The Hawks proved they aren’t a mess, but they lack a mesh

Even the usually splendid Al Horford wasn't himself in Round 2. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Al Horford wasn't himself in Round 2. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The fun part ended four minutes into Game 6. The serious stuff starts now. The Hawks must decide if 12 playoff games, half of which they won, were enough to override a regular season of diminishing returns. They must decide if winning two games in Round 2, as opposed to getting swept, constitutes the kind of progress that can be sustained.

The Hawks did a nice salvage job. Had they bombed out in Round 1, there’d have been no compelling reason to hold this team together or to keep this coach. Larry Drew’s job now seems safe — he did all he could in the playoffs, and much of what he did was inspired — but the question of the Hawks’ core remains.

Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Marvin Williams have been together since 2007. They’ve won three playoff series but never two in one spring. When they play well, as happened against Orlando and for three of the six games against Chicago, they’re an imposing group. (”A quality team,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said Thursday, speaking of the Hawks.) Alas, they don’t play as well as often as they should.

The unscheduled emergence of Jeff Teague gives the Hawks hope that next season, with a real point guard, might be better. (Still at issue is whether Teague is as good as he looked against the Bulls, and if so, why both Drew and Mike Woodson failed to play him before this.) But the Hawks didn’t lose to Chicago because they had lesser players; they lost because their players don’t complement one another the way the Bulls do.

Said Horford: “They were more solid, more consistent.”

Said Smith: “They know their roles. They fit together so well.”

Said  Jamal Crawford: “They play hard every second.”

Can we say any of that about the Hawks? The playing-hard part doesn’t fit: The Hawks mailed in Game 5 and Round 1 and Game 3 of Round 2. And we couldn’t really call a team that shoots so many jump shots “solid” or “consistent.” As far as knowing roles: The share-the-ball component of Drew’s offense was taken by too many Hawks as a license to jack up jump shots, thereby lessening dynamic talents like Smith and Horford.

The shifting of Horford from center to power forward and back appeared to affect him. In the six games against the Bulls, he scored in double figures only three times. On Thursday, the day he was named third-team All-NBA — at center, mind you — he made two baskets. For the first time since he became a Hawk, it was possible to be disappointed in Al Horford.

The problem with moving Horford to power forward is that it curtails his back-to-the-basket work, which is quite good, and pushes Smith even further away. It essentially leaves the Hawks without a small forward, which shows us how far Marvin Williams — he had two points  in the final three Round 2 games — has fallen.

Who should be traded?

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The advent of Teague means the Hawks will have one new starter next fall. To break the staleness that has settled in, they need another. Horford is too solid to trade and Johnson too expensive, and nobody wants Williams. (And Crawford is no lock to be re-upped as a free agent. The Hawks are perilously close to the luxury tax.) By process of elimination, that leaves Smith.

The reason not to trade him is that he’ll go somewhere else and make All-Pro. The reason to trade him is that he has become a hugely gifted distraction. He played very well in Games 4,5 and 6, but it took so much coaxing and prodding from Drew that you had to ask: Should a guy who has been in the NBA since 2004 not yet know where his strengths lie?

Late Thursday the Hawks’ general manager offered this appraisal. “We had a chance to go from good to great and we fell short,” Rick Sund said. “We made some progress, but we didn’t finish it.”

With these same players, is an Eastern Conference finals run likely? The answer, I submit, is no. The talent is here, yes, but the blend — the attribute the Bulls have and the Hawks lack — isn’t apt to form with guys who’ve been together so long. The Hawks don’t need to blow up their roster, but they do need to change it. Even if it means sacrificing a talent of Smith’s magnitude, they must find a mesh.

By Mark Bradley

274 comments Add your comment

Mitchell

May 13th, 2011
11:06 am

Teague is the truth.

Here we go again

May 13th, 2011
11:06 am

Kudos, Here we go again.

Mitchell

May 13th, 2011
11:06 am

Nice try, here we go again.

Mark Bradley

May 13th, 2011
11:07 am

Kudos, Mitchell.

UGAFan

May 13th, 2011
11:09 am

Mark, do you see Trey Thompkins as a possibility for the Hawks in the upcoming draft?

PMC

May 13th, 2011
11:09 am

Marvin Williams hasn’t fallen. He never had anywhere to fall. Guy peaked in High School and has been stealing money since. He needs to go back to UNC, finish college and go sell insurance.

Mitchell

May 13th, 2011
11:09 am

Is Marvin even an NBA player? I say no.

