In engineering one of the busiest and most successful summers in Hawks’ history, general manager Rick Sund strengthened the bench (Jamal Crawford and Joe Smith), drafted a talented guard (Jeff Teague) and retained the team’s top three free agents (Mike Bibby, Marvin Williams and Zaza Pachulia).
Only one problem: Atlanta might still be only the fourth best team in the Eastern Conference.
This week’s signing of Smith concluded the Hawks’ significant moves this off-season. Here’s my question for you: What should the expectation be?
Everybody ahead of them in the East (Cleveland, Boston, Orlando) also got better. So did some teams behind them, though probably not enough to crack the top four. Should we expect coach Mike Woodson, who will be entering the final year of his contract, to win more than one playoff series next season?
Here’s a quick recap of the top four teams in the East, with last year’s record and playoff results in parenthesis).
♦ CLEVELAND (66-16, lost to Orlando in conference finals): After being stunned by the Magic, they’ve surrounded LeBron James with significant help: Shaquille O’Neal, whose minutes presumably will be limited during the regular season so he’s stronger for the playoffs; forward Jamario Moon (from Miami) and forward Leon Powe (from Boston). They also re-signed Anderson Varajao.
♦ BOSTON (62-20, lost to Orlando in conference semis): The good news for Hawks fans is the Celtics signed Shelden Williams. But they’ve added Rasheed Wallace and re-signed Glen “Big Baby” Davis to a team that still might have been the NBA’s best last season, if not for the late-season knee injury to Kevin Garnett.
♦ ORLANDO (59-23, lost to Los Angeles in NBA finals): Atlanta’s Dwight Howard and the Magic were a blast to watch in the playoffs, particularly against the overhyped Cavaliers. Now they’ve added power forward Brandon Bass from Dallas, matched Dallas’s offer sheet to keep center Marcin Gortat and then there’s the big move – adding guard Vince Carter to play alongside Jameer Nelson. Carter hasn’t been a part of a lot of team success in his career so that will be interesting to watch. But if it works, it’ll be huge. Orlando also added a solid power forward off the bench, Ryan Anderson from New Jersey.
♦ ATLANTA (47-35): In addition to adding Crawford, Smith and Teague, and keeping Bibby, Williams and Pachulia, the Hawks traded away Speedy Claxton and Acie Law. There might be some addition by subtraction there.
So do you see the Hawks cracking the top three? There’s also a poll to the left.