Hawks take a step forward, but leave questions

LeBron James may be headed for a final. Joe Johnson is headed for a summer full of questions. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

LeBron James may be headed for a final. Joe Johnson is headed for a summer full of questions. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Seven months ago, you would have taken 47 wins.

Seven months ago, you would have taken a playoff series win and a second-round sweep by the possible eventual league champion because that’s more than any Hawks team had given you in 10 years (and it only seemed like 20 years).

In short, it’s OK to feel satisfied with what front offices like to refer to as “incremental progress.”

“It was a good season,” Josh Smith said Monday night. “I’m not going to let a sweep leave a bitter taste in my mouth like last year.”

But when the Hawks lost to Cleveland 84-74 at Philips Arena, they completed a strange postseason that created more questions than positive vibes.

The starting point guard? Mike Bibby was on the bench for most of the third quarter, not exactly positive foreshadowing going into negotiations as he becomes a free agent.

The team’s best player? Joe Johnson, who has one year left on his contract, had another miserable shooting night (7-for-18) and has played only two strong playoff games out of 18 in two years with the Hawks. Take out Game 4 against Boston last year and Game 7 against Miami this season and Johnson has shot only 38 percent from the floor and averaged 16 points.

At what point do you determine: “This is as good as he gets, and this is as good as we get with him”?

Marvin Williams is unsigned. Josh Smith is still a thrill ride. That’s four-fifths of the starting lineup. The only absolute solid and stable piece to keep and build around: Al Horford.

The Hawks won a seven-game series against Miami. But they still showed an ability to get blown out by an opponent almost as often as they did an ability to dominate one.

You want to feel good about this team. But can you?

The Hawks aren’t a great team. They’re a pretty good team at a crossroads, and they’ve never faced a more important offseason.

“I think we can compete against everybody in the league if we believe and we put our mind to it,” Johnson said. “But honestly, I don’t think we believed we could win this series. We came in hoping we could win, not believing.

“It’s going to be an interesting summer. Hopefully we can keep the pieces in place. But this is a business.”

This last game was a marginal step forward from the first three. For one, the defense improved. Secondly, Johnson – whose lack of leadership has been an issue – accepted some blame Monday.

“I probably had my worst playoffs ever, both the first and second rounds,” he said. “We got out of the first round, but I feel like I could’ve done more for my team.”

There’s a tendency when teams are down 3-0 in a playoff series to play hard at the outset but fizzle quickly when the opponent steps it up. Give the Hawks credit. The Cavaliers might have been off their game a little, but Atlanta had chances to fold up and didn’t.

The last year the Hawks had won a playoff series was 1999, and the good feelings that season also didn’t last long. They were swept by the New York Knicks in the second round. General manager Pete Babcock apparently was so distraught that he popped a spring and traded Steve Smith for Isaiah Rider. The rest is inglorious history.

The chances of general manager Rick Sund blowing things up this summer are slim. But it’s startling how much things are up in the air. That’s rare to see when you have such a young team that has shown incremental progress over a period of years.

The team’s next direction is anybody’s guess.

109 comments Add your comment

sane jane

May 11th, 2009
11:12 pm

Jeff, didn’t the Hawks blow up the Smith/Blaylock/Mutombo situation precisely BECAUSE they couldn’t advance past the second round of the playoffs, always losing to Chicago? (who didn’t?)

Those were above-average-but-not-spectacular teams as I recall.

And it’s taken 10 years just to get back to that. Blech.

sane jane

May 11th, 2009
11:12 pm

first, bizznatches!

brent a.

May 11th, 2009
11:14 pm

It was disappointing to see a hobbled Hawks team in this series. A healthy Al Horford and Marvin Williams could’ve at least made things interesting.

I didn’t really miss Josh Childress at all this season; but, watching Varejao chase down all those rebounds for Cleveland made me think about how well Childress played against Boston last year.

brent a.

May 11th, 2009
11:17 pm

Chicago was done after 1998, the Hawks lost to a Knicks team in 1999 that was more or less on the decline (even though they snuck into the Finals that year, losing to the Spurs, 4 games to 1).

The New Jersey Nets, of all teams, went to two straight finals in the early part of this decade.

