Hawks’ core possibly facing final chance to show something

Can this Hawks' core battling odds to make it past second round. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Can this Hawks' core battling odds to make it past second round. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

After an offseason that saw the Hawks lose their starting point guard (Kirk Hinrich) to an injury, their only bench scorer (Jamal Crawford) to budget constraints and a would-be new owner (Alex Meruelo) because the NBA didn’t trust his financial house of cards –you know, as opposed to the model of stability that currently exists in the front office – here comes the new NBA season.

Ready? Or not?

Maybe the Jeff Teague we saw in the postseason wasn’t an aberration. Maybe the new slimmed-down Josh Smith really is as motivated as he seems. Maybe Tracy McGrady (year 15) and Jerry Stackhouse (year 17) and other remnants of players on the bench can make up for the loss of Crawford’s scoring. But that’s a lot of maybes to count on.

Hopefully, you like mysteries. Two-game preseasons don’t offer much in the way of preview.

This much, we can be fairly certain of: Whatever the Hawks – and this core in particular — are capable of, this is the season they need to show it. Smith has only two years left on his contract. The means the organization will need to make a decision on whether to extend him or trade him after this season. So this could be the final roundup for the core of this team, particularly with ownership still in flux.

“This is a very important year for us to see what we can do,” Al Horford said. “ We can’t just take it for granted [that the team will be kept together]. We know we have to do something.”

Let’s define “something” as getting past the second round and into the Eastern Conference finals. It’s something this franchise never has done since moving to Atlanta in 1968.

Owner Michael Gearon, fighting a credibility battle, can cling to silly statistics like the fact the Hawks, Boston and Los Angeles Lakers are the only three teams to advance past the first round in the last three years. But what does that mean exactly?

In the real world, the only thing that matters is having a sense a team can compete for a championship. The Hawks made progress in the playoffs last season, but it’s going to be difficult to make a case that they’ve gotten better since their last game, and they probably have gotten worse.

They just lost a guy, Crawford, who was the league’s seventh-leading bench scorer last season at 14.2 points per game (and scored 20 or more 18 times). Ownership’s decision to not spend over the salary cap basically forced general manager Rick Sund to search the table of markdowns and slightly irregulars to fill out his bench.

There are some positive signs. Players responded to coach Larry Drew last season far more than they did at the end for Mike Woodson. They eliminated Orlando, which now appears on the slide. They took Chicago to six games. Those things are not without significance.

“There comes a time when people tell you, ‘You have potential, you guys can be so good,’ but sometimes the guys in the locker room don’t really believe that,” Horford said. “I think last year in the playoffs we finally started to believe that.”

Sund added, “The [previous] two years, we made the playoffs but didn’t compete at the level we needed to compete at in the second round. This is their best opportunity to see if they can take the next step now.”

An improbable long playoff run depends on several things. With Hinrich (shoulder) sidelined for at least another month, Teague has to take charge and play like he did in the playoffs. Smith needs to hit mid-range jumpers (limiting the three-point attempts) when he plays small forward and dominate the paint when he’s at the power spot. Horford needs to be better and more consistent offensively. The bench, probably led by McGrady, Vladimir Radmanovic and Willie Green need to score better than you would expect a bench of McGrady, Radmanovic and Green to score.

Drew admits the Hawks will  “limp into the season.” That’s a problem when you play nine games in 12 days.

But he said he learned something about his team last year: “We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve handled adversity pretty well.”

They’ll need to continue that — especially given the backdrop of the past few months.

By Jeff Schultz

85 comments Add your comment

Free....

December 23rd, 2011
3:32 pm

Jeff Teague!!!!

Hmmm

December 23rd, 2011
3:34 pm

Get it done or I want everyone except Teague gone by next season.

FreshmakerGT

December 23rd, 2011
3:45 pm

Can’t wait for the season to start! I’m pretty high on the Hawks this year. I think we’ll get the #4 seed and finish ahead of the Magic. If JT0 can be as dynamic as he was in the playoffs, then the sky’s the limit.

