An appreciation of the greatness that is the Atlanta Hawks

You could read this post. Or you could just admire Curtis Compton's photo, which says it all.

You could read this post. Or you could just admire Curtis Compton's photo, which says it all.

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

273 comments Add your comment

flagboy?

February 13th, 2012
10:20 am

The Hawks are an organization where the average guy says “I could do a better job running that franchise”. . . and normally you think that guy is an idiot. . . but with the Hawks, you have to think it might be true.

Mark Bradley

February 13th, 2012
10:20 am

That’s a good line. I might have to borrow it.

Najeh Davenpoop

February 13th, 2012
10:21 am

Also, the greatest men’s sports team in Atlanta until the Braves or Falcons manage to not embarrass themselves in a playoff game.

flagboy?

February 13th, 2012
10:26 am

As long as I get credit. . . .

I’m just hoping the Hawks bring back JR Rider.

mike addington

February 13th, 2012
10:28 am

Mark, once again you prove that your forte is basketball. But delighted that you cover college football as well. The Hawks: Have’t cared since Dominque and the gang made it interesting

Mark Bradley

February 13th, 2012
10:29 am

I’m pretty good at giving credit.

And thanks, duronimo.

Mark Bradley

February 13th, 2012
10:30 am

I don’t know that I have a forte, mike. I like to think I’m equally terrible at everything.

steve brown

February 13th, 2012
10:31 am

Is Horford really a good choice-we have a forward playing center? I say they are batting .000 – you are too sweet and must want a dinner from Gearon.

GT Trumpet

February 13th, 2012
10:31 am

Keen observations. I don’t think that’s what the Spirit meant by “praise” though… But it’s exactly what they deserve.

GSmooth

February 13th, 2012
10:32 am

Mark – It’s kind of frustrating to see you write these BS stories after the Hawks had a bad game.. where were your columns when the Hawks went 4-1 on their 5 game road trip? Where was your article when they beat Miami back in January? You only focus on the negative.

It’s stories like this why Atlanta gets such a bad rap as a sports town.

Shug

February 13th, 2012
10:32 am

David Stern has pretty much said that franchises such as Atlanta’s exist solely to fill out the league so that the Lakers/Celtics/a few others of the world can prosper. Unless something drastic happens–something that is probably out of Atlanta’s control–the Hawks will be stuck in mediocrity.

Glenn

February 13th, 2012
10:33 am

Yeah but the brilliance of picking Josh Smith at 17 in 2004 was huge . Taking Josh Childress at number 4 that same draft……..not so much . I often wonder about how the Hawks could be if they had drafted Chris Paul .

Jody

February 13th, 2012
10:33 am

Great write up Mark.

Najeh Davenpoop

February 13th, 2012
10:34 am

While I am less than thrilled with the AJC’s Hawks coverage, aside from Michael Cunningham’s work when he is actually sent to cover the team, let’s not take the focus away from where it belongs. Years of mismanagement is the reason why ATL gets a bad rap as a sports town.

Najeh Davenpoop

February 13th, 2012
10:35 am

Chris Paul – Joe Johnson – (insert random free agent or non-lottery SF here who probably would have been at least as good as Marvin – Josh Smith – (insert random free agent or non-lottery role-playing C here)

That team would be better than the current team. Childress, Law, and Shelden Williams were bad picks, but Marvin over CP3 is the pick that keeps the Hawks from being great.

cpsman_atlanta

February 13th, 2012
10:37 am

I moved to Atlanta in 1989, and immediately became a fan of the Atlanta Hawks. Wilkins, Willis, Rivers, Moses… it was a fantastic line-up. I remember Steve Smith, Dikembe, and even the Chris Crawford playoff game where he went 3-point crazy. Even during the years of J.R. Rider, I was still a fan.

But ever since this ownership group took over, I have become less and less interested in the Hawks. I became a Thrashers fan. A lot of people I know also became Thrashers fans. And why? Because ice hockey is a team sport, versus basketball which focuses more on the individual.

And yet, this ownership group continues to focus on the one-minded Atlanta Hawks team. They sold the sport I have fallen in love with in ice hockey, and let it get moved to Winnipeg. They didn’t care. They act like they cared, but they honestly didn’t. Get those guys a polygraph test, and I’m sure the responses would be interesting.