The Eastern Conference was weak a decade ago, and the Hawks had a chance to be a contender for several years.

The Hawks blew it 10 years ago, plain and simple. No reason to believe that they will repeat those same mistakes again, until they do.

Dr. Warren

May 11th, 2009
11:37 pm

The Spirit will be satisfied with 2nd-Round playoff exits. Trust me on this one. No major changes will occur.

Dr. Warren

May 11th, 2009
11:40 pm

And I mean, 2nd Round playoff exits for the next few years, if possible. Think about it: if the 30 NBA owners could formally compete in how good a job they do, the Spirit would be at the bottom of the League. Sub-mediocrity admires slightly above-mediocrity.


May 12th, 2009
12:09 am




May 12th, 2009
12:10 am

Keep Bibby, sign a legit Center, of course re-sign Marvin and see what happens. I think we improve again next year. And call Greece and get Childress back – offer 8 mil. a year. Keep Flip, ditch Moe (even though I like him, not as good as Josh C.).

As far as the rest of the team – I like Solomon Jones – we may need another PG in waiting than Law however. I wouldn’t over pay for Bibby either – he’s headed downhill obviously. Maybe one more year starting, then a great sub. Would re-sign Joe next year, let him finish his career here, but I think he’s seen his better days also.

Draft – Mullen 1st round – Calathes (if he stays in) 2nd.


May 12th, 2009
12:11 am

Unfortunate playoff exit……Great season just make tweaks in the offseason by getting some bigs.


May 12th, 2009
12:18 am

I am not. And will never be satisfied with a sweep. Not with 20 point losses. I am certain Miami would have given forth more effort.
The fact that Josh Smith is okay with a sweep is disgusting and only adds to my ammo of why he is the trade bait we need to get us a player or players.

Brian H

May 12th, 2009
12:25 am

Horrible team that will never get out of the 2nd round. Not a big surprise since the Hawks have always failed to win anything of importance. Their last division title was in 1994. Which is laughable of it’s self and reflective of just how bad of a franchise the Hawks really are. They’re one of those franchises that you just know will never make any real post season noise as they haven”t in 50 years. Why would that chance now? ESP with the mediocre talent that they currently have.


May 12th, 2009
12:26 am

realsquawk shut the hell up!!

Winstom Wolfe

May 12th, 2009
12:27 am

Send either Josh or Al plus two (late round) #1s to Toronto for Chris Bosh….


Joe Johnson's Magic Trick

May 12th, 2009
12:29 am



May 12th, 2009
12:37 am

I know the hawks need to rebuild their team cause they are clearly not championship contenders. I would suggest something they may should do during the offseason it sounds good.

first off Mike Bibby is gonna be a free agent after the playoffs for the hawks and as of now he is the highest paid player on the hawks roster. I don’t think they should re-sign him personally this is what they should do.

Rafer Alston will probably be out there for a team to get since Jameer Nelson will be back for the magic next year so the hawks should sign him he is cheap and will be a good pick up.

second off they should trade acie law to Oklahoma city and try to get Earl Watson I like Earl Watson game he just hasn’t been on good teams in his career.

third thing they should trade marvin williams he will never make the hawks any better his game is boring.

forth thing they need to re-sign flip murray.

fifth thing If it’s possible they could make a trade during the draft to try to move up and get center hasheem thabeet from uconn cause he is 7′3 and could be like our next mutombo blocking shots and holding down the middle. If they can get thabeet then they could move al horford back to his natural position which is power forward.

by the way I hope the hawks can get rid of soft joe johnson if they could trade him to golden state for stephen jackson or andris biedrins I would be happy.

craig miller

May 12th, 2009
12:37 am

Bring ‘Nique out of retirement.

Rollins Tree

May 12th, 2009
12:42 am

“I think we can compete against everybody in the league if we believe and we put our mind to it,” Johnson said.

Funny to think that now after being swept by the Cavs. Truth is Johnson misses that champion spirit it takes to lead a team in the playoffs. I hate Wade but Im sure because he was facing the leagues MVP, he would’ve stepped up his game and been a factor for the Heat. Johnson played as if it was just another regular season game and never showed any leader qualities. He spent most of the series hanging his head. Not what a team leader does. Hard to motivate others if you dont believe yourself the team can win.