TS

December 23rd, 2011
3:56 pm

Yeah, it would be better if they had gone ahead and gotten CP3 and Dwight Howard in the offseason.

Harry Hawk

December 23rd, 2011
3:59 pm

Let’s just hope the Hawks’ belief in themselves isn’t as misplaced as ASG’s belief that they had sold the franchise.

Sage of Bluesland

December 23rd, 2011
4:04 pm

Laughing at anyone who actually believes this forlorn and woebegone franchise and its “core” players can do anything but reach mediocrity.

It all starts at the top–and it’s rotten.

Not another dime for incompetence. I haven’t–nor will I ever–step into Phillips Arena for any reason as long as these incompetent owners are involved.

Stop the subsidization, folks. That will force them out. They don’t deserve another dollar of your hard-earned money.

Sly Boarders

December 23rd, 2011
4:09 pm

Hot sauce

December 23rd, 2011
4:14 pm

Didn’t hawks reach the ECF in 88 against the celts?

Grandmaster JeJe

December 23rd, 2011
4:15 pm

Ownership’s decision to not spend over the salary cap basically forced general manager Rick Sund to search the table of markdowns and slightly irregulars

*****
THE TEAM IS 10 MILLION over the salary cap… Good Lord… Do you even know what a salary cap is? Or maybe you are thinking of the LUXURY TAX

Mike

December 23rd, 2011
4:19 pm

Like Michael Gearon say on his interview with MC that this is a “Make or Break it” year and if the Hawks cant get passed the second round then Core goes bye-bye.

Mike

December 23rd, 2011
4:25 pm

or actually it will be Coach, GM and Core goes away.

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 23rd, 2011
4:28 pm

I think this team goes as far as Jeff T. takes them.

And, he will.

Matt from MN

December 23rd, 2011
4:32 pm

I’m rooting for a LAST place finish, an empty arena and ASG in bankruptcy.

Trainwreck

December 23rd, 2011
4:32 pm

Trouble ahead for the Hawks… not going to even be top 4 in the East next year so… probably not even going to win in the first round of the playoffs…

MattP

December 23rd, 2011
4:37 pm

I am actually kind of hoping for a bad season here that way we get a new GM and Coach.

dream on

December 23rd, 2011
4:45 pm

ESPN has the Hawks ranked 18th in their pre season rankings out of 30 teams and I think that’s about right. So whats that mean….getting out of the 2nd round…please…this team will be lucky if they make the playoffs.

http://espn.go.com/nba/powerrankings/_/season/2012/week/0

teedub

December 23rd, 2011
4:49 pm

Go Hawks!!!! May the naysayers be silenced.

moorman

December 23rd, 2011
4:54 pm

STOP blaming hawks ownership. the nba is like pro wrestling, there is a HUGE element of fakery going on. david sterns SHOWED how the nba operates when they nixed that chris paul trade. its all about every market having certain superstars. you cant tell me that billy knight was that dumb to make all those bad decisions he did…..NO WAY. in other words, no superstars come to atlanta because the league has given the hawks what they want the hawks to have…….

Grandmaster JeJe

December 23rd, 2011
4:57 pm

Jeff Schultz thinks the salary cap is the same thing as the Luxury Tax.

SMH

dream on

December 23rd, 2011
4:57 pm

I wonder what % of basketball fans in metro Atlanta really give a damn about the Hawks…you think it’s more than 10%….ask that same question in Boston about the Celtics and I bet it’s close to 95%. Just wondering. And by saying this I don’t blame ATL basketball fans….the Hawks and their organization just suck and that’s why no one cares including sports fans posting on this blog? On second thought I bet it’s not 5%.

Chris

December 23rd, 2011
5:03 pm

Until the get rid of the overrated Joe Johnson and his albatross of a contract, the Hawks will be a middle of the pack team. Can’t understand why the gave him a max contract because he is simply not a player that will take you on a Championship run.

