Michael Gearon Jr., one of the Hawks’ many charming owners, believes that print media folks in this town have failed to appreciate the splendor that is his remarkable organization. And I must confess that the achievements of this special team sometimes have had a numbing effect on this jaded correspondent. So here’s where I pay homage and bestow overdue superlatives.
• The Hawks are the greatest team ever to have drafted so badly. In my glass-half-empty moments, I wonder, “Why aren’t the Hawks any better?” With age and perspective, however, I realize I should have seen said glass as more than half-full. Positively brimming, truth to tell.
From 2004 through 2007, the Hawks had five lottery picks. They whiffed on four. They took Josh Childress instead of Luol Deng/Andre Iguodala in 2004; Marvin Williams instead of Chris Paul/Deron Williams in 2005; Shelden Williams instead of Brandon Roy/Rudy Gay in 2006, and Acie Law IV instead of Thaddeus Young/Rodney Stuckey in 2007. The only one they got right was Al Horford, also in 2007.
They batted .200 on the picks that are supposed to make or break an organization — and they not only became a winning team but have remained one. Amazing!
• They’re also the greatest team ever to have negotiated so many onerous contracts. We’re not talking Jon Koncak ancient history. In the 21st Century, the Hawks bestowed $25 million over four years on Speedy Claxton, who worked 44 games, and re-upped Marvin Williams for $37 million over five seasons at a time when nobody else in the NBA seemed to think he was more than just another guy. (On cue, seize-the-day Marvin took the money and saw his stats descend to utter mediocrity.)
But the capper, as we know, was spending $120 million to keep Joe Johnson, which made some measure of sense in that he was their leading scorer. Being the Hawks, they managed to work this windfall contract at cross-purposes. They overspent to keep the guy whom new coach Larry Drew — who wasn’t really new, having been Mike Woodson’s assistant for six seasons — had declared he wanted to de-emphasize. Sure enough, Johnson saw his bank account swell at the same time his on-court numbers declined across the board.
The effect has left the Hawks with no wiggle room under the cap, which is just another example of their tough-love corporate strategy. Cap space is for wimps!
• They’re the greatest team ever to get blown out on such a consistent basis. Gearon Jr. makes the point that only three NBA clubs — the Lakers, the Celtics and guess who — have reached Round 2 of the NBA playoffs over the past three seasons. Obscured by the glare of this awesome achievement is this factoid: The Hawks’ record in Round 2 games those three seasons was 2-12, and not one of those 12 losses came by fewer than 10 points. (Isn’t the NBA supposed to come down to the last shot? Never mind.)
In those 14 Round 2 games, the Hawks’ average margin of defeat is 15.3 points. Kobe and K.G. can’t touch that!
Because they’re such good sports, the Hawks don’t save all their collapses until late spring. They offer them up during the winter, too! Last season they managed five home losses by at least 20 points. Over the 10-day span that ended with the 20-point flop against Miami on Sunday, they lost four home games and trailed by 20 in each (and by 30 in the first and last).
Drew expressed disappointment after the Miami game that his players grew so dispirited so early, but can you blame them? For the Hawks, this is standard operating procedure: Win a few games and get people interested, then face a test on national TV and spit the bit. Nobody in the crowd seemed one bit surprised. Nobody even bothered to boo.
But here’s the thing: By rights, these Hawks should never have been good enough to get anyone to care at all. They’ve been mismanaged almost every step of the way, and still they keep breaking .500 and showing up in Round 2. And that prompts this final superlative:
• The Hawks are the greatest team ever to have been subjected to such amateurish oversight.
The way I see it, anybody can draft good players and work the salary cap and win a slew of games. Only real men of genius could get it so wrong and still have it come out half-right. Full credit to this intrepid organization for showing us how it’s half-done.
By Mark Bradley