Najeh Davenpoop

May 12th, 2009
12:46 am

“Marvin Williams is unsigned. Josh Smith is still a thrill ride. That’s four-fifths of the starting lineup. The only absolute solid and stable piece to keep and build around: Al Horford.”

Do you media types watch games, or do you just form opinions about players based on some bullsh*t and never change them? Josh Smith is EASILY the most indispensable, valuable, and talented member of the Hawks’ front court and it’s not even close. First of all, only six months separate the three in terms of age, so it’s not like experience is much of a factor even though Smith entered the league earlier. Secondly, as much as y’all love to blow the occasional dust-ups out of proportion, Josh’s defensive impact and offensive versatility provide the Hawks much more than Al Horford and Marvin Williams have. Horford is a solid defensive player and a good rebounder when he’s not matched up against someone like Ilgauskas who has the size, height and length advantages on him. But he’s always been a mechanical offensive player, and he’s nowhere near the scorer in the post that Josh is right now (not that Josh is anything amazing, but he’s much more fluid and is pretty steady using his left hand). Marvin is barely even in this discussion, as he is still inconsistent at best driving to the basket and is nowhere near aggressive enough on either end of the court to make an impact for games at a time.

Josh already does more than Al statistically, so you’re basically counting on Al to improve his offensive game enough to score 17-18 points per game while sustaining the same defensive impact that Josh has during a game, in order to make the contention that Al is a better piece to build around. Are you really 100% confident that this will happen, or do you really think Josh is that much of a cancer that you would rather have Al with reduced production?


May 12th, 2009
12:48 am

never will never have.

but i am looking forward to this offseason.


May 12th, 2009
12:59 am

Al Horford is anything but a stable piece in the post. I just watched Josh Howard play the entire game on 2 bad ankles, and make more of an impact than Horford has when he is 100%. Gimme a break. Josh Smith is still immature and doesnt understand his strenghts, but he is a undeniable talent that has unlimited potential. Al Horford’s jumpshot is terrible, he has no jump hook, or go to move. I would rather have Anderson Varejo.


May 12th, 2009
1:07 am

Congratulations to Mike Woodson and the Atlanta Hawks for a terrific season!!!…Good Luck to Lebron, and I think Cleveland will win the NBA title just like Boston did after beating the Hawks last year…

Nunna Yo Buiness, Westphal, now that is laughable!!!(lol)…Steve, I do like most of your ideas…


May 12th, 2009
1:17 am

The Hawks Offseason:
1) Re-sign Mike BIbby. He is the anchor of the Hawks and provides stability to a sometimes erratic team.
2) Stack the Bench: Re-sign Flip Murray and Mo Evans: They provided a stable yet albeit light bench. Get another center coming off the bench so you can start Pachulia at center, move Horford to PF and Smoove to SF. Also, get Josh Childress back from Greece. Cleveland showed the Hawks how important a deep bench is. When you are 6 deep on the bench and the bench players are actually are actually good, it gives your starters a chance to rest and makes your entire team fresher. This is what the Hawks lacked this season and post-season. They were only 3 deep on their bench.
3) Keep Marvin Williams: Love him or hate him, when he’s not injured he provides the Hawks with another perimeter threat and if he works at it, can be an inside threat. Before he went down he was averaging over 20 points a game for the previous few games. He was on track in his progression and his injury got him out of sync. He can be utilized as a starter or coming off the bench. Don’t dump him yet.
4) Keep this team together: The Hawks are still the 3rd youngest team in the NBA, have increased their win total the past five years, and have made great strides overall. By dismantling this current squad, you risk a loss of chemistry that they have established over the past few years. Go out and get players, but keep the key pieces together (Horford, Johnson, Smith, Bibby, and Williams, as well as Flip Murray). All the pieces are there to establish a championship caliber team, and because they are so young they have time to mature and grow even more.


May 12th, 2009
1:20 am

Make me think of Robert Deniro in the Fan. Yoooo Bobbby. Its just a game people. Hell we made it to the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs. Got beat down by the LEAGUE and the BEST PlAYER in the LEAGUE. The Hawks have been in the gutter of the NBA for the last 12 years. Now with a LITTLe success you get all these NUT jobs, saying the TEAM or the coach aint this or that. Take Pill n chill. If ur typin NOVELS on a blog you really need to Evaluate who you should take out of YOUR OWN LiFE..GEEEZZZ.