Frank the Tank

December 23rd, 2011
5:52 pm

I am loyal to this team, that being said it has been the most mismanaged franchise in the last 22 years. No matter who the owners are, it seems they only want to stay with mediocrity. Great moves like trading nigue(the player who was beloved by everyone), picking up moses malone i believe on his 78th birthday, and paying Joe Johnson max money only make me lose hair.

wcj

December 23rd, 2011
5:52 pm

The will not trade Joe Johnson because the owners Like Joe Johnson. I am sure the hawks have had deals for Joe Johnson. Joe Johnson will remain a hawk until new owners are found, and that may never happen. This team needs to be sold in order for the hawks to change. Does anyone had about 600-800 million dollars they not need?

DeaconBlues

December 23rd, 2011
6:20 pm

If Teague can effectively pilot this team, good things will happen. There’s a lot of talent on this team; they just need to be on the same page. Not as easy as it sounds, but a Deacon not named Paul could lead them.

Simpson's Homer

December 23rd, 2011
6:26 pm

I hope not, but this kinda has the feel of the upcoming Braves season —- fairly good, but not much improvement, and hard to get overly enthused…….. I hope to be wrong!!

Dap01

December 23rd, 2011
7:10 pm

The Hawks have the most inept management in the history of sports. The core never had a chance with bone headed move after bone headed move.

None of them have a clue.

Sam from the Swats

December 23rd, 2011
7:16 pm

If Joe was not resigned, the Hawks would have been battling for the 8th seed.

JSS

December 23rd, 2011
7:29 pm

Today’s cuts were strange to say the least… This was more like a fire sale at a house where the mortgage was upside down… Sale and give away any asset except for the one thing that will get you back to liquidity. Why can a team like the Hornets get pieces and the Hawks get nothing?

Roy

December 23rd, 2011
7:36 pm

It piss me off that,the hawks are infatuated with fuys,that they should have pursued years ago. I would not be suprised if benson turned out to be a,good player. It seems Drew is veteran bias and not in a good way. The bulls and heat will destroy this team and sadly it is there own doing.

FreshFromATL

December 23rd, 2011
7:44 pm

@ Grandmaster JeJe,

I co-sign your posts 100%.

My God, outside of Michael Cunningham, AJC’s coverage on the Hawks is piss-poor…

ATLien

December 23rd, 2011
7:47 pm

I’m with you TS. I think the Hawks have failed this city by not getting not only Dwight Howard and CP3, but they really should have gotten Kobe and LeBron as well. I mean really, what was management thinking…lol.

Now back in reality. I like how this team is coming together. Both Josh AND Al (yes people, i said AL) need to step it up this year. Atleast Josh appears to be truly motivated. I’m concerned that Al to content being a soft PF playing out of position at center. But if he’ll actually become the guy he should be, a legitimate low post threat, then the Hawks will be in great shape. Teague will be stud and is the exact type of PG this team has needed for years. One that doesn’t always walk the ball up, one that can penetrate and either finish or dish, one that uses his speed to get easy buckets for our athletic bigs.

Dennis Green

December 23rd, 2011
7:51 pm

“The Hawks are who we thought they were.” The Hawks are who we thought they were”
“If you want to crown them, then crown them.”

Biff Pocaroba Fan Club

December 23rd, 2011
7:59 pm

This team needs to move to St. Louis. Atlanta has seen enough.

Sage of Bluesland

December 23rd, 2011
8:00 pm

Al Horford? Please.

The most overrated professional in this town since Keith “Hometown Hero” Brooking.

Please.

MEH.........

December 23rd, 2011
8:05 pm

WHO CARES??!!

Atlien

December 23rd, 2011
8:08 pm

Jeff and many so called experts keep harping on the hawks not resigning crawford, I’m telling he is not going to be missed as much as people think. When he was not scoring and at a high level, he is a detriment on the floor. He defense and limited/unwilling passing ability hurt the team. Not to mention the minutes he demanded, stunted the development of Teague. When he was off, which was alot last year, his jacking up shots was awful to watch and he didn’t help in any other way.

Nate D

December 23rd, 2011
8:11 pm

LD is a idiot to make Sy play the point and he lost his job now Sy would of made a great 2, I do like the pickup of Willie Green even though i would of prefer Deshawn Stevenson a guy who has great D and Was on the championship mavs and played a great roll. Not only is this Smith last chance it should be Marvin’s too.

