The Hawks: Stuck in the rut of not being good enough

Stephen Jackson (right) made the game-winner Saturday. Joe Johnson (left) did not. (AP photo)

Stephen Jackson (right) made the game-winner Saturday, which meant Joe Johnson (left) did not. (AP photo by David Goldman)

The Hawks have become that strangest of creatures — a team with a good record that almost nobody takes seriously. They’re on pace to win 51 games, down two from last season, but where that aggregation was seen (at least by some, this writer included) as a threat, this one isn’t regarded as even a nuisance. The reason being:

This team is essentially the same as last season’s, and we saw in Round 2 against Orlando how threatening those Hawks really were. They played four games, winning none, losing by an NBA-record aggregate of 101 points.

All that has changed is that Jason Collins, who can’t really play, plays a bit more, and Larry Drew is the coach, though to call him a new coach is to ignore his six seasons as Mike Woodson’s chief assistant. What we see is a team that has shown us its limits but has been kept together anyway.

To say these Hawks have been bad would be incorrect. They’re 33-20, and they awoke Sunday in fourth place in the East, a half-game ahead of the team that undressed them last spring. But Orlando made two massive-but-not-necessarily-smart trades in December because general manager Otis Smith believed his Magic as constituted could go no further.

The Hawks, on the other hand, haven’t dared to dare. Heck, they didn’t bother to go outside the organization to find a coach. They seem content with where they are, even if it’s their audience has begun to avert its eyes.

Through 26 home games the Hawks have averaged 14,613 patrons, which puts them 25th in a 30-team league. That’s down nearly 2,000 a game from  last season. They won 53 games, claimed the No. 3 seed in the NBA East and kept their best player from leaving as a free agent  … and they’re losing fans by the bushel? How does that work?

Like this: Folks got excited when the Hawks took Boston to a Game 7 in 2008, excited again when the team won its Round 1 series against Miami in 2009. That was progress. What happened against Orlando in 2010 was progress halted, and the ham-handed Atlanta Spirit punted its chance to import a coach capable of taking this team higher. In a summer where the Spirit spent $120 million to keep Joe Johnson, it still came off as cheap by settling for a career assistant. (Yep, that’s the Spirit.)

After Tuesday’s 34-point home loss to sub-.500 Philadelphia, Drew hinted at a lineup change, but his big move Saturday was to start Jason Collins at center, which this coach has already tried. Collins managed four points, one rebound and five fouls — and didn’t play in the fourth quarter. But even this tiny tweak had consequences.

Starting Collins meant moving Al Horford to power forward and Josh Smith to the perimeter, and here’s what happens when the league’s most dynamic 5-4 pairing is rendered a 4-3: Eighteen of the first 28 shots taken by Horford and Smith were standstill jumpers. (Horford didn’t shoot a free throw all game.) The Hawks led by 22 points in the second quarter because those shots were falling; they lost at the end because they’d stopped falling.

To be fair, the Hawks did seek to work the ball inside to Horford late — too late, alas. Thus was their 34-point loss to a 23-27 opponent followed by an at-the-buzzer loss against a 22-31 opponent. And now the Hawks take to the road for the next seven games.

“We’ll get it figured out,” Smith said afterward, but it’s fair to wonder how. Marvin Williams again seems lost. (He had two points and one rebound off the bench against Charlotte.) They’re getting nothing from Jeff Teague and Jordan Crawford, their past two No. 1 picks, and nothing from Josh Powell and Etan Thomas, their summer big-men acquisitions. They need to make a major move, but the only viable candidate to leave is Smith, the most gifted Hawk since Dominique Wilkins.

They are, in a word, stuck. The Hawks have proved they’re talented; they’ve also proved they’re not so talented as to be competitive beyond Round 1 of the playoffs. They’re last season’s team without last season’s promise.

By Mark Bradley

139 comments Add your comment

"Chef" Tim Dix

February 13th, 2011
2:25 pm

Chef back on top!

