The Hawks, it’s safe to say, have been better than most of us envisioned. But now, the season’s midpoint having just passed, the discussion changes. Is better good enough?
Because I know you tire of my bloviation — heck, I tire of my bloviation — I’ve decided to give you folks a slight break. I’ve enlisted the help of two of the best Hawks bloggers around: Bret LaGree of Hoopinion and Jason Walker of The Human Highlight Blog. (I would encourage you to patronize both sites; I do.)
Question No. 1: Are the Hawks legit contenders?
LaGree: “The Hawks have turned the East into a four-team race and they’re not necessarily the fourth team in that race. Obviously the path to the NBA finals would be much easier if they draw Boston in the second round than if have to go through Cleveland and Orlando. Even though the Hawks would not be favored in a seven-game series against either Cleveland or Orlando, they’re capable of beating either of those teams.”
Walker: “The Hawks have the talent to seriously compete for the championship, yes. At this halfway point in the season, the Hawks are among the elite in all advanced statistical categories, so the talent is producing at a top shelf rate. On the court, they have dispatched the Celtics three times [once even with Kevin Garnett], showed an even matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and beaten some top Western teams [Denver, Dallas, Portland, Utah, Phoenix] proving their mettle as a top team there as well … This is the season the Hawks get out of the second round of the playoffs.”
Me: The Hawks are good enough to win two playoff series and reach the Eastern finals. I don’t know if they can win three.
Question No. 2: Do the Hawks need to make a midseason trade?
LaGree: “I think about this a lot — because who doesn’t like hypothetical transactions? — but I struggle to see a plausible scenario where the Hawks have someone to trade that another team wants and they can afford to give up. Barring a serious injury, I expect they’ll stand pat. Which shouldn’t surprise us as continuity would be the defining characteristic of this team’s ascent.”
Walker: “What might be missing from the Hawks is a super-duper-star to make a path to a championship easier, but I don’t believe the Hawks are going to or should disrupt what they have to make such a deal. They are going to have to go the Detroit Piston share-the-ball route to a championship.”
Me: I don’t see an obvious personnel match that can be gotten before the trade deadline. Antawn Jamison of the Wizards, you say? He’s 33, he makes $11 million and his contract has two more years to run. And don’t the Hawks have to save money to keep Joe Johnson this summer?
Question No. 3:Why aren’t more fans coming to Philips Arena? (The Hawks are 21st in a 30-team league in home attendance.)
LaGree: “We had a good discussion about attendance on the site last week. The consensus seemed to be some combination of: 1. Traffic makes it difficult to get to Philips by 7 p.m. on weeknights from a fair percentage of the metro area; 2. Joe Johnson’s style of play, though effective, doesn’t capture the imagination of the casual fan that checked out on the Hawks sometime during the previous decade; 3. There just may not be a lot of basketball fans here.”
Walker: “Atlanta fans need the big draw to take them to sporting events. Big names and big events get their attention and their dollars. The Hawks packed them in when they had Dominique. The Falcons [did] with Michael Vick, the Braves with the national attention in the early ’90s … The Hawks aren’t there yet — but they’re getting closer. As of today, they are 10th in road attendance, their best showing in a long time and a litmus test of their ‘it’ factor. For over a decade, and even in the Lenny Wilkens years, this team hasn’t been the most fun to watch, but they are now and being at Philips Arena when things are happening is a great use of the sports dollar.”
Me: I thought the crowds would have picked up by now, but I’ve about given up trying to figure out the Atlanta sports fans. But I do think there are enough people in this city who like basketball to fill an arena on a regular basis. Maybe by May it will happen. Maybe.