Finkle is Einhorn

December 23rd, 2011
8:36 pm

All I can say is I had tickets IN FRONT OF UNC coach Roy Williams when we got donkey stomped by Orlando two years ago. I overheard him saying that the Hawks coaches should be playing Teague due to his creative ability and court speed. Here we go.

Yeah Hawks

December 23rd, 2011
8:39 pm

I am really excited and can’t wait for Tuesday. Come on people! Give the Hawks some love! Let’s get behind our team and cheer them on! Anybody? Anybody?

Jesse

December 23rd, 2011
8:58 pm

I think they’ll be okay. With no preseason these guys have an advantage, like the Celts. They’ve played together long enough that they don’t need to worry about chemistry. They’ll surprise people and be the 3rd or 4th seed.

cpsman_atlanta

December 23rd, 2011
9:18 pm

BOYCOTT ATLANTA SPIRIT GROUP!!!! BOYCOTT PHILIPS ARENA UNTIL NEW OWNERS ARE IN PLACE!!!!

Grandmaster JeJe

December 23rd, 2011
9:21 pm

Schultz,

You write great blogs about ASG and how awful they are. Stick to that because claiming that ownership does not want us to go over the CAP is not very impressive. That shows a complete absence of knowledge regarding Salary Cap vs. Luxury Tax.

We are at 68M+ right now. The salary cap is around 58M and the LT is around 70M

Wayne stuck in AL

December 23rd, 2011
9:23 pm

JEFF:
Do Gearon and Levenson even have a clue how much they’re hated in these parts?

wcj

December 23rd, 2011
9:42 pm

The Falcons are turning it around. Lets give the hawks another 10 years or so, and see what happens.

ASG

December 23rd, 2011
10:11 pm

OK all you basketball morons, quit your whining about our finances and trade deals. Just go to the games and buy lots of beer, hot dogs and leftover Crawford jerseys!!

cadi_atl

December 23rd, 2011
10:24 pm

DAMNNN Y’ALL NEED TO CHILL IF Y’ALL KEEP SAYING ALL THESE BAD THINGS FOR THE HAWKS THEY ALWAYS GONNA SUCK GIME THEM SOME LOVE AND SAY POSITIVE THINGS ABOUT THE TEAM WHEN YOU LOVE A TEAM IT DONT MATTER WHAT THEY DO IS YOUR TEAM AND LOVE THEM AND THEY DONT SUCK MAYBE THEY NOT AS GOOD AS THEY SHOULD BE BUT THEY AINT TOO BAD U SEE TEAMS THAT WON 10 GAMES LAST SEASON AND THEY STILL LOVE THEIR TEAM AT LEAST THE HAWKS GETTING BETTER EVERY YEAR IF WE SUPPORT OUR TEAM AND BELIEVE AND GO AND WATCH THEM WHEN WE CAN THEY PROBABLY GONNA BE BETTER THEY WILL HAVE MORE MONEY TO SPEND ON PLAYERS AND ALL THAT SO PLEASE MAN LOVEEEEE HAPPY NEY YEAR EVERYONE

ATLien

December 23rd, 2011
11:08 pm

Mark it down – Josh Smith Beast Mode this year. He’ll finish top 5 overall fantasy player. Which will be very very good for our Hawks.

gcs

December 23rd, 2011
11:18 pm

too bad they have a coach who wouldn’t be good enough to coach the WNBA.

hawks21

December 23rd, 2011
11:36 pm

I don’t believe people. They can’t have it both ways, we have a YOUNG team. JJ, Smooth, Al,Teague that is the CORE. We just need to build with them. I remember when we won ONLY 13 games a few years ago. We will finish 3rd seed this season. Behind Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Knicks, Boston, Nets, Orlando, Bobcats, 76ers.

Biff Pocoroba

December 24th, 2011
12:07 am

UGA, Ga Tech, and the Hawks will combine to win about 30 games this year. The Braves and Hawks only got rid of players and didn’t add anyone to improve the team so this will just be another long year in Loserville, USA.