The Hawks needed to make a trade in the worst way, and the trade they made wasn’t the worst ever. It was OK. Not great, not awful. Just OK.
They shipped Mike Bibby, who was too old and not really a point guard anymore and imported Kirk Hinrich, who’s a good player but who hasn’t been exclusively a point guard himself. They shed Mo Evans, who was expendable, and Jordan Crawford, about whose promise they’d raved only last summer, and acquired Hilton Armstrong, who’s averaging 1.9 points and 2.8 rebounds.
Best-case scenario: Hinrich does his hybrid-guard act — he used to be quite good at it, but his numbers haven’t been anything special the past four seasons — and puts the other Hawks in the right position and this team manages to win a first-round series.
Worst-case scenario: Hinrich fails to mesh with Joe Johnson — say what you want about Bibby, but he and Johnson made a nice tandem — and the Hawks, who have bombed out in Round 2 the past two seasons, bomb out in Round 1 this spring.
Either way, the addition of Hinrich and Armstrong is no cause for re-calibration of this team’s ceiling. The Hawks aren’t much different today than they’ve been for the past three years. They’re a pretty good team in an Eastern Conference that keeps getting more competitive at the top.
If the notion was to find a galvanizing talent at this deadline, they failed. The man that would have remade the local club just got traded to New Jersey, and he was, fittingly enough, one of the two famous men on whom general manager Billy Knight passed to draft Marvin Williams in 2005. Utah moved to trade Deron Williams, and the Hawks apparently weren’t in the bidding. (Deron Williams was picked one spot ahead of Chris Paul, and the two have long ranked, to the Hawks’ lasting chagrin, among the NBA’s five best point guards.)
Instead the Hawks landed Hinrich, who’s a solid pro but not an All-Star, and Armstrong, who’s a younger Jason Collins. And it’s clear the Hawks were the desperate party here: Why else trade three players for two and throw in a first-round pick to boot? That’s a high price to pay for a hybrid guard who was made superfluous in Chicago by Derrick Rose and who isn’t needed in Washington because of John Wall.
Say this, though, for Rick Sund: At least he did something. At least he acknowledged what had become blatant: This team as constituted had reached its peak and was on the descent. It hasn’t fallen to pieces yet — it’s still fifth in the East — and it’s surely too talent to collapse utterly, but the talent that had been compiled and nurtured by both Knight and Sund has topped out. It needs something else, even if the something else is little more than change for change’s sake.
Two NBA teams had had the same starting lineup since February 2008: One is the Celtics, who’ve won a title and graced another NBA final; the other was the Hawks, who hadn’t managed to win a game beyond the first round. Bibby was the last of that starting five to arrive — he came by way of a February deal with Sacramento — and he wasn’t the Bibby of old at any time in his Atlanta stay. But he was a solid pro who knew how to play, and without him these Hawks might never have made the playoffs at all.
Now he’s gone, and it was past time for him to leave. This trade is probably enough to keep the Hawks ahead of the Knicks in the East, probably not enough to elevate them above Orlando for fourth place. It gives them hope in the sense that something has been done, but the right something again eluded this franchise. Deron Williams, the guy they needed back in 2005 and needed today, got traded on Wednesday, and it wasn’t to the Hawks.
By Mark Bradley