If this works out, we may not know right away. Not in October. Not in December. Not at the All-Star break. Not when Orlando comes to town and suddenly everybody decides to plays hard and together and Josh Smith says, “Hey, watch what I can do 82 games a year if I really, really felt like it! Slam!”
Mike Woodson won more games (53) this season than any Hawks coach in 13 years. Then he was drop-kicked. Why? That’s easy.
You find out about teams in the postseason, not in the Tuesday night game against the Wizards. The Hawks really weren’t any better this season than the one before when they won 47. In some ways, they may have been worse. They were stretched to seven games by a worse first-round opponent (Milwaukee) than in 2009 (Miami). They had the same problems with mental and physical toughness. Their half-court offense still struggled, particularly in tight games and in the fourth quarter. Defensive effort was inconsistent.
The biggest reason the Hawks won six more games this season was the addition of Jamal Crawford, not growth in the intangibles that make the difference in the playoffs.
Don’t be stunned if the Hawks take a step back in wins next season. Don’t be overly concerned, either.
A step back may be necessary before moving forward. There are major roster issues unresolved, starting with Joe Johnson, an impending free agent. But ultimately, what will determine how the Hawks evolve will be whether they can play like Milwaukee did after losing Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd. Or like Phoenix (the least talented of the NBA’s Final Four) is playing now.
“The sum of our parts has to better,” general manager Rick Sund said. “I’m not one of these people who think if you don’t have an MVP candidate you can’t win. We have to take that point of view that Detroit did. We can have a great team with the sum of our parts. We can have camaraderie. We can will our way to the championship round. You have to have confidence. You have to have some mental toughness along the way. You have to have trust.”
Sund claims he struggled with this decision. I doubt it. I’m guessing his words are mostly for effect. He has had doubts about Woodson for two years, even when he gave him the extension in 2008 after taking over for Billy Knight (who also had doubts and recommended firing him but was turned down by ownership). Sund knew this team, even if unchanged in personnel, could start to slide.
But he speaks in grays. There aren’t a lot of specifics. It’s like he’s trying to keep you guessing.
Sund will tell you, “We needed a new voice,” but he won’t specify what he didn’t like about the old voice. It’s your job to fill in the blanks.
“For many of these players, [Woodson] is the only person they heard as coach,” he said. “The same training camp. The same pep talks. The same post-game talks. Sometimes change is good in the situation.”
It would be great if Sund and the Atlanta Spirit owners were able to hire a proven coach (Avery Johnson, Jeff Van Gundy). More than likely, that’s not going to happen, either because the job won’t be considered desirable enough or the owners won’t write the check that it would take to get it done.
But a big a name isn’t necessary. Alvin Gentry was fired by the Clippers. Generally, that’s considered bottom. Now he has Phoenix in the Western Conference finals.
The question is what available and likely low-budget candidate — Tyrone Corbin, Dwane Casey, Dan Majerle, Larry Drew among them — can turn the Hawks’ into a team.
Sund again: “I’m hoping we’ll have some growth from within. I’m hopeful a coaching change will change some things.”
Is there risk involved?
“Sure there’s risk,” Sund said. “But there would’ve been risk involved if we give Mike a new contract, too. Either way, if you’re not successful, people are going to point it out to you, and if you are successful than they won’t.”
This must we know: Success won’t be defined in the first 82 games.
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