PMC

May 13th, 2011
11:11 am

Or Marvin could go model pants for Lane Bryant

Phillip

May 13th, 2011
11:11 am

What are some possible players the Hawks could add? I think if they don’t sign Crawford (I believe he made 10 million this season), and they find a trade for Marvin (maybe package him with a future pick) then we can add someone like JR Smith, Andrew Bynum, or Marc Gasol.

mike

May 13th, 2011
11:12 am

J Smoove and Marvin and a draft pick for Bynum and Odom? Maybe LA’s sweep has them desperate for change??

Here we go again

May 13th, 2011
11:12 am

Argh, so close. And yes, I agree you have to keep Teague. JJohnson has our hands tied I’m afraid. I can’t see us getting any further than we’ve gotten over the past couple seasons because he’s just not a next-level elite player/leader and you can’t trade him thanks to that stupid contract. The hawks did with him the same thing the braves did with derek lowe “maybe if you pay him like a superstar, he’ll magically turn into one!”

Mitchell

May 13th, 2011
11:13 am

Ugafan, hawks don’t have a first round pick because they blew it on a pg even though the real pg (teague) was right in front of them. Oh yeah, we also lost Crawford who would of been a viable replacement for Jamal. The kid put up 40 against the heat. Thompinks is a projected lottery to mid first round pick.

Sage of Bluesland

May 13th, 2011
11:14 am

Teague: Too small of a sample-size.

Horford: The most overrated, yet undercriticized player and “leader” since Keith (ankle-grabs-eight-yards-downfield) Brooking.

The rest: Not worth much.

In sum, trade all–ALL–that you can and start the construction process completely over and hope for better ‘luck’ and decision-making next time. No one should be immune from the trading/cutting block.

This will be a repeat of the early- to mid-90s Hawks, good enough to make the playoffs but not to threaten the elites….with a resulting draft pick which is never high enough to get that true impact player (which is usually reserved for the top-two spots).

It is what it is. The seeds of bad-decisions are in full blossom. Time to replant.

GaDawg

May 13th, 2011
11:17 am

Hawks are screwed as long as they are owned by ASG ( see Thrashers). Gotta make a play for Dwight Howard, trade Josh Smith and Crawford probably going somewhere where he can continue to not play defense. Trade Marvin and the Thrashers zamboni for a vetrean center.

TampaDawg

May 13th, 2011
11:17 am

I like Teague but no matter what we talk about we need a true center. There are a lot of power forwards that can play with their back to the basket and shoot jump shots when needed. Tim Duncan, Zach Randolph even KG and Pau Gasol. The problem is we have two good power forwards no small forward and no Center. I like Josh Smith, but if you have to trade either him or Horford, Smith is the one that would have to go.

sam

May 13th, 2011
11:17 am

I say keep Teague and Horford and trade the rest. Time for a DNA change in this crew.

steve brown

May 13th, 2011
11:17 am

Good riddance to this season, to watching this “team,” to the highlight factory and hopefully to Josh watch me lose smooth Smith.

UGAFan

May 13th, 2011
11:19 am

Thanks, mitchell…I forgot about that move. Those moves weren’t solid at all in my opinion.

Enrique Palazzo

May 13th, 2011
11:25 am

Mark, good work. I razz you a lot, but I will say you DO know your hoops brotha. I thought I would never say this, but I believe that either Joe J or Al need to be moved in order to put the missing pieces together. Smoothe really showed me that he is the type of talent that could move this team through the playoffs. Joe Johnson is so confounding….I feel like the same thing happened last year in the playoffs…how he can mysteriously disappear. He also used to be our best on ball defender, but he was a liability in this series covering Deng. Overall, good work Hawks in the playoffs –this team is really close.

bruce

May 13th, 2011
11:32 am

Hey Mark, Hope you can post a new story on the Braves soon… seeing the DLowe on braves page for too long… maybe in game blogging this weekend?

Herschel Talker

May 13th, 2011
11:35 am

FIRE MARK RICHT

gcs

May 13th, 2011
11:35 am

Trade Al Horford? He is the one they should build around.

The bottom line is that Larry Drew needs to be fired. Imagine what a Pat Riley or a Phil Jackson could’ve done with this team.
Get a REAL coach in there that is going to kick some backsides.

BTW, I am not completely sold on Jeff Teague. He has basically only played in 6 games and the 6th one was not so great.

.