Bottom line, if Michael Gearon Jr. feels as though the print media isn’t giving him respect for the splendor of this remarkable organization, as he puts it, then I offer him my congratulations. His dedication to this team has forced me to boycott the Hawks, boycott Philips Arena, and look for other sporting entertainment options. Like all the draft picks they’ve screwed up, like all the overpaid contracts they’ve screwed up, they continue to screw up by losing my dollar in their pockets.

On another note, Gwinnett Gladiators hockey games are great, they cater to the fans of the sport, and their team is in first place, I believe. I guess in the eyes of Atlanta Spirit, the Gladiators are failures.

lanier

February 13th, 2012
10:37 am

said like it is

Tootsi

February 13th, 2012
10:37 am

Davenpoop, they are the team with most recent playoff wins (a byproduct of the nba playoff format which gives them more opportunities to get wins), but they are well behind the Falcons and Braves in terms of future potential. Nobody in their right mind could be confident in this organization.

You keep telling other people to stop bringing up the argument on other blogs I’ve seen, yet you yourself keep reigniting it every chance you get. Give it up already.

Mark Bradley

February 13th, 2012
10:38 am

No question that Josh Smith was a great pick at No. 17. Just out of the lottery, though.

tchapman86

February 13th, 2012
10:38 am

GSmooth awesome point.. Bradley is a trash writer whose intent is to bring down the Atlanta team. he’s partially the reason why the fan base root for other teams

Chris Crawford

February 13th, 2012
10:39 am

Good article MB

They’ve come full circle back to where they were in the early/mid 90s. Good enough to make the playoffs every year but with a ceiling of the second round.

Old Blue

February 13th, 2012
10:39 am

Hey!! It’s almost time for a Valentine. Maybe if the Hawks changed their name to the Atlanta Hugs. . . or maybe the Atlanta Valentinos. Love those HUGS!!

Tumbledown

February 13th, 2012
10:40 am

That was a funny but sadly true article. On the plus side, Josh Smith was a decent draft pick. I also think Teague may prove to be a good one. However, it is so sad to think what the Hawks could have been with better use of those five lottery picks. It is just another depressing chapter that is the book of Atlanta sports teams.

tchapman86

February 13th, 2012
10:42 am

People act like the Falcons and Braves are performing will.. How many penant races have the Braves been to with the star caliber players they’ve had? How many rings do they have to show for it? 1. They undeperformed in a major way. People overlooked that b/c they liked Ted Turner and Bobby Cox. Same with the 2 point Falcons. They have yet to even win a playoff game with Arthur Blank as an owner. the Hawks advanced to the second round. They finally beat Orlando, but as the season change so do the teams. Before Hawks were beating the Heat, Knicks, and Celtics. They just have to go back to the drawing board. BUT WHAT DO PEOPLE EXPECT IN A 66 GAMES SEASON WHERE YOU HAVE LESS TIME TO PREPARE?? You guys act like rings are won in the regular season… whiny people

Tin Roof Sunday Night

February 13th, 2012
10:42 am

Can someone please never tell the hawks they are on national tv, they cant seem to get out of their own way whenever we get blown out on TNT or ESPN.

hogonofirok

February 13th, 2012
10:43 am

its is sooooo hard being a hawks fan. then throw in the braves and the falcons and i just wanna move. lets take up a collection and buy this dang team.

J.J.M.

February 13th, 2012
10:43 am

I wonder when will the media start calling out joe. He seems to get a pass because of his quiet personailty

tchapman86

February 13th, 2012
10:44 am

cpsman_atlanta No one care about hockey… Get over it or move to Canada if you want hockey

STRETCH

February 13th, 2012
10:46 am

“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.”

But didnt 2 of those 3 teams win a NBA championship within the past 4 years?

flagboy?

February 13th, 2012
10:46 am

tchapman86

February 13th, 2012
10:38 am
GSmooth awesome point.. Bradley is a trash writer whose intent is to bring down the Atlanta team. he’s partially the reason why the fan base root for other teams
__________________________________

I just have a problem supporting ineptitude. This franchise hasn’t done anything in years to give anyone the idea things were going to get better. “They nearly beat Boston!” Hang your hat on that if you want to . .

