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.