The Hawks were there first; the Thunder have done it better

The Hawks once thought they had the plan. The Thunder took it and ran with it. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

The Hawks had the plan. The Thunder took it and ran with it. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

On Jan. 18, 2010, the Hawks met Oklahoma City in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee. At the time, the Hawks had the better record and seemed the more advanced team. They won a playoff series the previous season, while the Thunder had gone 23-59. But OKC was clearly seeking to do as the Hawks had done: Amass a slew of high draft picks and let them grow together.

Mike Woodson, then the Hawks’ coach, called the Thunder “a mirror of our team.” Al Horford, drafted one spot behind Kevin Durant in June 2007, called OKC “definitely as athletic and as talented as we are.” Jamal Crawford, then the sixth man, said watching the visiting side “was like looking at the Hawks of a couple of years ago.” (For the record, the Thunder won that day 94-91.)

A couple of years later, the Thunder have crashed the NBA finals, while the Hawks haven’t gone beyond Round 2. (This year they lost in Round 1.) And now we ask: If OKC took the Hawks as a model, why has Version 2.0 succeeded where the original has stalled? We start with the obvious.

1. The Thunder drafted a superstar. The aforementioned Durant became OKC’s cornerstone. (Though technically he spent his first NBA season as a SuperSonic; the franchise moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City in 2008.) Durant was the second player drafted in 2007. The Hawks held the No. 2 pick in the 2005 draft. They could have had a superstar, but they drafted Marvin Williams — as opposed to Chris Paul or Deron Williams. Seven years later, the folly of that pick cannot be overstated.

2. The Thunder drafted a point guard. They took Russell Westbrook, who hadn’t been a point guard at UCLA, with the fourth pick of the 2008 draft. Some insist he’s still not a point guard — he finished 18th this season in assists and he shoots an awful lot — but he does man the position and is demonstrably one of the NBA’s 10 best players. The Hawks had to wait until February 2008 to find a point guard to round out their Core Four, and Mike Bibby was already in decline when he arrived via trade from Sacramento.

3. The Thunder did not whiff. Over a three-year span, Oklahoma City made these first-round picks: Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka (24th overall in 2008) and James Harden (third overall in 2009). Harden was just named the NBA’s top sixth man; Ibaka has become the Thunder’s defensive stopper. This list should also include Jeff Green, taken by Boston with the fifth overall pick in 2007 and traded to Seattle that night. Those peak drafting years yielded peak results. Meaning: No Marvin Williams and no Shelden Williams (taken by the Hawks with the No. 5 pick in 2006).

4. The Thunder weren’t afraid to tamper with the core. In February 2011, OKC traded Green to Boston for center Kendrick Perkins. Green had become such an integral part of the Thunder that general manager Sam Presti wept when announcing the deal, but Presti also knew he needed interior defense above a wing — even if that wing was averaging 15 points a game. Contrast this with the Hawks, whose Game 6 starting lineup in Boston’s TD Garden this spring included four players who started Game 7 in the same building in 2008. (The only change: The 32-year-old Bibby was shipped out in February 2011 for, er, Kirk Hinrich.)

5. The Thunder made inspired managerial hires. Presti was 30 when tapped by Seattle as GM in June 2008. Presti replaced Rick Sund, who presided over two winning seasons in six years with the SuperSonics and whose final three Round 1 picks were centers Mouhamed Sene, Johan Petro and Robert Swift. Presti had apprenticed with San Antonio, which is the gold standard for NBA organizations, and was clever enough to hire Troy Weaver from Utah to help run the draft. (Weaver is credited with lobbying hard for Westbrook and Harden.) As for Sund: He has been the Hawks’ GM since 2008 and has been an creditable caretaker.

Conclusion: The Hawks went from 13-69 in 2004-05 to being good enough to win a playoff series three years running. The Thunder have taken the Hawks’ build-via-the-draft method and done it better, adding needed pieces (Perkins last year, veteran guard Derek Fisher this time) as they went. For all their progress, the Hawks have been unable to override Billy Knight’s picks of guys named Williams in consecutive drafts and, more recently, to overcome a front office that deals in half-measures.

“We had to wait our turn,” Durant told reporters after OKC, which lost to Dallas in the Western Conference finals last season, eliminated San Antonio on Wednesday. Which sounded kind of funny, given that Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka and Durant himself are all younger than Jeff Teague, who’s the Hawks’ youngest starter. So what happened to the Hawks’ turn? Has it come and gone? Is this all there is?

By Mark Bradley

143 comments Add your comment

KakNiqueTree

June 7th, 2012
12:45 pm

You know what, watching the Thunder I was thinking of the mid 1980s Hawks..

