…but a GREAT GROUP!!!!

I guess I have wrote enough, but let’s compare your year to Coach Woodson’s, should you be fired given your writing performance this year?…I think you should be fired just based on your own criteria for replacing coach Woodson. I mean if your readership is not up year to year for the AJC then why should you stay? Explain to all of us what you bring to the table?…Jeff we are BEGGING you to PLEASE take the AJC buy-out and stay from around our Hawks with your bad Karma…GO HAWKS BEAT THE HEAT!!!! (smile)…

Snowman

April 19th, 2009
1:08 am

Oh, one last thing, I wanted to give a BIG “Shout-Out” to Truth Serum, “Somebody had to say this”, JSS, Whammer, etc. and to all the other “Likers”…Go Hawks!!!…smile

pritdapit

April 19th, 2009
1:17 am

snow u drunk or high?

Dr. Warren

April 19th, 2009
7:25 am

In addition to dealing with layoffs and an industry about to go under, sportswriters–all of whom actually went to college–now have to stand face-to-face with uneducated bigots in these blogs. Why do we have to be distracted by this hostile, paranoid trash here, AJC? Delete it. We just want to discuss sports with professionals like Jeff.

Ted Striker

April 19th, 2009
10:28 am

Chapters of “War and Peace” had more brevity than some of these comments. How many times did you dudes have to get up and pee before you pressed “Submit Comment?”

Jeff Schultz

April 19th, 2009
11:46 am

Good morning. And let me just way: oy. This is why I keep reminding myself not to bite on the race stuff.

Snowman, since you asked, Woodson is the only coach, general manager or athlete in this city — four pro teams, four Tech and Georgia teams — who isn’t talking to me. I’ll survive. Also, thanks for your interest in my future but I decided not to take the buyout this time around because I knew you’d miss me.

Mark Bradley is columnizing off of game one, I’ll be at Philips for game two. If anybody wants to post comments here during the game tonight I’ll be checking in. Take care.

Kevin

April 19th, 2009
12:03 pm

I wouldn’t worry about the game not selling out tonight. I went to game three last year against Boston and there were tickets available still the day of the game.

BDubs

April 19th, 2009
12:42 pm

Schultz —

Just wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoy your columns. Not once have I ever detected a bit of racism, though I have often noticed plenty of humor, wit and excellent perspective. People read what they want to read. Ignore it. Thanks for the enlightening entertainment you provide.

Most of everyone else –

Can someone please show me one actual sentence from this column that is racist in nature? Just one? Please?

Ted Striker

April 19th, 2009
1:32 pm

Dennis Felton is still organizing his sock drawer and can’t come to the phone but he’s not a coach anymore (although he’s still getting paid) and we shan’t count him anyway.

KJ

April 19th, 2009
1:32 pm

Jeff I agree to a degree. If the hawks dont win it wouldn’t be a complete disaster. Say the ebast comes out of D-wade and no one can stop him. What about if it goes 7 and the hawks loose on a last minute shot? I think they are making strides. bibby has about a year or two left in the tank with a legit backup and we should look into securing a legitamate big to fortify the 5 spot. The question I have with that is if we do get a starting center, where does that put josh? His talent is too promising for the bench and he doesnt have the offensive skillset for the 3. what do you think?

SlimG

April 19th, 2009
1:51 pm

Fools, u 2 Jeff, this team is still not a champion. If we win the first round, I’ll be excited. Still need to see better in-game coaching skills. Also, can’t forget we have no true center. I expect us to maybe win 2 rounds if the Big Ticket doesn’t play. Anything else is gravy.

Jeff Schultz

April 19th, 2009
3:26 pm

KJ — For the record, I think the Hawks will win the series. But you raise an interesting point — a seven-game series loss with a close finish. I dunno how that would be perceived. … I also think Bibby has a couple of good years left, but as an unrestricted FA nobody knows what his demands will be. What if he asks for 3 or 4 years? I really believe how the Hawks look in the playoffs affects what they offer him. …. The Josh question will forever linger. The concern is you don’t want trade him and then have him realize the potential somewhere else. But, yeah, getting a legit center and pairing him with Horford/Joe/Bibby does create a lot of flexibility.

