In many ways, the Hawks are no different than other organizations. They end the season with a loss and for several weeks plot their makeover.
Maybe they need a new coach. Maybe they need a new general manager. Maybe a star player who can be the rose one minute and the thorns the next needs to be traded. Or maybe a dysfunctional ownership group comes to the realization, “This isn’t working. Let’s go back to selling cellphone towers and newsletters. We’re outta here.”
But in at least one way, the Hawks so often are different from other organizations: No matter what decisions we logically think they can make this summer, it’s difficult not to come away with the belief that they’re still going to be in trouble when next season opens.
Most franchises give you hope. The Hawks give you hangovers.
The Braves missed the playoffs and did little this past winter to improve themselves, but one could reasonably believe they wouldn’t be subjected to a similar string of injuries and improbable slumps again. The Falcons were one-and-drummed in the playoffs again, but they have since filled two needs with a Pro Bowl cornerback and two offensive linemen in the draft. They are sufficient teases.
The Hawks just finished a season that was part impressive: 40-26, mostly without Al Horford. Also part depressingly reaffirming: They won their playoff opener against Boston, only to inexcusably lay an egg at home in Game 2 when Rajon Rondo was suspended, look catatonic in Game 4 and ultimately had too many brain lapses against a veteran team, losing the series.
The spin from franchise officials will be: “Next year, we’ll be healthy. Next year will be different.” Really?
The Atlanta Spirit tried to sell the team, had a deal fall through, then tried to convince everybody they were suddenly reborn and committed. Even if we bought that as truth (work with me here), the owners couldn’t make it through the playoffs without another goof. Michael Gearon Jr. called out Kevin Garnett and referees before a potential elimination game in Boston, and then blamed the Journal-Constitution for reporting the comments. Garnett’s response included 28 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks and this verbal knockout: “I want to say thank you to the [Hawks] owner for giving me some extra gas. My only advice to him is next time he opens his mouth, actually know what he’s talking about — X’s and O’s versus checkbooks and bottom lines.”
Success and failure in every business always starts at the top, so an ownership change could only help. But the Hawks aren’t an enticing product. Think of them as a house with several cracks in the foundation. Most potential buyers say, “No thanks. I’ll bid on the place down the street.”
General manager Rick Sund doesn’t love it here. If we needed reminding of that, his contract is up but he doesn’t know if he wants to come back. If Sund (also among the lowest paid) leaves, it’s difficult imagining that an established GM would want this job because of the ownership’s reputation and the inherited roster issues.
Coach Larry Drew, one of the lowest-paid coaches in the NBA, is waiting to see if the team brings him back. The guess here is that the option in his contract will be picked up, but he won’t get an extension. It’s the cheapest, safest route for ownership.
The core of this roster never has won more than one round of playoffs and, regardless of who the owner, general manager and coach are next season, there are two major issues: Joe Johnson and Josh Smith.
Johnson reaffirmed in the playoffs that $20 million a year doesn’t buy heart or courage. His playoff shooting percentage: 37 percent, a career-low as a starter. He had games of 11, 9 and 15. He complained about not getting enough touches and double-teams. Rondo, Garnett and Paul Pierce stepped up at key moments for Boston. Stars do that. Johnson disappears.
Smith was the team’s best player this season. He helped bring the Hawks back late in Game 6. But when the Hawks trailed by a point with 10 seconds left and a play set up for Johnson broke down, Smith forced a 20-foot jumper and we slapped our foreheads again.
Where is the hope?
Drew was asked about his future Friday. But he looked like a man who cared more about his next two aspirin.
“It’s not something right now I’m going to worry about,” he said. “It’s been a long season. I just want to take a step back.”
If he returns, the view may not get better. This isn’t a simple makeover.
By Jeff Schultz