May 12th, 2009
1:20 am

PLEASE, Hawks coaches, put Al Horford at power forward and find something else to worry about for the next ten years, if it means trading josh smith or letting marvin williams go, so be it.

David Smith

May 12th, 2009
1:30 am

This was another disappointing chapter to finish a forgettable series. Cleveland tried their hardest to give us this game an we couldn’t even do that right. Everyone just watches the ball instead of constantly moving and cutting to the hole (except when josh has to shoot another jumper because the shot clock was about to expire). I applaud the players for giving us another exciting season of hawks basketball but, this trend of getting destroyed on the road in the playoffs are unacceptable. Rick Sund will have an busy offseason to prepare for contract extentions (Marvin Williams), Nba draft (i pray that we can a top five pick) and free agency (center should be a priority). Mike Woodson has proven throughout this series that he is not the coach to lead us to a championship (joe would probably hold out without him as coach) but, it may be too late to replace him now that this team has shown some more signs of improvement.


May 12th, 2009
1:35 am

Yeah, I think you captured it perfectly, Jeff.

It’s strange to have a young team that’s showing progress… and wonder how much it has to be dismantled in order to take the next step.

Clearly there’s a need for a locker room leader. That alone would have tempered some of this team’s wild gyrations. And obviously there are positional needs too: a big and a point.

But I was thinking the same thing you were. Don’t pull a Babcock and completely demolish this team. Ten years in the wilderness is long enough. Here’s hoping Sund has the touch and the courage to change without destroying.


May 12th, 2009
1:46 am

Yup, I think you captured it perfectly, Jeff.

It’s strange to have a young team that’s showing progress… and wonder how much it has to be dismantled in order to take the next step.

Clearly there’s a need for a locker room leader. That alone would have tempered some of this team’s wild gyrations. And obviously there are positional needs too: a big and a point.

But I was thinking the same thing you were. Don’t pull a Babcock and completely demolish this team. Ten years in the wilderness is long enough. Here’s hoping Sund has the touch and the courage to change without destroying.


May 12th, 2009
1:46 am

Everyone is wrong. The only thing the Hawks really need is a coach that can develop all of these young players and build on their strengths. People think Josh Smith is a cancer when in reality, he is probably frustrated at the nonexistent offense the Hawks frequently employ. Joe Johnson has great talent, but goes one on five way too often and instead of drawing the defense and kicking out to open teammates, he will take a bad shot over a bigger help defender. A real coach would have developed all of the extraordinary talent on this team and actually meshed the players into a real team. This team has NBA Championship caliber talent with middle school level coaching and high school caliber leadership.


May 12th, 2009
1:49 am

If I am not mistaken, Big Z and Rasheed Wallace could be a Free Agent in the offseason. i want us to retain Bibby, Flip Murray, Childress and Marvin Williams, and Zaza.

the problem that i had with this team is that we don’t have depth off the bench other than Flip and Mo which u want to retain those two guys.

so cavarefic

May 12th, 2009
1:55 am


Man in black

May 12th, 2009
2:33 am

Keep all starters and Mo & Flip – get a real 7 -foot center – get Childress back – Za Za is another Jon “Contract” Konkac – for every great hustle play you get 10 stupid missed layups, dropped rebounds, stupid defensive misplays, and he can’t hit a 10-foot jump shot to save his mothers life – he needs to be the 9th man off the bench, not the 6th or 7th – we’ll never get to the finals unless we get a legit big man – imagine – Dwight Howard (or something close) , Horford, Josh, Joe and Bibby as the starters with Marvin then Childress then Flip then Mo off the bench.


May 12th, 2009
2:46 am

The Hawks need to let Mike Bibby, Speedy Claxton and Marvin Williams walk; sign David Andersen and Josh Childress; resign Zaza Pachulia and Flip Murray and draft the best point guard available with the first pick, or package the first round pick for Ramon Sessions, and draft a center with the second round pick preferably Josh Heytvelt or Garret Siler and hire a head coach who knows how to develop a young point guard and bench.