No one in their right mind can honestly think the Hawks have any legit chance of winning a championship with this team. But the same could be said about the Hawks for how long now?? When was the last time the Hawks had a team where you said, “they could win it all”? Certainly not in the last 10 years. And yet, nothing has really changed. Who wants to support that?

Tumbledown

February 13th, 2012
10:49 am

I do not understand how a sportswriter can influence a fan’s decision to root for the home team. You are either a fan of the team or not. I do not always agree with what is written in the AJC, but it has not diminished my particular interest in the Atlanta teams. It is incredulous to think that any writer would operate from the standpoint of “Hmm, how can I bring down an Atlanta team? Ok, I will write this (demonic laugh included).” We can disagree wholeheartedly with what is written, but let’s not get carried away.

BravesFan79

February 13th, 2012
10:54 am

i still believe this team can make a solid run with Al Horford back for the playoffs, but still cant believe we signed Erik Dampier over the other options that were out there. He was awful his last year with Dallas, and a complete non-factor in Miami. Yet we signed him over the tall defensive player from the Jazz? Crazy…

tchapman86

February 13th, 2012
10:56 am

flagboy? Tee players have nothing to do with who the owners sign, draft, or trade for, but looking at these comments, you hold the Hawks players to a much HIGHER standard that you do the Falcons and Braves.. I can cout all the excuses you give the braves and Falcons whose had 2 team beat them out of the playoffs only to win the Superbowl and WORLD SERIES ring. NONE of the Hawks opponents have went on to win rings. This is no likeability contest where you pick and choose which team to bash over the other yet they ALL produce the same results: No ring. You bash the Hawks who gives us more hope than the Falcons and Braves. That’s like blaming me for producing the numbers I get at work knowing I’m following the guidelines of my boss. ” I don’t like T-Mobile’s service so Jeffery that works there is trash”. All we keep talking about is the drafts, but considering those missed picks, we shoudn’t even be in the playoffs. Bringing it up makes you all sound like bitter exes. GET over it. We beat the Bucks, but hey ended up beating the Heat. It works like that sometimes. We beat Miami with Horford, we got blown out several times without him.

Bryan G.

February 13th, 2012
10:56 am

This column, sir, is genius. Kudos to you, Mark Bradley.

Mark Bradley

February 13th, 2012
10:56 am

I wouldn’t make too much of the Dampier signing. He’s a deep backup on a 10-day contract.

snaut

February 13th, 2012
10:57 am

The hawks have no consistent go-to guy…They pay Joe(shoot-and miss)Johnson the big contract when clearly he is not the best player on the team…Joe’s days are behind him. He will never be worth that contract money. No matter how u look at it, the hawks are filled with scrubs and role players..They have been rebuilding since the years of Dominic ,Doc, and “Tree”. I have been a Hawk fan for so many years..It’s demoralizing to know that whoever owns the Hawks have no clue which way they want to team to go. If they cant get it right then.. “Just love basketball” with no clue on what it takes to win championships. Staying mediocre is the staple here in Atlanta

BravesFan79

February 13th, 2012
11:00 am

Since when did Iso-joe become Iso-Ivan johnson?? Turning point of the game last night was when on 2 or 3 consecutive posessions, Ivan ends up with the ball (not Mcgrady, not Joe) and takes falling away jumpshots. WTF was that !! Joe Johnson needs to DEMAND the ball in those situations and prove hes a All Star!! We will never win anything with Smith and Ivan taking falling away jumpers, just awful.