"Chef" Tim Dix

February 13th, 2011
2:28 pm

Al, untouchable.

They would be wise to acquire Steve Nash.

Josh is Josh and Joe is, well, really, really well paid.

Tee

February 13th, 2011
2:30 pm

Why Larry Drew puts in cold players like Mo Evans and Damien Wilkins in crunch time is maddening. Jordan Crawford simply is wasting his time on the bench, the Hawks would be better off having him play in the D-League.

[...] The Hawks aren't bad, but neither are they good enoughAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Stephen Jackson (right) made the game-winner Saturday, which meant Joe Johnson (left) did not. (AP photo by David Goldman) The Hawks have become that strangest of creatures — a team with a good record that almost nobody takes seriously. …Jackson caps 'Cats comebackSan Francisco ChronicleNBA: Stephen Jackson caps Charlotte Bobcats' big comeback to burn AtlantaSan Jose Mercury NewsBobcats-Hawks PreviewCBSSports.comMiamiHerald.com -USA Today -SB Nation (blog)all 326 news articles » Related Posts:Jazz-Bobcats Preview – CBSSports.comCharlotte Bobcats (9-16) at Atlanta Hawks (16-11), 7:30 pm – MiamiHerald.comHawks lose at Dallas – Atlanta Journal ConstitutionBobcats-Jazz Preview – CBSSports.comBox score – USA Today [...]

Mark Bradley

February 13th, 2011
2:30 pm

Chef, kudos.

BlawgDawg

February 13th, 2011
2:31 pm

And ASG wonders why the building is half empty most nights? Last night’s collapse against Charlotte says all you need to know. Pathetic. I’ll not return.

Tony from Stone Mountain

February 13th, 2011
2:32 pm

I think its time for a trade!

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Mark Bradley

February 13th, 2011
2:33 pm

It is time for a trade. But I don’t see a sizable one coming.

Steve

February 13th, 2011
2:35 pm

Mark, why is it do you think that the Hawks have NEVER gone past the second round in the playoffs? You would think over 40+ year it would happen once. The Braves and Falcons have made it happen but why not the Hawks? You would think just once they would shock everyone like the Braves in 91 or Falcons in 98.

Biff Pocaroba Fan Club

February 13th, 2011
2:41 pm

Marvin Williams picked over Chris Paul is still the one move that has halted this franchise into eternal mediocrity. The Hawks are now stuck with an average at best Marvin Williams. They would be a top 5 team for sure if they had drafted Chris Paul.

Mark Bradley

February 13th, 2011
2:43 pm

That’s a good question, Steve. And it hasn’t always been that they’ve run into a team better than they are in Round 2. They could have beaten the Celtics in 1988 and the Pacers in 1994, and they were the higher seed when they got swept by the Knicks in 1999.

My kneejerk response: The Hawks have had good players, but they’ve never had one of the three best players in the NBA. (Dominique Wilkins was close, but he played in the era of Larry Bird and Michael Jordan and Earvin Johnson.) And this is, as we know too well, a sport ruled by superstars.

And you don’t often trade for a player of that caliber. You get lucky and draft him. And the Hawks have never been very lucky in the lottery or especially adept at drafting.

Mark Bradley

February 13th, 2011
2:44 pm

Biff, that was the great mystery of the Marvin pick: The Hawks already had young wings in Josh Childress and Smith but they lacked a point guard. They had their chance to take either Deron Williams or Chris Paul. They declined.

Brian

February 13th, 2011
2:45 pm

They have performed moderately better against elite teams, which could pay off in the playoffs.
Aside from that, it does appear the management is willing to settle for mediocrity for the next couple of seasons. Getting rid of Marvin would be a good start. If no major moves are made, we’ll be a 4-6 seed for the next couple of years while being no major threat in the playoffs. I guess it beats being horrible, but being in stuck in basketball purgatory isn’t exactly a barrel of monkeys either.