BirdDirty

May 13th, 2011
11:39 am

What is this infatuation with Al Horford? When it was time to bang with Boozer and Noah, he was no where to be found. He likes to hang around the perimeter to much for me. And where is this “back to the basket” game you speak of Mark? It is nonexistent. Josh Smith has a better back to the basket game than Horford. Josh Smith is the only player that came out with some fire last night. I like Teague too. Joe Johnson just needs a kick in a$$. Everyone else is expendable. Including Larry Drew. He has no idea how to draw up plays to get his scorers easy looks. Hubie Brown said it best last night. “As you go deeper into the playoffs, defenses get tougher. Coaches have to find ways to put their scorers in situations where they can get their shot.” I agree 100%. Our coach cannot do that. That along with our lack of rebounding is what cost us this series. Plain and simple!!

Barry

May 13th, 2011
11:40 am

I’ve said it before, the hawks do not know their roles. Everybody wants to be the point guard, just because you can dribble the ball in a straight line does not mean you should lead the break Al, Marvin and Josh. Every body wants to take shots, but nobody wants to do the dirty work, except Za, and his skills are limited.

The hawks do not have that guy or guys that can consistently play at a high level. They have a bunch of mediocre players who have no leader and have no direction. When the going go tough, not one of our supposed start players and closers could get anything done consistently, Josh, Al, JJ, Josh…not one. Are the bulls that good that they can beat down two all stars, a 6th man of the year and border line allstar, without a wimper from either. maybe but at least go down with some dignity which the hawks could muster very little of. LD surrendered with 5 minutes left to go in the game. he had had enough of the embarassment. personally i would have left the hole crew out there to the very end to suffer the shame of it all.

Gwinnett Fred

May 13th, 2011
11:45 am

Sage: Get some new material – you post the same thing every time (even the Brooking line).

As for Smith – get him out of here. We do not need a Jeckyl-Hyde player like that. If “meshing” is indeed the biggest thing needed, that type of player, almost by definition, is a contradiction of terms.

Here are a couple things I’m not sure of and need answers.
1-If we just flat cut Williams, does that increase our cap room?
2-Do we even have a first round pick this year?
3-Who on the team is a free agent?

James

May 13th, 2011
11:45 am

We cant trade Joe becuase no other team wants his contract.If we trade Josh it will be a move that will be regretted for years.Trading Horford is out of the question and nobody wants Marvin.This team showed against Orlando how difficult they are to beat with the big lineup of Horford,Smith and Powell.I think the answer is a sollid true center and someone to get through to Josh that he’s not a jump shooter and they will be ok next year.Marvin Williams is just not as talented as Billy Knight told us..

BirdDirty

May 13th, 2011
11:45 am

Let me ask you genious’ this. If we trade Josh Smith, who is going to defend the basket, i.e., block shots? Al Horford? Zaza? Collins? This franchise would be foolish to trade Josh. This team will not go anywhere until we find a small forward (Al Thornton??), a center, and a coach (Drew is not the answer fans).

[...] The Hawks proved they aren'ta mess, but they lack a meshAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)The fun part ended four minutes into Game 6. The serious stuff starts now. The Hawks must decide if 12 playoff games, half of which they won, were enough to override a regular season of diminishing returns. They must decide if winning two games in …2011 NBA Playoff Recap 1924hourhiphopBulls Take Out Hawks, Heat AwaitOlogyBulls Vs. Hawks: Chicago Dominates To Advance To Eastern Conference FinalsSB NationProBasketballTalk -ESPN -The Desert Sunall 1,453 news articles » [...]

BjohnDawg

May 13th, 2011
11:46 am

dont be surprised if Jamal Crawford signs with some other team. His comment about ” They play hard every second”, may be pointed at his fustration with some of his teammates and their lack of 100% effort every time.

Some other thoughts:

1) Joe Johnson’s dribbling exhibitions are a bad as my typing skills.Hawks dont pay you millions for your dribbling.

2) Josh Smith….you are all star material in the paint. Like Will Smith told Kevin James in “hitch” , ” dont you dare do the Qtip, or the Pizza man, or the sprinkler on the dance floor”, someone needs to get it in your head that you are NOT a three point shooter. You are a beast around the basket and in the paint, you are an eunch at the three point line.

3) Teague….take your playoff performance and build a career out of playing that way every game, regular season and playoff for the next 10 years or so.

4) For God’s sakes Hawks, get a true center.

Gwinnett Fred

May 13th, 2011
11:49 am

@ BirdDirty:

To answer your question, if we trade Smith, I would certainly hope we would get a player or players back that would defend the basket and do so by getting their butt back down the court instead of barking at the refs if he thinks he just got fouled after hoisting another outside brick- al la Smoove.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

May 13th, 2011
11:50 am

A team that has been together since 2007 does not complement each other well? How does that happen. Obviously this team has the Scralet Letter in JJ. No where near a max guy. To nice, laid back player. Defers to the teammates to often, dribbles pass of late in shot clocking put Smith/Horford in tough shot selections. Smith not able to play with any time of consistent energy. The team is nice, will get in the playoffs but will NEVER make it to the Conference Finals with this collection of players.