May 12th, 2009
2:49 am

For the last few seasons, the team should have used it’s athleticism to out-run & out-jump every team in the league… but it’s forced to play Mike Woodson’s slow boring ball.

I “love” Bibby, but don’t resign him… he can’t guard/beat Rondo or any young fast guard. Try to trade Marvin for Golden State’s fast Monte Ellis. Start Zaza, so Horford can move to his (and Josh Smith’s) natural position of power forward. Then run & gun.


May 12th, 2009
4:05 am

Here goes! I was totally against the Joe Johnson trade and the Marvin William pick. They both are mediocre ball players to me. I still can’t believe Billy Knight would give up 2 1st round picks for JJ and draft a player(MW) who never started a college game. We should not have sign (out of control) Josh Smith to a long term contract. The guy just isn’t a smart basketball player to me.

I think Rick Sund did a good job in bringing Evans to Atlanta and Murray also help the team at times.

The only thing that I see that will help this team play better basketball would be to hire Kirt Rambis as the next HC. He will bring stability to the team and he will teach Josh Smith how to play the power forward position the right way. Kirt Rambis is a true professional. I believe the players will respect him and buy into his way of coaching. He’s currently the Lakers assist coach and he also help the Lakers win champions during the Majic Johnson era.

We need to draft smarter athletes who have an history of making good decisions on the basketball court. Their FG percentage need to be 50% or higher and they need to shoot at lease 80% from the foul line. If they don’t play with a swagger don’t draft them. That’s my take.


May 12th, 2009
4:34 am

Bottom line local fans, next time dont boo King James.


May 12th, 2009
5:51 am

King James can freaking bite me! Look for Dwight Howard to make that jerk bleed if the Princess goes prancing around the Orlando Arena as he did at Philips this series.


May 12th, 2009
5:55 am

Looking forward to next season….

they should keep bibby(but with a not so large amount of contract), then develop their benchwarmers(acie, west, hunter, etc.), keep williams(if he does not get a REALLY breakout season next year, then he’s not compatible with the team,trade him) horford should be back in his natural position(PF). i think the hawks wouldn’t gain the 4th seed next season, cause the east conf teams are getting good(mia, philly, was, chi, ny).. CANT WE GET DWIGHT HOWARD IN THIS TEAM? if we get him next season..BOOM! NBA FINALS BABY!!!LoL


May 12th, 2009
5:56 am

It never ceases to amaze me how fast the popular wind can turn against you. Now, let’s clear, as of five years ago, the Hawks were well on their way to becomming the east coast version of the Clippers. They had no direction, no talent, no depth, and no hope, bottomline. Last year,just four years removed from that, they took Boston to the limit, and this year, they advanced, more than advanced. In those last two games, when a lot of teams would have gone on and phoned it in, they fought tooth, nail, hook and claw against a team that was stronger, deeper, and much more experienced. (And for the record, anyone that thinks that the Heat would have done better is dead wrong. They’d still be cleaning D-wade up with off the court with handy wipes, if the Heat had gotten into the way of the Cleveland express.) Try and understand, as good as Boston was last year, this is the strongest team to come out of the east since another #23 played up in Chicago. The outcome of this series was never in questions. What gets lost is that you had three starters for Atlanta playing with fairly substantial injuries. There’s the added fact that most of these players were playing on a stage that they’d only heard about. So, please, before you start talking about who needs to go and who didn’t show up and who failed, try to look at this series for what it was, valuable experience.

As for what needs to happen now, I don’t think there needs to be any long term decisions made right this second. The emotion of the season is still too fresh. A few weeks down the line, I think Sund will be able to look back over this season and see it for the success that it was, and make objective decisions about who needs to go and who needs to stay.

Now, let me just be clear. to borrow from Smith and Dimitroff, things happen by process. It took time and patience for the Cleveland Cavs to become what they are now. It was a process. I’m satisfied that the process for Atlanta is moving in the right direction, but I also think that great care will be needed if it is to remain on course.


