(UPDATED: 10:45 p.m.)
They won their season opener by 36 points at New Jersey. They won their home opener by an easy 18 over Washington on Wednesday night at Philips Arena.
They have a point guard (Jeff Teague) who is dishing, a sometimes-maddening star (Josh Smith) who is playing under control, a team that is defending and … wait, did somebody just show Marvin Williams where the paint is?
So this is what Hawks’ bliss looks like. Feels like. Sounds like.
Well, maybe not sounds like. Considering this was the home opener, the crowd in Philips Arena was remarkably small (generously announced at 17,750) and relatively staid. But if the Hawks can continue to play like this against teams that figure to finish well north of New Jersey and Washington in the standings, they’ll get some deserved attention. Maybe even a sellout. Maybe they’ll even attract a buyer.
Williams, who has had a largely unspectacular career, led the Hawks with 17 points and eight rebounds. Yes, that was him crashing the boards for a follow slam dunk after a missed shot.
He says he feels better after having back surgery in June, adding that the lockout afforded him extra time to rehabilitate. “It [the lockout] was a blessing for me,” he said. “I know not a lot of guys would say that, but it was good for me.”
Al Horford said that William has “gone back to just playing, not thinking too much out there. He’s being aggressive on the offensive boards. If Marvin plays like that, we’re that much better.”
So, seemingly, is everybody to this point. Smith (15 points) was patient and had a spectacular block when he ran down the Wizards’ Andray Blatche and slapped away a would-be dunk. Joe Johnson scored 18. Teague, who looks more like a real NBA starting point guard every game, had 11 points, five assists, two steals and was strong on defense. Tracy McGrady — yes, he can still play — had 11 off the bench.
A 2-0 record doesn’t ensure anything, not even in a 66-game season. But it has been a comforting start for coach Larry Drew, who has his team playing with energy and defense.
“We’ve been preaching for the longest time about trying to be a better defensive team,” Drew said before the game, the inference being that the Hawks are finally getting there.
Afterward, Drew bemoaned the fact the Hawks led the Wizards back in the game after blowing them out early.
“Against a team like that, you have to take away their hope,” he said.
But it’s nice to be picky about a win.
True, it’s dangerous to draw too many conclusions yet. Short training camps and an abbreviated preseason will affect some teams more than others. At some point, probably six weeks into the season, there will be market corrections all over the league. But the early results are encouraging for a Hawks team that returns the same core as a year ago (save Jamal Crawford, a payroll casualty). The Hawks never seemed inclined to make a major move in the summer, especially with the ownership situation in flux. Obviously, if they continue to win, making a significant trade remains unlikely.
But the question is whether they are still considering a roster-shaking deal – particularly one that involves Orlando center Dwight Howard.
We’ve beat this drum before about Howard. He’s the most dominating center in the game. He’s a hometown product who would give the Hawks the marketing centerpiece they desperately need. And he’s available. Howard is due to become a free agent after this season and, while the Magic claim they’ve pulled him off the market, it still seems likely they’ll trade him during the season rather than risk losing him for nothing.
It’s also now apparent that the Hawks have made a run at Howard. Our Michael Cunningham reports that Horford (not Johnson) was the most likely centerpiece of a multi-player trade offer, with the Hawks keeping Smith in hopes that Howard would want to play with his childhood friend. The obvious question is whether Howard would be willing to sign a contract extension with the Hawks. To this point, he has said the only teams he would sign with are Dallas, the Los Angeles Lakers and New Jersey.)
If the report of a trade offer is true, it would be a bold move by the Hawks. Trading for Howard without assurances of a contract extension would be a huge risk. But going after one of the league’s top players – and the most dominant center – would have support among the fan base.
And if the Hawks remains as currently constructed, maybe they’ll be OK after all.
By Jeff Schultz