If Hawks are moving forward, it’s time to show a sign

If Mike Woodson is getting a headache trying to keep up with the Hawks' mood swings, it's understandable. (AP photo)

Mike Woodson may have a headache trying to figure out his team.

After a 19-6 start that led us to wonder about a ceiling and a post-slump, 8-2 run in January that seemed to indicate resiliency, the Hawks are back confusing us again.

Maybe this should be expected. Maybe this is still a team still trying to figure out what it is with a star (Joe Johnson) still trying to figure out how and when to take charge and a coach (Mike Woodson) still trying to acclimate himself to his team’s pieces (Woodson admitted to under-utilizing his bench the other night after a loss at Phoenix). But when it’s almost March and contending teams should be establishing direction and the Hawks still resemble a car tooling around a perimeter highway — 6-6 in the past 12 games, 16-14 in the past 30 — you start to wonder.

The Hawks open an important stretch of games Wednesday night at home against Minnesota. Five of the next six games are at Philips Arena. This would be a fine time for clarity. Following this stretch, the team plays five of the next six and seven of  11 on the road, when playoff positioning figures to be set.

Yes, there is a comfort in assuming the postseason at all. You’ve probably noticed: We don’t get that a lot in Atlanta.

But should the expectations be limited to one playoff series win again? Because it’s starting to look like that.

Cleveland has the best record in the Eastern Conference. They’ve added Antawn Jamison, and might wind up getting him for nothing if center Zydrunas Ilgauskas re-signs there. Orlando has the second-best record in the East. But the Magic dropped the Cavaliers in the playoffs last season, and they just beat them again Sunday.

We can debate all day which team is better — just not that they’re far and away the two best in East.

Hawks general manager Rick Sund chose to stand pat at the deadline. If the playoffs opened today, the Hawks would open at home against Toronto in the first round and then probably travel to Cleveland in the second. But what tells us it will be a different story from a year ago, when the Hawks were swept?

Sund said he never seriously considered any trades at the deadline. As he put it, “Now is not the time to shuffle the deck.” Big-picture decisions come after the season.

Nor is he concerned about any perceptions that the team has leveled off since a 19-6 start.

“I wouldn’t take anything from that,” Sund said, “just like I wouldn’t take anything when Boston goes 3-7 or Cleveland loses three in a row. It’s  a marath0n. Y0u’re going to have those type of situations. What they’ve done is they’ve shown the ability to bounce back from things, like [Monday] night in Utah. Of course, you want to be able to win every game y0u play. But going into that [four-game] trip, you think: A playoff team wins one game, a good team wins two, a great team wins three. We won two.”

Sund’s concern now isn’t expectation, but whether the team is ready for the postseason, whether they’re seeded second or fifth.

Others are looking for a more tangible sign. Two weeks ago, some Hawks players spoke enthusiastically about the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl and how that showed anything could happen in a postseason. But it’s safe to say the Saints didn’t lack believers in their town. Not the case here. The Hawks (35-20) have the fourth-best record in the East and seventh-best in the NBA. But their home attendance ranks 20th. That’s barely ahead of the Clippers (and that’s believing the announced average: 16,036). For whatever reason, the city hasn’t fully embraced this team. That all can’t all be explained by the economy.

On this trip,  the Hawks won at the Clippers but then fizzled in Phoenix. The team started well at Golden State, but blew an 18-point lead and lost. The win at Utah ended the trip on a high note, even if the Jazz were missing starters Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko.

From one night to the next, we’re still not sure what we’ll see from Johnson. Marvin Williams floats in and out. Mike Bibby has been MIA most of the year. Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford have been the team’s best and most consistent players.

Fans are still at a prove-it-to-me stage. The team seems to be going in circles. This would be a good time to establish direction.

95 comments Add your comment

mmgtfan

February 23rd, 2010
4:33 pm

G-Money

February 23rd, 2010
4:46 pm

You make some valid points, it certainly would be nice to have some leadership emerge from a player or two on the floor. Williams and Bibby have both regressed this year, and Woody needs to seriously give his bench an opportunity to have a significant impact on the game. When they are passing the ball quickly on offense they receive much better scoring chances. This team collectively needs to play hard every minute of every game because they have some weaknesses to overcome.