KakNiqueTree

June 7th, 2012
12:45 pm

Omg was i first??? Whoop de doo! haha

Mark Bradley

June 7th, 2012
12:48 pm

Kudos, KakNiqueTree.

mark

June 7th, 2012
12:54 pm

Hawks will never win a championship. Don’t you realize this is Atlanta? We don’t win championships. (other than 95)

Matt

June 7th, 2012
12:56 pm

It’s also , timing, Mark. The Thunder are peaking at a time when the west is wide open. The Hawks’ peak coincided with LeBron and the Celtics’ peaks

Yonson

June 7th, 2012
12:57 pm

I love Horford, but we were one pick away from Durant in 2007, and that really hurts to think about. In addition, Knight included 2 first rounders in the JJ trade and the second was only top 3 protected. We had the fourth worst record and moved up to third in the lottery, otherwise imagine how much worse off we would have been without Horford.

Knight better not get another job in the NBA.

PMC

June 7th, 2012
12:58 pm

so you’re saying the Hawks should move to somewhere in the midwest then they can be successful too?

PMC

June 7th, 2012
1:01 pm

I suggest St Louis.

PMC

June 7th, 2012
1:03 pm

The Hawks turn was back when they allowed the self proclaimed basketball expert to make terrible decisions.

The Hawks never had a chance.

Buddy Grizzard

June 7th, 2012
1:10 pm

If only we could get Troy Weaver as GM. No chance Dennis Lindsey comes here without a court order stating the ASG will have no influence over basketball decisions.

Sammy G

June 7th, 2012
1:10 pm

Yep…this is all there is…consummate underachievers. No comparison on ownership?

doc

June 7th, 2012
1:11 pm

yup this has been long a topic on the hawks blog. you didnt mention chills instead of two legit all stars either among those misfires of top ten picks mark and severe over sight.

you also rarely mentioned the hed of the snake called the hawks. hawks fans instead of watching what transpired and brought a city together had to watch grown men go through a divorce rendering the title of broken atlanta spirit group. since then the fall out of management over sight and inaction continues.

it would be fun to look deeper at the owner of the thunder and how he got it right and how the asg got it so wrong. they aslo sent the hockey team packing because not only do they not know how to sell their basketball team to the city they certainly couldnt sell inept hockey. so, it robbed the hockey fans purses and sent it on after ten years of hockey destitution.

mark, the only thing that saved the basg was a lucky draw in the lottery that allowed them in in 2007. that is it, because if not, we would have not had a draft pick at all. these guys are lucky rather than good to have a team of playoff caliber and they know that. it is why they are afraid to tinker as they dont know how lucky they will be as all the decisions seem to be coin tosses.

Hummon

June 7th, 2012
1:13 pm

Williams and Paul are not Durant.

The Hawks have made some bad choices, but they have not yet had anything like the luck OKC had in having Durant fall into their laps. The analogy does not hold.

Rell

June 7th, 2012
1:19 pm

All I can do is smh…….

Sage of Bluesland

June 7th, 2012
1:21 pm

“It’s also , timing, Mark. The Thunder are peaking at a time when the west is wide open….”

What a loser-mentality remark. This must be one of the owners of the Hawks.

Wretched organizations rot from the top down. The Hawks’ organization is an abomination and the product on the court only serves as schedule-fodder for the real teams in the league.

From pitiful ownership to pathetic decisions by management, it’s all there for the Hawks. The right thing to do is blow it all up, but that would assume they want to win a championship in five-plus years. Instead, they will continue to say all is well and tinker in a meaningless way to attempt to assure the masses all is truly well and they really, really are in the business of winning titles.

They are not. They cannot afford to build the right way. The truly sad thing is there will be sheep who continue to defend the utterly indefensible.

Wake up and stop subsidizing the incompetence, Atlanta.

Trojan

June 7th, 2012
1:23 pm

The Hawks are the worst run franchise. The players deserve credit but the front and management is horrible. The drafting has been horrible, the salary cap management has been horrible. They don’t try to hire good coaches, they try to get the cheapest hires possible.

Sund inspires no confidence. Have you ever looked at our assistant coaches? Wow.

And to think, the AJC has a blog about Jason Collins.

Trojan

June 7th, 2012
1:24 pm

Hey, let’s build a team by drafting forwards. Drafting forwards year after is the secret to success. Great pg and centers are easy to find. Let’s get swingmen.

Bill

June 7th, 2012
1:28 pm

Three words.Joe Johnson’s contract.

mountain_jim

June 7th, 2012
1:34 pm

Knight, ASG, Sund – oh what could have been….

Knight is great at blowing up a team – not so good at building one.