Glenn

February 13th, 2012
11:01 am

We can’t afford ” the caveman ” baby . I do wish we could a got KMart . Clippers did pony up .

tchapman86

February 13th, 2012
11:02 am

We could we worse than the Knicks who wasted 200 million on Carmelo and Amare whos team is being carried by an undrafted D-League player in Lin. Or the Lakers who tried to trade Gasol and Odom for Paul only to lose Paul to the Clippers, but traded Odom for nothing…Did you see them get beat by an inexperience rookie led team ( Shumpert).I mean Chandler out rebounded Gasol AND Bynum.. Look at Orlando who basically dumped a winning team when they traded Skip to My Lou, Pietrus, & Gortat for guys that did not “fit” their system

Mark Bradley

February 13th, 2012
11:04 am

Actually, what Orlando did was take a huge gamble that went bust: GM Otis Smith determined — correctly, I think — that the Magic would never be good enough as constituted to win an NBA title and he made two major trades in the attempt to change the mix. He changed it for the worse.

tmc

February 13th, 2012
11:06 am

The Hawks are an organization that make moves because they feel they “have to” instead of having a leader who knows what they are doing. It has been that way for years through many GM’s, Owners and coaches…

-I began to notice with the trade of Dominique for Manning (and not signing)
-Just look at all the draft pick mistakes year after year. (how many lame forwards did we draft in a 10 year stretch?)
-now, we are in the middle of this regime signing and resigning players for WAAAAAAY to much money that kills their ability to make other moves.

This franchise is doomed because of the lack of leadership and knowledge at the top. And it trickles down all the way to the play on the floor during games.
Sell the team ASG and do the fans of Atlanta a favor.

DawgDad

February 13th, 2012
11:07 am

I don’t go to Hawks games for reasons dating back to their exit from St. Louis. So, I really have no practical way to vent my spite at the current ownership for their “thrashing” of Atlanta hockey fans.

But, I’m a sports fan, so with no football and nothing much else on TV last night (except the homage to dysfunctional adults who happen to have musical talent) I tuned in to the Hawks – and quickly tuned out on the slaughter.

tchapman86

February 13th, 2012
11:08 am

Hawks were doing better before Hinrich came back… he came back in the Spurs game… We should keep Teague as a starter with the most munutes and put Pargp in after him. Hinrich was not worth the 2 1st round draft picks. We’ve aged so the 66 games will wear on Stack, McGrady, Hinrich, & Damp… I question Drew’s constant lineup this year, but I’m trying to rememeber that we came off a lockout with no offseason. No chance to work together in the offseason. We cleared or roster the week the season began so EVERYONE besides our core ( and Zaza and Teague) is gone.That would explain our turnover issues this year. I think we should’ve kept Sloan.

Mark Bradley

February 13th, 2012
11:12 am

Hinrich has complicated the rotation. And I’m pretty sure he isn’t fully recovered.

mark

February 13th, 2012
11:13 am

tchapman86 you must be from the Atlanta Spirit organization. The Braves were at least in the damn World series several times. The Hawks can’t get out of the second round. Your comparison has no relevance at all. Go back and tell your boss Gearon you were revealed!!!! You sir are the one who needs to do his research…

the reader

February 13th, 2012
11:13 am

And at the end of the day…

Steve

February 13th, 2012
11:16 am

Your best article yet MB, Worst franchise ever!!!!

misterwax

February 13th, 2012
11:19 am

several good reasons to ignore the NBA altogether in my opinion….

what else is new?

Worst sports city in America

February 13th, 2012
11:19 am

Apathetic fans. Mediocre teams. Nobody cares about pride, the city, winning, etc.
It’s a sham!

Rim Bender

February 13th, 2012
11:22 am

The Hawks have always been a maze of “do what”. I’ve been a Hawks fan since the 70’s and can trace this back to the team not signing David Thompson and Marvin Webster and letting them both go to the ABA.
The team then traded away their pick in the ABA allotment draft where they could have had a few GREAT players for an opportunity to get Randy Denton and Dave Twardzick (sp) or some other bums.
The team did sign JOHN DREW (2nd round) the same year that Thompson and Webster went ABA. And John was a scoring machine —

By the way, why hasn’t John Drew been recognized by the Hawks for his greatness and had his number retired, 22?

And, come to mention it — Pete Maravich was a Hawk for five years or so and was just as great as Lou Hudson. Maravich has long deserved to be honored by the Hawks with number 44 being hung from the rafters.

Just saying…this team has done exceptionally well at times considering how many times the Owners/GM’s/Coaches have stepped in cow-manure.