Bob Horner stayed hurt

February 23rd, 2010
4:49 pm

I’m still pouting that the Hawks didn’t draft Chris Paul….

matt r

February 23rd, 2010
4:56 pm

I have embraced this team but as a TV fan. With a new kid in the family it is not a trvial matter to go from the northern suburbs to downtown Atlanta for several hours. It’s not even about the money. When articles are written about attendance would it be relevant to ever discuss TV ratings? Just curious.

[...] If Hawks are moving forward, it's time to show a sign | Jeff Schultz [...]

Astro Joe

February 23rd, 2010
4:59 pm

Hawks are one game in the lost column behind Orlando for the #2 seed. There must be plenty wrong with those other squads if they haven’t left us in the dust yet. Maybe, we just don’t appreciate what we have… which is strange considering that this city isn’t saturated with sure-fire playoff teams. Every other Atlanta team the question is “will they” but with the Hawks the question is “how far”. What a bizarre sports town… the single postseason bound team gets the most cynicism.

Gilley

February 23rd, 2010
5:06 pm

Yes its a love hate relationship with the Hawks. Joe Johnson is asserting himself as the man now after the All-Star break because in previous years this is when he would go on his yearly slump.

As much as Josh Smith drives me crazy with his lack of touch and missed bunnies, he plays hard and at a high level for us and helps us more than he hurts us.

Jamal has not been the same since the All-Star break…I dont know if I have my expectations too high or what but I guess I expect him to hit every clutch shot…LOL…Marvin needs to learn how to stay active during the game even if he isn’t scoring, rebound, defend run run run, etc.

And Finally Mike Bibby, he has been stinking it up but him being in the game and running the offense and setting things up helped us big time in Utah last night and he is able to help us still but he just needs limited minutes so he can be fresh in the crunch time. Thats where Jeff Teague comes in.

He hasn’t been playing too well but he still helps us play our game by pushing the break. Second unit not used to playing so they will have those moments but Woody must trust them the same way he trust the starters when they playing bad.

Delbert D.

February 23rd, 2010
5:07 pm

The big guys who were supposed to give Horford and Pachulia a break…what were their names? I can’t remember. Are they still around? How is Teague developing? Oh, he’s not? Go figure.

Tone Loc

February 23rd, 2010
5:20 pm

Marvin Williams is the reason why this team will do nothing in the postseason.

niremetal

February 23rd, 2010
5:22 pm

The Hawks (35-20) have the fourth best record in the East and seventh best in the NBA. But their home attendance ranks 20th. That’s barely ahead of the Clippers (and that’s believing the announced average: 16,036). For whatever reason, this is a team that the city hasn’t fully embraced. It can’t all be explained by just the economy.

The Hawks have never had attendance commensurate with their record, even in the days of Turner and Nique. That’s nothing new at all. I’ve given my dissertation on the reasons why, but it’s a phenomenon among Atlanta sports teams generally and with the Hawks in particular. I blame the large transplant population, the fact that football and baseball are the favored sports in this region, and the terrible transit/traffic/highway system.

SWAT Native

February 23rd, 2010
5:24 pm

I would just like to say that that picture of Woody is classic.

Ree Roe

February 23rd, 2010
5:27 pm

Good & timely article. I think the next few weeks set up very well for us b/c of our schedule. We have a very good shot of being the #2 seed & we’re within a half game of BOS before tonight’s action. Hawks haven’t been stellar lately, but BOS has struggled all season, CLE has lost 3 in a row & ORL is a finesse team that has underperformed. Us vs. TOR would be a fun series if it happened…

BTW, Jeff are you ever gonna go on a show like Around the Horn? I think you’d be great on there…much better than that clown Wojo

-REEleasing the Roe!!!

Dr. Warren

February 23rd, 2010
5:28 pm

The pathetic loss to Golden State pretty much told us the division crown is not a likely outcome. Championship teams–yes, even division champs–don’t do that this late in the season. If we get past Toronto, who is far hotter than us right now, then maybe one or two wins against the Cavs–rather than being swept–will be our consolation prize this year? It takes serious cash to win in the NBA, and the Hawks just don’t have it, folks. Welcome to Atlanta.