IlliniDawg

May 13th, 2011
11:51 am

Consider it from this perspective: who is really worth watching – who really gets you excited when you see the Hawks play? Those are the guys you keep, and then the rest are trade fodder.

That means keeping Hinrich, Teague, Horford, and Crawford. And it means getting rid of Marvin, Josh, and Iso-Joe. There is no love loss for these three. Marvin isn’t even a sixth man, much less a starter. Josh is a head case – let someone else massage his ego. Iso-Joe only knows how to play one-on-one. I would enjoy watching a team without these three – even if it means that they don’t win as many games.

Cousin Vicker

May 13th, 2011
11:52 am

So if we trade Smith, would you finally be willing to move Al to the power forward position where he belongs? Noah completely dominated him on the boards. Al just doesn’t have the length to be a center. Your rationale in the article stated that the problem with moving Horford to pf means moving Smith away from the basket. Then you stated Smith is the piece the Hawks need to trade. So that becomes a moot point no?

South ga boy in the atl

May 13th, 2011
11:52 am

Glad you came around to my point of view, Mark. I’ve been saying we have to trade Josh and get a true center for 2 yrs. I said 2 yrs ago that we have too many square pegs for round holes, thank you Billy Knight. He used 5 lottery picks on 5 forwards over 4 yrs. How stupid is that. Change that to 3 forwards, one PG, and a center and we would be in the eastern conf finals. The core was screwed up by Billy knight yrs ago. Gotta reshuffle the deck

BirdDirty

May 13th, 2011
11:53 am

1. Al Horford shots to many jumpshots and was afraid to bang with Boozer, Noah, and Taj Gibson;
2. Jeff Teague is a real PG;
3. Joe Johnson needs a kick in the pants by a real coach (see #4);
4. Larry Drew is not a real coach;
5. We had our backup-pg/sg for next year in Jordan Crawford and traded him;
6. Marvin Williams is a terrible;
7. The Hawks do not run any semblance of an offense;
8. Why don’t our players ever cut to the basket; and
9. Why didn’t our fans put on the white t-shirts like the OKC fans?

El Bravo

May 13th, 2011
11:53 am

After these playoffs three things became painfully obvious to me:
1) Jamal and JJ can not coexist. We can not have two shoot-first SGs that have an aversion to passing the ball. That stagnates the offense too much. Jamal has to and will go.
2) Smoove and Al can not coexist. We can not beat the elite teams with two power forwards on the court because we give up too big an advantage on the boards. One of them has to be leveraged for a true center.
3) LD is not the coach for this team. It is obvious that this team does not listen to LD. He waits for players to “address their on issues”. In fact, I would say that all of our starters regressed this season; JJ had a problem adjusting to the new offense and his production decreased by 3 PPG, Smoove increased his attempts from the perimeter and his effectiveness decreased from 0.50 to 0.47 FG%, Jamal went from being instant offense from the bench to a crapshoot that scored 4 less PPG, Marvin went from being a serviceable player to being a complete non-factor and Al’s disappearance act during the post-season was mind-blowing.

Our best course of action is to package Al, Jamal (sing and trade) and Kirk for a true center and a dump contract (Bynum and Artest?), otherwise we will be out again next year during the first or second round. This group is very close to their ceiling.

Bill Stanfill

May 13th, 2011
11:53 am

No doubt about it, Horford was the biggest disappointment in the series with the Bulls. He’s a keeper but he can’t be the main big man. He’s just not a big enough force offensively.

Marvin is a non-factor who seems bound to spending more and more time on the bench.

Josh Smith needs a new scene, a new city, a new start.

Teague’s time has come and should be projected as next year’s starting point guard.

The Hawks need to offer a package deal that includes Josh and Marvin and get the best return possible. And be aggressive as they can in the free agent market if they can’t get a solid big guy in the Josh/Marvin trade (and that trade has to be made).

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tmc

May 13th, 2011
11:54 am

agreed Marvin has sucked for many years. Yet the Atl Spirit locked him up with 7- 8 million a year for some completely moronic reason. No one wants him now.
Marvin will be skipping to the bank until his contract ends and then he will be getting ready for his role as “Grady” in the remake of Sanford & Son. LMAO!

