Let’s dispense of the whines first, because it’s impossible to debate the Hawks’ future without the obvious elephant in the locker room, or in this case the entire herd:
♦ They have a slow and inefficient starting point guard (Mike Bibby) who averages 9.6 points and 3.7 assists, which would be fine if this was a 40-and-over league or a YMCA in Springfield, Mass., in 1891.
♦ They have an occasionally dominating forward (Josh Smith) who sometimes forgets that there’s a whole world of possibilities inside the paint.
♦ They have another forward (Marvin Williams) who was the draft’s second pick but has proven to be little more than a $7 million-a-year rotational player (if that).
♦ They have a roster resilient enough to record the third-best road record in the Eastern Conference (17-12) but schizoid enough to lose home games by 23, 41 and 34 points.
Now let’s discuss reality.
Whether or not general manager Rick Sund makes a move to improve the team’s fortunes – and it’s significant that he’ll be traveling with the club on a five-game trip that opens the post-All Star stretch – the Hawks will win or lose with this bunch. The chances of Sund spinning any earth-shattering deal are directly proportional to Carmelo Anthony suddenly declaring, “I hate New York! I want to be a Hawk!”
This is your team.
Joe Johnson stayed. Smith stayed. Bibby stayed. Williams stayed. The only change of significance the Hawks made after being swept in the second round of the playoffs two straight years was to fire coach Mike Woodson. The message delivered: This is the core — let’s see where it takes us.
Time’s about up. If the Hawks don’t do something this season that makes us stop slapping our forehead, blow the sucker up.
Sund never has been one for public analysis during the season. He certainly doesn’t discuss trade possibilities.
But he did say this Sunday: “The next two months and our performance in the playoffs will indicate as to exactly what this team is. The challenge is up to them.”
And this: “We’ve put ourselves in position to do something, so let’s see where it goes. We have to do it collectively and with chemistry and coaching and all that.”
I think he just said: “Bob Pettit is not walking through that door.”
We can debate whether retaining this core for another season was right or wrong. But it’s significant that Sund is declaring it’s show-me time. The Hawks obviously aren’t as good as Boston or Miami. But they’ve shown at times they can be better than a second-round punchline. They won at Miami a few weeks ago without Al Horford (which is more significant than the Heat missing Chris Bosh). They’ve beaten every East team currently in a playoff position except Boston (0-2) and Chicago (whom they haven’t played). The Hawks are a combined 10-4 against Miami (1-1), Orlando (2-1), New York (2-1), Philadelphia (2-1) and Indiana (3-0).
Sund again: “I think our players feel like they can play with anybody. It’s the first time in the last two years I’ve sensed that.”
Yes, this team is flawed. The most fixable problem is point guard. Cleveland’s Ramon Sessions, the object of trade rumors, isn’t an All-Star or a great scorer. But he’s younger, faster and would be a significant upgrade to Bibby, Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford (who is better as a scorer coming off the bench). Sessions is playing fewer minutes than Bibby but he’s averaging more points (12.3) and assists (5.3) and is better defensively.
Bibby’s three-year, $18 million extension in 2009 is looking like an albatross. He was far more effective in his contract year (15 points, 5 assists) than now (he ranks 40th overall and 25th among point guards at 3.7 assists per game). As a team, the Hawks have the second-fewest steals (5.9) and are forcing the second-fewest turnovers (12.7) per game. That stems at least in part from a lack of defense up top.
The trade deadline is Thursday. If Sund makes a change, it won’t be the equivalent of major reconstruction. More like a new couch and a couple of throw pillows.
This is your team — maybe for the last time.
By Jeff Schultz