It would be unfair to assume that the Hawks are crumbling after three consecutive home debacles, just as it would’ve been presumptuous to believe that a team without Al Horford (and his backup) could maintain a 16-6 pace for the rest of the NBA season.
But at the very least, this basketball team has slipped into that uncomfortable zone between concern and panic. I call it: trouble.
They look fatigued. They look disinterested or lost or, worst of all, hopeless. They certainly look short. A team loses the 6-foot-10 Horford and the 7-0 Jason Collins, and suddenly you half-expect 6-8 “center” Ivan Johnson and two members of the Lollipop Guild to run on to the court wearing colored shorts and striped leggings and start singing to Dorothy.
Yes. It’s only three games. If the Hawks can rebound and defeat Indiana on Wednesday night in their half-empty home of Philips Arena, they will be 17-9 and still own one of the better records in the Eastern Conference.
But this is the NBA. Size matters, guys.
“We certainly need another big body here,” coach Larry Drew said.
Also, maybe therapy. It’s natural that after a stretch that has seen the Hawks trail by 20-plus points in three consecutive home losses, Drew wonders where his players’ heads are at.
“As much as you don’t want it to affect your team players, it’s got to be in the back of their minds — it’s got to be,” he said. “Hopefully they can move forward and get through this.”
It’s easy to scream, “Make a trade!” But the Hawks are handicapped in that area in so many ways. They’re not in a situation where they can take on salary. They’re also not in a position to move significant pieces off this team without blowing up the roster because their biggest trade asset (Horford) is injured.
Finally, look around: Teams aren’t really making trades right now in this compact and late-getting-started NBA season.
Kenyon Martin, a street free agent, would’ve been a nice piece. But he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers for an amount (reportedly $2.5 million) the Hawks couldn’t come close to. (It also helped the Clippers that Martin wanted to play with his friend, Chauncey Billups.)
So general manager Rick Sund has been looking at a list of players who either weren’t good enough to make an NBA roster or are toiling in the “D” league.
Got news for you: At this point, I think the 7-foot juggler on the unicycle, just to the left of dancing elephants, looks good. The lack of size in the middle is forcing almost every other Hawk to play out of position at some point and get worn down, mentally and physically.
The Hawks are a fragile team even when they’re at full strength. Now they’re fragile and teetering on the edge of the top shelf.
Memphis led by 10 at halftime and outscored them 26-12 in the third. Philadelphia walked over the Hawks’ defense with a 37-point third quarter. Phoenix never trailed after late in first quarter and shot 52 percent to the Hawks’ 39.
“I hope we’re not in a situation where some of these guys have hit a wall already because there’s just too much basketball that has to be played,” Drew said.
It’s nobody’s fault that Horford and Collins got hurt. But fixing it? That’s on Sund.
Yes, he’s in a difficult situation, but he gets paid for difficult situations. Doing nothing is beyond dangerous, unless the mindset of the organization is, “Well, let’s just try to make the playoffs as a No. 8 seed.”
Sund says he’s not opposed to making a trade. But he acknowledges, “Having a full roster and a full season would make that easier.”
When the Hawks were rolling during the road trip, Sund said a player approached him and asked the general manager if he had any concerns about the team.
Sund’s response: “I wanted to see how we would respond when there’s a bump in the road, like a losing streak.”
This qualifies as a bump. We’re about to find out something. Prepare to cover your eyes.
By Jeff Schultz