Mark Bradley

February 13th, 2011
2:47 pm

Last night’s comeback was the biggest in Bobcat annals. And, according to ESPN.com, it was the biggest blown lead by the Hawks since March 2001.

Steve

February 13th, 2011
2:51 pm

Good points Mark! At least it’s almost baseball season!

Najeh Davenpoop

February 13th, 2011
2:53 pm

Good article, although the guy who normally benefits most from the big lineup is Al Horford, whose inability to get to the line yesterday was probably at least in part due to lingering effects of his injury (which was clearly affecting him).

Mark Bradley

February 13th, 2011
2:55 pm

Horford benefits from the big lineup because he gets to shoot more jumpers; I’m not sure the Hawks benefit from it, though. They’ve got enough shooters. And he’s their only post presence. (I wouldn’t consider Zaza Paculia a presence.)

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Sam

February 13th, 2011
3:10 pm

Why does nobody think about trading Jamal? I know how good he’s been off the bench…but I’d much rather trade him than Josh. Plus, his expiring contract alone should be worth something, not to mention how well he’s played for us in his 6th man role. Surely Jamal and a #1 could bring back a Mo Williams to run the point…

mountain_jim

February 13th, 2011
3:10 pm

So what rock did Billy Knight crawl under? Where is he today?

Still spending Hawks money after making that incredible gaft that still hamstrings us today?

And Sund’s picks have been quite underwhelming so far. Or at least undeveloped. And what have we ever got for Childress? Nothing so far.

Since the game last night was on NBA TV, I got to see it. Wish I had not wasted those hours.

Boom Dizzle

February 13th, 2011
3:12 pm

Good points Mark…….it’s clear to almost everybody (except ASG/Rick Sund) that something needs to change with this team (and we aren’t talking about the coach)….However what can we do? Nobody’s taking Marvin, Bibby couldn’t cover a baby with a blanket and Joe is well compenstated for. Only valuable trade assets on this team are Jamal, Josh. (Horford’s going nowhere….)

JeJe

February 13th, 2011
3:15 pm

LOL @ LD hinting at a lineup change then chickening out

What lineup change? Starting midget Mo Evans? How were JOE OR DAMIEN NOT ON STEPHEN JACKSON ON THAT LAST POSSESSION? WE ALL KNOW MO EVANS HAS NO WINGSPAN. JESUS

LOL TEAGUE CAN’T EVEN WIN THE STARTING JOB FROM BIBBY. THIS HAS TO BE AN ESPN HEADLINE BECAUSE IT’S A JOKE. TEAGUE CAN’T EVEN OUTBEAT PATHETIC OVERWEIGHT BIBBY IN PRACTICE

AND EVERY 3 BIBBY MADE LAST NIGHT WAS CONTESTED – WHAT A GREAT PLAYER!

Jesse

February 13th, 2011
3:16 pm

They need someone who will penetrate…. not another jump shooter. Trade JJ for Melo… and let Melo walk after an entertaining playoff run, and spend the money on some free agents, and semi start over.

dap01

February 13th, 2011
3:19 pm

It’s not the players, it the coach and the management who assembled such an imbalanced team.

Bibby sucks at everything yet he is our starter. Defense at the guard positions does not even exist.

Larry apparently does not have a clue.

Sund is only better than Billy Knight. They are the worst GM in sports.

The ownership is the worst owners in sports.

The players and the fans are not to blame.