May 12th, 2009
6:02 am

Oh, and Hawks fans, I don’t know which ones of you at Phillips arena got under James’ skin, but good job. It’s always been my opinion that too much aid and comfort have been given to the enemies of our team, by it’s fans. One last thing, Cleveland fans/Atlantan sympathizers of Cleveland, I know it’s not in your nature, but try to show a little class. It might help to remember that your team is just one or two key injuries away from becoming extremely ordinary.


May 12th, 2009
7:20 am

This team is lacking a floor leader big-time. Someone that once the game begins will not only inspire his team mate with his play, but with his emotions as well. I don’t think NO one on this team has what it takes to be the floor leader this teams needs. Joe Johnson is a nice complimental piece,nothing more or nothing less, but he don’t have the balls to lead this team whether he’s healthy or hurt. There has got to be a floor leader, the coach can’t do it from the bench, regardless of who’s the coach. LaBron guys will walk thru a wall for him because they know he will walk thru a wall for them. Keep wishing and hoping Hawks fans, but know this team and organization is so so far from where most of you think they are or should be. Garnett is out in Boston, but you would never know it until you watch them play, but with him being out his guys are fighting to the end.


May 12th, 2009
7:25 am

trade wilkins for a commentator with a command of the english language.

Fire Woodson Express

May 12th, 2009
7:31 am

The problems start with the coach and fall down to the bench. Mike Woodson, Bob Bender all need to go. Keep Larry Drew and can everybody else. These coaches are teaching the game wrong.

Fire Woodson Express

May 12th, 2009
7:40 am

You want a new coach? email Rick Sund and tell him your thoughts.


also the owner that’s always on the news email address is

Email them as fans and tell them we want a new coach, and also give them your thoughts.


May 12th, 2009
7:41 am

I think Woodson may be a good coach, but we still have to replace him. We have to see what this nucleus can do under a different leader. If they still underperform, then we need to at least partially dismantle. Regarding the line up, we obviously have two power forwards (Josh and Al) no center and a good but inadequate point guard. Center is harder to fill, so we should package Al or Josh, plus our #1 pick for the best center we can get. For point guard, we should have Bibby, Law and our 2nd round pick compete for the job – under a new coach who will actually give the youngsters a chance. A line up with an upgraded point guard, JJ at 2, Marvin at 3, Al or Josh at 4 and a true center should be enough to get to the conference finals or maybe beyond. After next year, replace JJ with a draft pick because he will be spent physically.


May 12th, 2009
7:43 am

We need a head coach and a leader. Bibby yawning on the bench last night when only down 3? Great respect for your fans that had to pay $60-100 to see you live. Joe…you are tired? Come to work with me you freaking pre-madonna for a month, I’ll show you tired. At least Woodson keeps Smith in the game when he shoots 15% 8 feet and beyond. That helped our chances (as well as your crying EVERY time a whistle blows. Play ball JSmoove, quit crying. My grandmother could have coached this “progress” over the last 5 years. How in the he*# does Woody still have a job? I will always watch this team, but you get what you pay for, from head coach to bench players.


May 12th, 2009
7:48 am



May 12th, 2009
8:03 am

I agree, some of these posts are out there … this team got to the second round, which is an improvement from last season. The fans are now behind this team, and this franchise is moving forward again.


May 12th, 2009
8:09 am

Good comments Chris.

Is anyone suprised at JJ being ineffective after leading the league in minutes played. It seems that the coach poorly managed to have him ready for the playoffs. Woody is constantly playing for wins in order to pad the record so that he can not be replaced. He plays Bibby while not developing Law. No young player is properly handled by Woody. Joe is run into the ground because if Joe is in the game, Woody don’t have to have a REAL offense. With Bibby and Joe he just hopes for the best. We have a running team but we don’t run.

We need changes everywhere, especially at coach.


May 12th, 2009
8:16 am

Mike Woodson aint the problem! Our problem is we have to many of the same type players. The only way you let Woody go is if you seriously believe the current make up of this team can win a championship. I like Josh’s athleticism, but he is not the best PF we have AL is. We need a center go get Chris Kaman (Solid defense, rebound, and low post scoring. We need a PG Kirk Hinrich is avaliable ( good defender, penetrates and shoots the 3 very well. If we can’t get him bring back Biiby. Bring back flip and MO Evans.

Fire Woodson Express

May 12th, 2009
8:18 am

Avery Johnson is out there.