El Bravo

May 13th, 2011
11:56 am

The best move we made this season was Orlando trading Lewis and Carter for Arenas and Turkuglu. Without that move we don’t make it out of the first round. The two wins in the second round are fools gold. These cats do not listen to LD… never have, never will…

Daniel Burse

May 13th, 2011
11:56 am

Just a thought and I will first admit that I have complained about Teague not playing too. But MAYBE he is playing so well NOW because he did sit and watch and learn on the bench and in practice as well.

BirdDirty

May 13th, 2011
11:57 am

Josh needs a real coach. Hasn’t had one since he’s been in Atlanta. Trade Al to Clipper land for Chris Kaman or Deandre Jordan straight up?

BirdDirty

May 13th, 2011
12:00 pm

@Gwinnett Fred

You hope we get a player that can defend the basket? True Josh needs to cut down on the jumpers. But tell me this, why is this offense designed so he is standing behind the three point line? Did you see Jamal last night pass up a jump shot only to give it to Josh with the shot clock running down? It happens all the time. It all comes down to coaching. This is not a well coached team.

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El Bravo

May 13th, 2011
12:03 pm

BirdDirty, I agree. JJ, Josh and even Marvin can be coached-up by the right guy. LD managed to coach down all of our players. The only reason our play improved during the playoffs was Orlando’s inability to knock down open jumpers and the play of Josh Teague during the second round.

[...] The Hawks proved they aren'ta mess, but they lack a meshAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)The fun part ended four minutes into Game 6. The serious stuff starts now. The Hawks must decide if 12 playoff games, half of which they won, were enough to override a regular season of diminishing returns. They must decide if winning two games in …Bulls Take Out Hawks, Heat AwaitOlogy2011 NBA Playoff Recap 1924hourhiphopBulls Vs. Hawks: Chicago Dominates To Advance To Eastern Conference FinalsSB NationESPN -ProBasketballTalk -Chicago Sun-Timesall 1,393 news articles » Posts Related to The Hawks proved they aren'ta mess, but they lack a mesh – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) Tags: aren, atlanta journal constitution, Constitution, diminishing returns, fun, game, MailThe, nba playoff, playoff games, serious stuff [...]

UGASlobberknockeru

May 13th, 2011
12:09 pm

Joe Johnson is the most overpaid athlete in all of pro sports. He disappears in every big game..heck he didnt compete in all 4 quarters of any single game all year. The Hawks will never win if he is our best player..trade him even if the Hawks have to pick up half of his salary..I would rather pay half of his contract for nothing in return that ALL of his contract when we are also getting absolutely nothing.

I would tell Josh Smith that for every 3 pt shot he takes, there will be a $5000 fine..and trade him if he doesnt like it..

I woud beg Al Horford to get more physical. How can an undersized center NEVER foul anybody? He all of a sudden seems afraid to get rough.

Pay Crawford whatever he needs to stay and make Teague the starter next year..I dont know Hinrichs contract situation but if it is up..let him go.

and most of all

FIRE LARRY DREW . HE IS AWFUL. You cant win when you hire a coach just because you dont have to pay him much. You get what you pay for. And the “players choice” coach never ever works out..

bird

May 13th, 2011
12:13 pm

Trade Horford now. Al is soft as cotton, plays with no heart. He begged to play the 4 and he got dogged at the 4. Amare was right about Al Horford.

DDT

May 13th, 2011
12:18 pm

1. Disagree, Drew needs to go, get rid of any ties to this era.
Hawks need a tough, new, very solid head coach who is a proven winner.
2. Dump Williams, somehow, some way, same for all other driftwood, needs to be off the team, no matter what.
3. Trade Josh Smith; too erratic, world of talent, but too inconsistent
4. Keep everyone who appears to have their head on straight, and are willing to do what it takes to win. Horford, Hinrich, Teague, Pachulia
5. Add a true, aggressive leader!

Mainly, need some player changes, but mostly, leadership is extremely needed, there is none.

Fingers crossed: the big #1 would be to have an ownership change, because nothing is going to happen that is real positive or makes sense, unless a new owner comes in and wants to really win, and who has the financial ability to do so, not just a bunch of talk, and posturing like most of the owners have done over the years with Atlanta sports franchises.

clutch

May 13th, 2011
12:22 pm

its is pretty clear that most of the people commenting on here dont know what they are talking about. First most of you all complain about everyones play but hortford. He was awfull this serious and is very overrated. second, jj might be over paid now but he was underpaid the previous five years he was here. then josh smith plays harder than anyother starter and all you all do is cry and complain when he shoots a jump shoot. I would continue but im tired of typing