SlimG — I might be wrong, but I thought Hawks would play Cavs in 2nd round, at least according to this bracket. http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/bracket

Jeff Schultz

April 19th, 2009
3:29 pm

BDubs – Thanks for the comments.

KJ

April 19th, 2009
4:04 pm

i feel you jeff. I think with bibby it’ll surely come down to whether or not he can be the difference maker he was in years past. How do you think the playoffs will end up in the east. I think without garnett boston is done, i think the hawks will sneak by in a close series, orlando is suspect. They can play with ferocity at times and other times be as timid as a butterfly whereas the 76ers have the abiity to bring it to them. I think if philly smacks them in the throat they will fold like a cold cot in a winter ftx. so it could go either way. and well, the cavs are just the cavs. speaking of the cavs how do you see us holding up to them in round two if we make it?

KJ

April 19th, 2009
4:06 pm

Man, anyone watching the lakers game. It seems to me that utah has already conceeded and ready to try again in game two. It’s not even competetive anymore. Kobe has already began to put out the cigar on this one.

Jeff Schultz

April 19th, 2009
4:41 pm

Utah’s missing their center, Okur (hamstring) — that hurts a little. But Lakers are so much the better team, obviously. Not sure anybody can stop them if they’re on their game.

Snowman

April 19th, 2009
4:58 pm

So I geuss that explains why you NEVER have a positive thing to say about coach Woodson and the progress the Hawks have made. Very intersting…hhhmmmmmmmm…it actually explains allot…by the way, why is he not talking to you?…Go Hawks!!!…Good luck to them tonight!!!…

KJ

April 19th, 2009
5:19 pm

is it just me or does pau gasol look like a baby chicken? Orlando tips in a few minutes. Mark my words folks, if philly comes out hitting hard orlando is going to fold.

Jeff Schultz

April 19th, 2009
6:49 pm

Great question, Snowman. I’ve asked Mike several times but he won’t say. Hey, honestly, it really doesn’t matter to me, and it certainly doesn’t affect my coverage. There are several coaches and athletes I haven’t liked personally in the past but sang their praises, and conversely there are several who I liked but criticized. I understand how easy and convenient it is for a reader/fan to believe, “Oh he hates him, so he criticizes him.” But it really doesn’t work that way. As for Mike, as a coach, I’ll say now what I’ve said from the outset of this season — if the Hawks win a playoff round, it will be a step forward and the question of his future will be put to rest. And I’ll write it. Again.

Snowman

April 19th, 2009
11:24 pm

Outstanding job by all the Hawks tonight (by the way, on TV the place looked loud and rockin…sorry Jeff I think it was a sell-out, 18, 851!!!)…WOW!!!…They really looked sharp. Marvin and Zsa Zsa, a huge “Shout-out” for your efforts especially. Marvin got them going early and Zsa Zsa played hard and rugged tonight and was very, very effective when he was in there.

One thing I will say about the Hawks, if you miss an open jump shot against them they will make you pay! (smile)…Congrats Josh, you played very, very well tonight getting out on the break. I would give him the game ball (except for the 3 pt. air ball he shot…smile…it was ok because it fell in Al’s hands and he put it in for a lay-up)… Great night (holding the Heat to Just 7 points in the 4th!!!)…

Jeff, Now that is coaching baby!!!!…I know you won’t give coach any credit for that game plan and the preparation that goes with that however I’ll tip my hat twice to coach for you for his execution of a terrific plan for game one. How does your “I Hate coach Woodson Hater Ade” taste tonight?…Good luck in game two to the Hawks!!!…Finally, the Hawks don’t want or need your validation…I don’t know why I respond to your non-sense anyway…Great job Hawks!!! (smile)

Ted Striker

April 20th, 2009
8:06 am

Something tells me that ‘Frosty’ will be back again someday.

Jeff Schultz

April 20th, 2009
10:48 am

Snowman — no question Woodson outcoached Spoelstra last night. Kudos to him and everybody in a Hawks uniform. Hawks were in control for all except the first five seconds (Wade’s dunk).

The only thing I don’t like is we have to wait three days for game two. Thank TV for that one. Three games in seven days? (Sun-Wed-Sat.) Hate it, hate it, hate it. (Yes people, in that sense I’m a hater.)

Heading out to practice today, will post a column this afternoon.