Brayne Varner

February 23rd, 2010
6:10 pm

I don’t think you can blame attendance issues on MARTA. They drop you off right outside the front doors. As someone who has been to every hawks, thrashers and braves home game for the last 4 years, it is my distinction that the combination a high transplant population and the Hawks/Thrashers inability to market outside of the perimeter(the Braves don’t have this problem) are the catalyst for most attendance issues. Also, lack of winning a championship in the last 15 years might have something to do with it. Consider that the falcons have ONE owner who is pretty committed to bringing a winner to Atlanta. The cabals of AS,LLC and LM are faceless and stingy. Pay for real talent and people will come to watch.

Ted Striker

February 23rd, 2010
6:21 pm

Not a vocal critic of Woodson. I consider him a solid, if nothing else. That said, Woody’s long-term achilles heel is in failing to adequately develop (and utilize) his bench.

A team has to ride it’s horses, yet there comes a point where the rotation is needed to step in and save the day. Just never really got that from Woody.

If his ultimate waterloo arrives sooner than later, it’ll be because he’s ignored the urgency in developing the bottom half of the rotation.

Even Tiger Woods believed in cultivating the bottom half of the rotation.

Maxx

February 23rd, 2010
6:23 pm

I must say, I usually don’t like your opinion columns Schultz, but you hit the nail on the head in this one. Marvin floats in and out, Bibby has been MIA. It’s time to establish if we’re any better than last year. Well said sir

Ted Striker

February 23rd, 2010
6:25 pm

Brayne Varner — My hat is off to you on your faithful attendance. If there are future occasions for our opinions to disagree on the Hawks, Thrashers and Braves, then I’m going to just defer to your expertise because you’re probably right and I’m probably wrong.

Bob Horner stayed hurt

February 23rd, 2010
6:27 pm

Ted Strker….”Even Tiger Woods believed in cultivating the bottom half of the rotation.”

Can I steal this line..??? good stuff…

Ned Striker

February 23rd, 2010
6:36 pm

it’s the uniforms and the ugly brown and green paint on the Philips Arena floor. Bring back the red & yellow classics and we’re all set.

Ed

February 23rd, 2010
6:43 pm

We have to face reality. This is not a great sports town. There was a time when Atlanta had real spirit. People were proud to be a part of the cocky “this is the place to be” emergence of a new metropolis. I remember watching crazies tearing down the goalposts after the Falcons won their first playoff game against the Eagles… Sellouts for Dominique and co., and let’s not forget what it what it felt like in 1991 when the Braves started their run.

All of that ended about halfway through the Olympics at just about the time that bomb went off in Centennial Park. I do not know why this has happened, but the truth is indisputable. Until the majority of people living in Atlanta think of this as home instead of some place they had to move to because of a job, there will be sporadic support for our teams. The old timers like me are jaded, and the newcomers flock to sports bars to meet others from their original city to cheer their teams on.

This city is at a crossroads, an identity crisis. It is no longer easy to find an affordable home and getting around town is a nightmare. The infrastructure to handle this huge number of residents was never built and now we have to suffer through some serious growing pains. Our economic woes are just beginning. The Atlanta economy was built on perpetual growth, an impossible long term model. I have faith, however, that one day the abandoned Walmarts and strip malls will be razed and we will build a community that somewhat resembles the lovely place I remember. Until then, good luck to The Atlanta Spirit group, Mr. Blank, and that anonymous corporation from Colorado that owns the Braves… come to think of it, things really went downhill about the time Ted Turner left town. Who knew he was taking the party with him when he left.

Tron5000

February 23rd, 2010
6:57 pm

Maybe this is a team with a beat writer who uses the word “still” 4 times in 1 sentence. Get a job.

Tron5000

February 23rd, 2010
6:59 pm

I’m sorry, “columnist.”

Ed

February 23rd, 2010
7:03 pm

justahawkfan

February 23rd, 2010
7:36 pm

A fan, aficionado, or supporter is someone who has an intense, occasionally overwhelming liking and enthusiasm for a sporting club, person (usually a celebrity), group of persons, company, product, activity, work of art, idea, or trend.

Saint Arthur???

February 23rd, 2010
7:39 pm

800 lb Elephant in the room: Hawks fans haven’t caught on with white Atlanta yet. Only winning can cure that.

"Chef" Tim Dix

February 23rd, 2010
7:44 pm

The MLK day loss to OKY identified one team clarified the other. OKY rising, Hawks floundering and under coached.

