Now that Carmelo Anthony is in Manhattan, what will the Hawks do? And are they on the verge of sinking in the Eastern Conference standings?
We’ll soon find out about the first question, as general manager Rick Sund has spoken to Cleveland about Ramon Sessions and New Jersey about Devin Harris, according to our Michael Cunningham. But the fact is, Sund was pursuing a deal, anyway. The trade of Anthony to the New York Knicks doesn’t necessarily increase the sense of urgency for this season, even if it dramatically changes the big picture for future seasons.
Consider: The Hawks entered Tuesday at 34-21 and fifth overall in the East, 5½ games ahead of the Knicks (28-26). If they go 16-11 in their final 27 games, which seems reasonable, the Knicks would need to go 22-6 just to pull even. That’s not likely to happen — not with this New York team.
There’s a little too much early euphoria in Gotham. The fact is, the Knicks aren’t great yet. They have two great players (Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire) but they just gave up a boatload of the present and the future: six players, including Raymond Felton and Wilson Chandler, a first-round pick and $3 million.
The Hawks’ biggest potential problem comes this offseason, when New York is expected to add either Chris Paul or Deron Williams at point guard. (You remember Paul and Williams, don’t you, Hawks’ fans? They represent the oil stain former general manager Billy Knight left in the driveway.)
If the Knicks acquire Paul or Williams, and the Hawks don’t do something significant to improve their core, they’ll drop like a brick in the East.
The Hawks obviously need point guard help. But to make a huge-impact trade would likely mean dealing a major piece, like which probably won’t happen right now. Josh Smith is the most obvious candidate but ownership has been resistant to moving him.
Where the Hawks are fading in the East is with their three-player core (Smith-Joe Johnson-Al Horford). The blueprint for success of teams seeking a title is to have three stars to build around. Boston was the first to this a few years ago. Take a look at these conference six teams, listed in order of record:
♦ BOSTON: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen.
♦ MIAMI: Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh.
♦ CHICAGO: Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng or Joakim Noah.
♦ ORLANDO: Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson.
♦ ATLANTA: Johnson, Horford, Smith.
♦ NEW YORK: Anthony, Stoudemire, Chauncey Billups (with Paul or Williams possibly replacing him next year).
This gets back to what we discussed the other day. If the Johnson-Horford-Smith core doesn’t make significant progress in the playoffs, it will be time to make a significant change, because the Hawks have ridden this bunch long enough. And they’ve got nothing to match Carmelo Anthony.
By Jeff Schultz