Mark Bradley

February 13th, 2011
3:19 pm

Not sure you could get full value for Jamal C. And he’s very valuable to the Hawks.

dap01

February 13th, 2011
3:20 pm

The Hawks suck!

jgsbrids

February 13th, 2011
3:20 pm

i said last week whenever the hawks are down 20 it ends up being a 30 or even 40 point loss. but if we’re every lucky enough to build a 20 point lead–that the other team either gets back in it and makes it close or in most cases overtakes us and wins the game. it happened again last night. no excuses the hawks are a dumb basketball team. we need to trade whatever player a team wants for steve nash, grant hill and lopez from phoenix. we need smart players–so if they want one of the core–give them one! i’m sorry and i do like horford, smith, joe and jamal–but we know we’re going with them–might as well take a shot and see what happens.

kind of reminds me of when the falcons had deion and no one wanted to trade him–i always said we could win 3 to 5 games with him or without him–might as well get something for him.

steve brown

February 13th, 2011
3:26 pm

Die hard fans want at least a long shots chance at a championship. We don’t have that and it is why Gearon’s logic fails. Change would at least show us that management was trying to go for it all, not just respectability (of which we here in Atlanta have had our bellies full of for too long with only 1 world championship-the Braves). You can’t fool us any more. If you are not working towards a championship contender every day you are not doing your job. Hey Hawks-you are not doing your job! Making moves is a risky business, but some risk is far better than boring your fan base to tears.

ryan

February 13th, 2011
3:35 pm

That is disappointing if the Hawks do nothing at the deadline if they have an early exit again its time to time to start trying to get under the cap look to 2012 because its going to be deep .

Happy St. Pat's

February 13th, 2011
3:36 pm

Why is it that Atlanta sports teams “just don’t show up” on a regular basis? Predictably, every single one mails it in on a regular basis. Exactly how important is winning to these organizations, as opposed to managing decent financials? They’ve all defaulted often enough that I have a hard time buying in. Not awful (except when they are), but definitely going nowhere–not this year, not next year. The Hawks’ race for playoff position doesn’t even matter. If they make the top 8 in the East, they go to the playoffs–hard to imagine that they won’t. But once they get there, they’re done, no matter their position going in. Might as well clear out their lockers now.

Peter

February 13th, 2011
3:37 pm

Current needs ……legit Center, legit point, legit small forward……..

Major problem ……. over paid for JJ….. how he fades away, and doesn’t have the personal make up to show unrelenting leadership or desire to be like Mike, Kobe, or any proven scorer / leader of a championship caliber team.

Scoring 11 points last night against Charlotte….showed me his mettle..

Please you can call him an All-start if you want, but he is a role player there as well.

Michael Gearon Jr.

February 13th, 2011
3:41 pm

Mark,

I think you are missing the big pictures:

We had a TWENTY-PLUS point lead on a team owned by THE GREATEST PLAYER IN THE HISTORY OF THE NBA. Can’t you see this?

We have FINALLY arrived. We have a WINNING RECORD at home AND on the road. How many Hawks teams in the last 10 years have achieved this MONUMENTAL goal?

Let me rehash a few ideas I have emphasized over the years:
1) We WILL make a trade and go into the luxury tax for the right player. Right now, out of the 29 other teams, we feel none has any player that will make us better. If you put LeBron James or Dwyane Wade in a Hawks uniform, we will NOT be a better team. Replace ZaZa with Dwight and we are NOT better

2) Josh Smith is the closest thing in this league to LeBron James. He is a MASTERFUL jumpshooter with LOADS of maturity and he speaks VERY eloquently, like LeBron does.

3) Rick Sund is the best GM in professional sports. He has EXCELLENT Public Relations skills and is a good guy to have a beer with

We are now an ELITE team

ryan

February 13th, 2011
3:43 pm

Everyone has had it with waiting on the Hawks at least the Braves make moves even with the Liberty group Falcons and Braves seem to be the only teams that have buzz Bon Jovi wanting a piece of the Falcons .

jfreak13713

February 13th, 2011
3:57 pm

Amen! They have decide is this Horford’s team of Josh SMIFF? I say Horford because he shoots at a higher percentage and he seems to be LEADER and not a crybaby?

Nate D

February 13th, 2011
4:05 pm

Mark BRadley cab we not just trade smith for Andre BOgut. Maybe they would take MArvin.