SWATlantadolfan

February 23rd, 2010
7:48 pm

Face it.Keep it real. We will get beat in the second round by Cleveland, Mike Woodson wont return(hooray), Joe might leave, and next year we will be a .500 team. We better BEG Big Z to sign with us unstead of going back to Cleveland. This is the season for buyouts and the Hawks need to add at least two more players in order to play with the Big Boys.

SWATlantadolfan

February 23rd, 2010
7:53 pm

Enter your comments here

niremetal

February 23rd, 2010
7:54 pm

Brayne,

Two things:

I don’t think you can blame attendance issues on MARTA. They drop you off right outside the front doors.

Come on. You think where it drops you off is the problem? How about where it picks you up? Only a tiny fraction of Metro Atlanta’s population lives within walking distance of a MARTA rail station. Doesn’t do you much good if it’s not efficient to get to a station in the first place. Atlanta isn’t the worst city in the country for commuting for no reason.

niremetal

February 23rd, 2010
7:54 pm

Second thing got cut off. More to come. Get ready.

Ted Striker

February 23rd, 2010
7:55 pm

Ned — I guess you want Jill to move in next door to come running with you too, eh?

Not so fast

February 23rd, 2010
7:56 pm

If the playoffs started today, I wouldn’t be so quick to assume the Hawks get by Toronto is the first round.

BPJ

February 23rd, 2010
8:09 pm

The Hawks need Ilgauskas – he would really help when we play Orlando or Cleveland.

O'Brien

February 23rd, 2010
8:25 pm

Jeff,

Do you watch a lot of Hawks games (live)?

niremetal

February 23rd, 2010
8:39 pm

O’Brien,

Come on, you know the answer to that. For both him and Bradley: No.

Jeff Schultz

February 23rd, 2010
8:40 pm

Hey folks. Just chatted with Rick Sund. I was trying to reach him earlier but he’s had the travel day from hell and just called me back. So I’m going to insert a few comments now. Thanks.

Jeff Schultz

February 23rd, 2010
9:02 pm

Bob Horner — Yeah, we all need to move on from Chris Paul but I know it’s tough every time Marvin does something just average. I still thiink Marvin has GREAT athletic potential. How that ends up translating, nobody knows.

Jo Bling

February 23rd, 2010
9:02 pm

Good of you to add some comments from Sund. I agree that you make some good points, points that can’t be disputed, but I don’t agree with the overall tone which seems to be excessively negative/skeptical. Every team in the league has issues, and it’s not like we’re 10 games out of the division lead. Let’s keep things in perspective as far as what this team has accomplished over the last three-plus years, showing steady improvement in each to the point that we are now the third-best team in the East. I’m not saying we should be content or rest on our laurels. Just a bit more upbeat and optimistic, and a bit less critical. The Hawks are going to be just fine, and a force for any team to deal with in the playoffs.

Jeff Schultz

February 23rd, 2010
9:03 pm

Matt R — Atlanta is a strong NBA TV ratings town nationally. I’m not sure how that translates to Hawks’ ratings on local TV but I would imagine they’re pretty good.

Jeff Schultz

February 23rd, 2010
9:04 pm

Astro Joe — I think it’s safe to say there’s an element of cynicism about all of the Atlanta teams, but yeah, Hawks are only playoff squad.

Jeff Schultz

February 23rd, 2010
9:05 pm

SWAT Native — FYI, that picture is from the Phoenix game in the fourth quarter.

Jeff Schultz

February 23rd, 2010
9:07 pm

Ree Row — Thanks for the comment. .. About Around the Horn: Hah! Thanks. A lot of those guys are friends of mine but I honestly think it’s one of the dumbest shows on TV. I mean, if they asked me, I’d probably take the money. But it’s so lame I don’t know how long I could stick it out. I know another pal of mine, T.J. Simers, couldn’t take it. He publicly criticized the show and so they kicked him off. There went that paycheck.

Jeff Schultz

February 23rd, 2010
9:08 pm

Brayne — Yeah, MARTA can’t possibly be more convenient for Philips. But Atlanta is a car town. People don’t seem to be big on public transit, not the northeast or Chicago.

Jeff Schultz

February 23rd, 2010
9:09 pm

Ted Striker — Somehow I knew you’d get to a Tiger or a chick line eventually.

Jeff Schultz

February 23rd, 2010
9:10 pm

Thanks Maxx.

