It’s the offseason. I’m cracking open a six-pack for the Hawks – not for celebration but for reconstruction.
The Hawks don’t need to strip everything down after getting swept out of the second round for the second year in a row, but they clearly can’t thrive as currently built.
♦ 1.) Make a coaching change. Hawks general manager Rick Sund has doubts about Mike Woodson. Otherwise he would not have given him only a two-year contract two years ago, or he would have extended him before (or during) this season. The Hawks have improved in many areas under Woodson, most notably the win total. But the team’s half-court offense has been an issue throughout Woodson’s tenure. Creativity is not his strong-suit. It also became clear in this postseason that players have stopped listening to him. Being stretched to seven games by Milwaukee (which lost its best player, Andrew Bogut, three weeks before the playoffs) was a warning sign. Getting smacked by Orlando by embarrassing margins reaffirmed either poor preparation by Woodson or that players were tuning him out. A head coach needs to get a team to play a certain way, with a toughness and resolve that we saw from the Bucks. Woodson hasn’t done that. Conclusion: This is as high as the Hawks will go with him. If he gets fired, don’t be surprised if he is replaced by assistant Larry Drew. There will be a push for a high-profile replacement, like Jeff Van Gundy, Avery Johnson or, in a dream world, Doc Rivers. But if the Hawks can’t lure one of them, and if ownership is resistant to spending big money, hiring Drew can be easily rationalized. He is liked and respected by players. He would bring more creativity to the offense. He is in-tune with the team’s problems, its strengths and weaknesses. The risk is that Drew never has been a head coach before. But regardless of who would get the job, a new voice is needed.
♦ 2.) Sign-and-trade Joe Johnson. I thought it was at least 50-50 Johnson would re-sign with the Hawks until his comments after Game 3. He has proven himself to be in that second tier of stars, which is fine. But his lack of leadership and three years of mostly dreadful playoff performances have damaged his reputation. Even worse, Johnson seems to have checked out mentally. He still has value on the open market. There are enough teams out there who are looking for a scorer and have money to spend. A sign-and-trade could net a nice player in return: whether a shooting guard, point guard or starting caliber center. Among the backup options at shooting guard, one name that already has popped up as a possible replacement is Milwaukee’s John Salmons. He obviously isn’t the scorer Johnson in, but he averaged nearly 20 per game in Milwaukee after a trade from Chicago this year.
♦ 3.) Don’t trade Josh Smith. Yes, this postseason was a microcosm of what’s wrong with Smith. He took over Game 2 against the Bucks, just as he took over so many games during the season. But he was awful in too many games and justifiably was criticized nationally for loafing it on defense. During a time out in Game 4 Monday night, Smith was paying more attention to the “Kiss Cam” on the Philips Arena scoreboard than Woodson during a time-out, and a fan yelled, “Pay attention, Josh!” But remember two things: 1) For most of this season, the commentary about Smith was positive – how much he had matured and how he deserved to be in the All-Star Game; 2) He has had only one head coach since leaving high school: Woodson. There’s a great danger in trading Smith if another coach in another city helps him become the player he can be. Even after six seasons, it’s too early to give up on him. His potential is too great.
♦ 4.) Acquire a center (or Chris Bosh): A strong defensive center would give the Hawks the physical presence they desperately need in the post and allow them to move Al Horford to power forward and Smith to small forward. Marvin Williams can take a seat on the bench, or on a plane out of town. Bosh, who will be a free agent and also could be part of a sign-and-trade, is a tantalizing alternative. First, he would love to come back to Atlanta (where he played at Georgia Tech). He is not a true center but he is 6-10 and would bring some offense to help compensate for Johnson’s loss. A front line of Bosh, Horford and Smith certainly would rank among the league’s best.
♦ 5.) Bench Mike Bibby: There’s no nice way to put this: He got his new contract and then took a significant step back this season. His scoring average dropped from 14.9 to 9.1, his shooting percentage from 43.5 to 41.6, his assists from 5.0 to 3.9. Woodson correctly chopped down his minutes (34.7 to 27.4). Bibby is too much of a liability defensively. With two years left on his contract, he’ll be difficult to trade. But at worse he’s a shooter to bring off the bench. Who to start? If Sund can’t acquire a veteran point guard and leader, take a look at Jeff Teague. He was mostly buried on Woodson’s bench, averaging 10 minutes a game, but we know he can bring speed to the lineup. Leadership? Those answers will come. But he can’t possibly be worse.
♦ 6.) Get tougher: This sort of goes back to coaching and a team’s identity. “Talent” doesn’t pertain only to a team’s skill level. Talent can be intelligence and physical and mental toughness. Talent can be heart. Too often, the Hawks have lacked that. Horford called out his teammates for it and he was dead on. Those intangibles can help a team overcome injuries and adversity. Milwaukee was a difficult team to play against. Charlotte was a more difficult team than the Hawks for Orlando to play against — not because of “skill” talent but because of the other kind of talent. There needs to be an in-house mandate by the Hawks of playing to a standard. If that exists now, they’re clearly ignoring it.
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