Mike Woodson might have too many players. As problems go, this is among the better ones. Indeed, it beats the heck out of the issue Woodson faced when he arrived here in 2004 — having no players whatsoever.
“That team [the 2004-05 Hawks, who lost 69 games] was gutted,” Woodson said Wednesday, speaking before the grown-up Hawks were to open their season against Indiana. “We were in rebuilding mode. We counted on young guys to get better — Marvin [Williams] and Smoove [Josh Smith] and Al [Horford], and even Joe [Johnson] was young — and they have. And if they continue to grow, we’ve got a chance to be in the hunt the next three or four years.”
And they do. But first Woodson has to wrangle a roster unlike any he has had. He has to find minutes for 11 legitimate NBA players, and not many teams ever placate 11 men. So, Woodson was asked, can he?
“It’s something I haven’t done,” he said. “And I will not sacrifice games just to satisfy someone.”
Then this: “It’s important to get a rotation down, and I haven’t quite done that yet. You can’t find 30 minutes a night for 11 or 12 guys.”
Fun with numbers: The Hawks kept seven of their top eight players, drafted Jeff Teague, traded for Jamal Crawford and signed Joe Smith and Jason Collins as free agents. That makes 11 men, 10 of whom have professional pedigrees. And Woodson says of Teague: “He played well enough in preseason to earn some time on the floor. I’m going to play him tonight.”
But now the Hawks have six perimeter players — Mike Bibby, Johnson, Crawford, Teague, Williams and Mo Evans. As Woodson conceded: “It’s not going to be easy to play all six.” Especially if Johnson slides to small forward and takes some minutes there.”
More Woodson: “I wasn’t interested in bringing young guys in [this summer]. We needed veteran guys who’d fit a piece of the puzzle. Our draft choice is going to be our young guy now. And if [Teague] continues to do it over a long haul, he’ll get minutes. I’ve been pretty pleased so far.”
The interior riddle is simpler: Five men for two positions. Horford and Josh Smith to start, Zaza Pachulia and Joe Smith and Collins to relieve.
“It’s important for [bench] guys to know their roles,” Woodson said. “Jamal has got to score. Joe Smith has to defend and rebound. Jason Collins has to defend and give hard fouls and do the dirty work … You’ve got to play well enough to earn your time on the floor.”
There will be difficult moments ahead. Not everyone will work enough to suit him, and one or two will say so publicly. But that’s OK. So long as Woodson establishes a working second unit and eases the load on his starters, the increased depth will yield an increase in victories. Besides, it’s better to have good guys sitting than not have them at all.
“I remember last year after Al got hurt those two times,” Woodson said. “We were exposed. Al’s the one guy I feared going down. But having Joe Smith and Collins, that’s a help.”
It is. Still, it will take some time to assimilate these glad new tidings. The Hawks having too much talent: What’s next? The Thrashers having a glut at goaltender?
And with that: The floor is open for your questions, comments, song requests. I’ll be honored and privileged to chat with any and all of you during tonight’s game. Which I believe the Hawks will win by 23 points.