Jeff Schultz

February 23rd, 2010
9:12 pm

Not so fast — Agreed. Toronto is coming on fast: winners of 10 of 12.

niremetal

February 23rd, 2010
9:28 pm

You’re kidding, right Schultz? You do realize that MARTA has one of the worst rail coverages of any major city in the developed world? It doesn’t matter how close to the arena the train drops you off if no one lives next to a train station to get on the rail line in the first place.

ken

February 23rd, 2010
9:31 pm

this thing about waiting around and taking over. this is basketball last time I checked you were supposed to outscoren your opponent Stop being copycats and be leaders. you have no superstar just acollection of nice ball players. no kobe , lebron, magic etc. Atl is a copycat town what ever someone else is doing atl will copy. josh want to be magic. ask nique if he would do it differently if he had the chance. hell yes he would. so why don’t he talk to tohe hawks and tell them they a blowing a nice team by being caught up. JUST PLAY THE GAME. JOE IS NO MIKE NEVER WILL BE ANYTHING CLOSE SO JUSTPLAY THE DAMN GAME THE WAY IS SHOULD BE PLAYED. NO BODY IS GREAT ON THE TEAM.

ken

February 23rd, 2010
9:36 pm

I THINK MIKE MIKE BIBBY IS AFRAID TO GO AND GET THE BALL FROM JOSH. I NEVER SAW A POINT GUARD WHO DON’T BRING THE BALL UP AT LEAST 50% OF THE TIME. NO WONDER JAMAL TAKE HIS MINUTES. AND MIKE ACT LIKE HE DON’T MIND. GUESS HE GOT PAID AND SAYING SCREW YALL FANS I GET PAID EVERY TWO WEEKS AND GET TO SLEEP IN AND DRIVE A BENZ, HUMMER, AND DRIVE YOUR GIRL TOO. SORRY ASS TEAM SHOW SOME BALLS, FEEL TO SEE IF THEY ARE STILL THERE

ken

February 23rd, 2010
9:50 pm

A BIG BODY LIKE JOSH NEED TOMBE DOW LOW BANGING AND SWANGING BUT HE THINKS HE IS A PERIMETER PLAYER. IMAGINE IF HE COULD SHOOT FOUL SHOTS AND BANG LIKE ROUNDFIELD USED TO, THE HE WANT A BIG CONTRACT LIKE HE IS A BIG BOY, NO F—–ING WAY SON YOU HAVE TO SHOW SOME. YOU BEEN AROUND TO BE KNOWN AS A BAD MAN BUT YOU ARE JUST AVERAGE BY NBA STANDARDS. PHIL JACKSON WOULD NOT BE HAVING IT. MAYBE JOSH WAS TRAINED BY LENNY WILKINS. MAYBE JOSH NEED HIS SMITH AND WESSON OR WESSON OIL CAUSE HIS IS NOT IMPRESSIVE TO ME. A LOT OF WASTED POTENTIAL TO THIS POINT. AND YOU PEOPLE STOP MAKING HIM THINK HE IS ELITE THE MAYBE HE WILL WORK HARDER AND GET THERE. LONG, LONG, LONG, LONG, LOMG, LONG WAY TO GO. MAYBE JAMAL WILL DECIDE ENOUGH IS ENOUGH AN TELL HIS ASS OFF AND HE GET IT CAUSE NOW. JOSH DON’T GET IT,6′9 280 POINT GUARD, THERE ARE NO MORE POINT FORWARDS JOSH GET YOUR ASS DOWN LOW AND GRIND SON, THEN YOU’LL REALLY GET PAID. KNOW WHY KOBE BRON AND OTHERS GET PAID. THEY PRODUCE EVERY NIGHT. JOSH,JOE AND MOST HAWKS WILL CALL IN SICK OR ASK FOR A VACATION NIGHT 2 TO 3 TIMES A WEEK. HOW MUCH PTO DO THEY HAVE IN ADDITION TO THE 6 MONTH PAID VACATION. GIVE THESE BITCHES A SHOVEL AND HARD HAT AND THEY’D BE FIRED BEFORE LUNCH TIME. THEY NEED TO GIVE GOD HIS HEIGHT BACK CAUSE THEY HAVE ROBBED HIM TOO!!!!!!LEAVE THE GIRLS ALONE AND GET THE TROPHY THEN GET THE P, IT’LL BE MORE THEN GUYS, CHICKS DIG CHAMPS, THEY CAN GET MONEY IN MAGIC CITY