Archive for May, 2012

Braves changed little but got better. Will Falcons follow suit?

"Sorry, Bill, but I've got a new managerial guru. Guy named Wren." (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

"Sorry, Bill, but I've got a new managerial guru. Guy named Wren." (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

They were seen in some local circles as Dumb and Dumber. The Braves went 9-18 in September, wasting an 8 1/2-game and losing the wild card in the 13th inning of the 162nd game. The Falcons went 10-6 but beat almost nobody of consequence and managed no offensive points in a 24-2 playoff loss to the 9-7 New York Giants.

The Braves’ response: Stay the course.

The Falcons’ response: Stay the course.

The response from large segments of their respective constituencies: Dissatisfaction, disbelief, disgust.

And yet … the Braves awoke Wednesday percentage points out of first place in the National League East, and the Falcons are set to open rookie camp this weekend with a spring in their collective step. Neither made an abundance of offseason noise, but both look to have improved themselves via tweaking. (Tweaking, as opposed to panicking.) The methodology involved:

1. Don’t overreact to …

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Greg Walker on leaving Chisox for the Braves: ‘It’s a lot of fun’

"Listen to me, Frank, and you'll be hitting .300 in no time." (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

"Listen to me, Frank, and you'll be hitting .300 in no time." (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Greg Walker, the Braves’ new — and, if early returns are to be trusted, wildly successful — hitting coach, returned to Chicago on Monday and made the media rounds. Walker had spent nine seasons with the White Sox, helping the Pale Hose win the 2005 World Series but ultimately falling from favor with general manager Kenny Williams.

As Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago writes, Williams fired Walker after a clubhouse spat last August only to be overruled by owner Jerry Reinsdorf. (And here we thought Frank Wren could get impatient.) According to Levine, some in the organization blamed Walker for the lack of success enjoyed by prospects Gordon Beckham, who’s from Atlanta and who played at Georgia, and Brent Morel. And it didn’t help that the relationship between Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen, who can be high-maintenance, had clearly reached the point of diminishing returns.

According to the …

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The Hawks’ dilemma: Where to turn when Joe is a no-go?

Joe Johnson in Game 4: Not his best. (AP photo)

Joe Johnson in Sunday's Game 4: Not his best effort. (AP photo)

It took barely a week, but the industrious Hawks have done it. They’ve thrown away a 1-0 series lead and an 11-point advantage in a Game 2 for which the best Celtic was suspended, and they’re back where they feel most accustomed — being given no chance to do anything except embarrass themselves further.

Surely more folks would grant them a chance if they gave any indication they’d know what to do with one, but these are, for better and worse, the Hawks. In Boston they managed an improbable double, even by their crazy-quilt standards: They played a strong Game 3 without Josh Smith and Al Horford and a terrible Game 4 with both on the floor.

Smith scored 15 points in his return from a knee sprain and Horford 12 in his first game since Jan. 11 — and still the Hawks trailed by 23 points after 24 minutes and by 37 after 28. It was as if this were 2008 and these postseason neophytes had no idea how to handle a playoff …

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As he exits UGA, Adams should rename stadium for Dooley

Good buddies Vince and Mike share a hearty laugh. (AP photo)

Vince D. and Mike A., good buddies of long standing, share a hearty laugh. (AP photo)

Michael Adams is set to leave the University of Georgia in June 2013, which would mean he’ll have outlasted Vince Dooley by nine years. In the overheated summer of 2003, it wasn’t clear who would lose (or win, depending on your slant) the race to be last out the door.

At an institution of higher education, there was little edifying about their bitter struggle. Dooley, the athletic director, wanted to stay a little longer. Adams, who could never give a compelling reason as to why Georgia needed a new AD, wanted this one gone. Two smart and powerful men were reduced to bickering over half-years.

Dooley loyalists rallied, and such was their outrage that it seemed possible the president would be forced out before Dooley. But Adams managed to hold his job, mostly because he was, as a college president, delivering the goods. Dooley left quietly on June 30, 2004, to be succeeded by Damon Evans, and …

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Having blown Game 2, Bizarro Hawks are in … good shape?

Don't dismay, Coach Drew! You've got 'em where you want 'em! (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Don't dismay, Coach Drew! You've got 'em where you want 'em! (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

As we’ve again been reminded, the Hawks are unchallenged masters of the cosmic flop. Less widely realized is this: Once the Hawks get their collapse out of the way, they tend to play some pretty good ball. Citing cases:

Game 5, Round 1 against Milwaukee, 2010: The Hawks blew a nine-point lead in the final 3:55 at Philips Arena in Game 5, handing the sixth-seeded Bucks their third consecutive victory and leaving the Hawks facing elimination in the Bradley Center. They won Game 6 on the road by 14 points — the intractable Mike Woodson even threw up a zone defense — and Game 7 by 21 back here.

Game 4, Round 1 against Indiana, 1996: With a chance to close out the higher-seeded Pacers at the old Omni — Round 1 was best-of-five then — the Hawks managed 11 fourth-quarter points and lost to force a decisive game at Market Square Arena. They fell behind 6-0 in as a loud a building as I’ve ever …

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There they go again: In a step-up game, the Hawks fall flat

Just like that, a series got turned upside down. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Just like that, a series going the Hawks' way got turned upside down. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Game 2 wasn’t so much the Hawks against the Celtics as the Hawks versus prosperity. As voluminous history attests, this team is never so vulnerable as when riding high.

The lines from the Steely Dan song “Gaucho” might not have been written about the Hawks – “Just when I say, ‘Boy, we can’t miss. You are golden.’ Then you do this” – but they should have been. Even their coach offered a rueful acknowledgement of his team’s reputation.

Said Larry Drew, asked before the game about the Hawks’ penchant for losing when they shouldn’t: “We’ve seen that. You’ve been around here.”

Up 1-0 in the series, the Hawks would be working at home against a Boston team minus its best player. Unlike some of his once-stellar teammates, Rajon Rondo is neither too old nor too injured. He just got too mad. He bumped a ref at the end of Game 1 and was duly suspended by the …

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