Nate D

February 13th, 2011
4:05 pm

Nate D

February 13th, 2011
4:07 pm

YOUr stupid michael gearon JR.

Whopper Dawg

February 13th, 2011
4:17 pm

Mark, well, yeah. Where was this column when they were signing Joe Johnson to the millstone contract. This team would have been beaten by a healthy Buck team in the first round last year. No free agents were signed and nothing through the draft, so what do you expect?

In the NBA, most teams float in the nether zone of being not good enough to contend, but good enough to be out of the top five draft picks that could substantially improve your team. And when you get a top 5 pick, if you whiff, then you stay in the nether zone. Witness the mind boggling pick of an undeveloped wingman to go with your other undeveloped wingman while passing on two all pro point guards which you desperate needed and still need.

Poor management = bad coaches and mediocre team. Not a lot of mystery here.

Let’s look at the first rounders

10 24 James Doesn’t play
09 19 Teague Doesn’t play
08 00 None
07 03 Horford Great pick
07 11 Law Gone
06 05 Williams Gone
05 02 Williams Rotational player
04 06 Childress Gone
04 17 Smith Solid starter

So, in the past six years, with 8 first round draft choices, three of which were in the top 5, five in the top 11, the Hawks netted one great player, a solid starter and a rotational player. At the rate, you will never, ever be a contender. Ever.

ryan

February 13th, 2011
4:19 pm

Marvin Williams was rated way to high in that draft Andrew Bogut and CP3 should have been 1 and 2 .

dawg4u

February 13th, 2011
4:27 pm

Michael Gearon Jr. – I’ve heard that name before somewhere but all I remember is that it wasn’t good.

Dejay

February 13th, 2011
4:42 pm

Steve Brown has it right, a bullseye on the target. The Hawks could get away with being okay if they were in one-horse towns like Salt Lake, Sac Town, and San Antonio. That simply won’t fly here. Watching the Braves find new and creative ways to lose in the playoffs for well over a decade while the manager preciding over it not get any heat but a sendoff instead ruined sports watching in this town FOREVER. Just being decent was fine back in 1984; the bar has since been raised. It’s too bad the folks running this team hasn’t gotten the memo yet.

NCBravesFan

February 13th, 2011
4:43 pm

Am I alone in thinking that Atlanta could be a really terrific NBA city, if only the Hawks organization made the resource commitment to getting there? I think players would love to play in ATL if the Hawks approach to scouting, drafting and player/roster development was more competent.

Buddy Grizzard

February 13th, 2011
4:43 pm

Joe Johnson for Antawn Jamison straight up… dump this lemon contract while you can.

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Loserville USA

February 13th, 2011
4:44 pm

Hawks are not Wunderlich material….except Horford. Dumbest team in the NBA by far.

Stirg d'Nahsif

February 13th, 2011
4:47 pm

I know this is going to be filed under “Wishful Thinking” but if we can, somehow, reunite Horford with Joakim Noah, it would immediately place us as number one contenders in the east. The question would be “who do we give up to get him?”.

Ted M

February 13th, 2011
5:02 pm

Its virtually hopeless for several years. Over paying JJ just for PR reasons was stupid and now look at their crappy attendance. If the trade Smith they will likely be worse.

eastlaketb

February 13th, 2011
5:29 pm

Only the hawks can be up by 22 points and lose. ASG & SUND- its now or never for this franchise. make a trade or 2. Yall are losing money and fans by the minute. Ther is No exciment in the so call highlight factory

AUG2424

February 13th, 2011
5:35 pm

Do not trade Al or Josh! Trade JJ, Marvin, or Jamal Crawford. We need a point guard more than anything. We have not addressed this issue since Mookie Blaylock. We need a Chauncey Billups type that can push Josh and make the team fight hard. Teague is not the answer, he is too passive and can’t shoot. The reason the fans don’t show up is because this team puts no effort forward. Obviously, Larry Drew is having the same problems as Mike Woodson. It’s the players not the coaches!