Sund probably doing just want the owners want – and Belkin was right about Joe.

Go Falcons! A team with a clue and a great owner. Going to be a great Falcons season now that both co-ordinators are major upgrades.

Blue

June 7th, 2012
1:34 pm

The Hawks had their chance and they blew it (Thanks to Billy Knight and ASG)! Even worse, they’re stuck in Purgatory until Joe’s contract expires. This is probably the worse-managed franchise in all of professional sports.

JSS

June 7th, 2012
1:37 pm

Mid 80s Hawks NEVER had the internal leadership or in-game recognition that OKC has on their roster… Kevin Willis couldn’t stay healthy. Levinston and Carr continously harped (and played) like they were starters. Koncak was miscast as versatile. John Battle was an enigma (absolutely no in-game recognition skills x5)… Only Doc and Nique (and he was still searching) had a clue on those teams…

OKC has player that defer when needed. And Scott Brooks has in-game skills that Fratello only had on TV…

JSS

June 7th, 2012
1:38 pm

Wow, what’s up with the filter?

Heisenberg

June 7th, 2012
1:40 pm

This Hawks team as currently contructed has peaked. Deep draft and a player with one year left on his contract with a standing trade request. Hmmmm, what to do? What to do?

Kevin Durant is everything and more that LBJ wishes (and thinks) he is and never will be.

Khao$

June 7th, 2012
1:41 pm

Excellent column. While the Hawks never had a chance to draft a player the caliber of Durant, they did have opportunities to draft guys like Paul, D. Williams, R. Gay, and Rondo that could have helped to change the culture of the team.

The draft is uber-important. Whether you like it or not, missing on your draft picks can stifle you. The thought was that Marvin was going to be that star. He wasn’t. Sure teams miss on picks. However, the frequency in which the Hawks have missed historically is why OKC is OKC and we’re the Hawks.

Ha ha ha!!!

June 7th, 2012
2:03 pm

The Hawks are garbage. Ha ha ha!!!

NikeJacket

June 7th, 2012
2:05 pm

If anyone should be upset, it should be Portland who drafted Greg Oden (waived earlier this year) instead of Durant in 07

todd

June 7th, 2012
2:07 pm

first of all, there really wasn’t a method behind what the Hawks were doing. they were losing and getting high draft picks. thats pretty much how most teams are built unless your team is good in which case you still have to draft well, just from a lower position. the failure to draft Chris Paul when the Hawks were crowded at forward and needed a point guard will go down as one of the worst decisions in NBA history. why “the expert” Billy Knight was ever in a position to make this pick is beyond me. When you are in the draft lottery, you have to come away with SUPERSTARS. If you don’t, you better keep losing until you do. This team needs to be rebuilt AGAIN from the ground up with a NEW front office. Although I doubt the current ownership is capable of hiring the right people to build the team properly. So, wake me up when they sell the team.

doc

June 7th, 2012
2:10 pm

actually there are other teams or organizations besides the hawks to use this model to start over and make it there through the draft. it goes al the way back to the bulls when jordan left town and they thought they were smarter and got the twin towers chandler and curry through the draft and couldnt pull it off.

the portland blazers tried to do the same thing and got unlucky by being lucky to get the number one the year the thunder got the number two to not draft durant then got an injury problem to roy to put them into draft rebuild redoux this summer with four first rounders and a new gm.

c dog

June 7th, 2012
2:13 pm

The AJC does a good job of building that Hawks team sprit…

KevinM

June 7th, 2012
2:13 pm

Mark, some of your best work this basketball season.

I just don’t see how we could whiff on so many picks:

Shelden and Marvin
The wrong Josh
Dumping Jordan Crawford
Dumping another #1 which turned out to be SF Chris Singleton
Acie Law

TO me, it looks like Sund and his crew does very little evaluating. Their main objective: make sure they don’t come in and are community pillars. The talent level is judged second.

Caretaker is a complement for Sund. He has done close to nothing with his options. Please come back for a 33rd year of mediocrity.

We more than likely will be disappointed again this year when the Hawks select………yes, a PF.

Jamaaliver

June 7th, 2012
2:13 pm

Chris Paul should have been our Kevin Durant.

With that said, I still have faith Marvin Williams is gonna turn this thing around…

(I could barely say that with a straight face.)

moorman

June 7th, 2012
2:14 pm

remember joe caldwell’s book, in which he related how the then nba commissioner in 1970, approached the head referee at halftime of the hawks and lakers western conference playoff series, and instructed the referee to fix the series………theres your answer, billy knight wasnt THAT stupid. he was instructed by sterns to make those moves………….

KevinM

June 7th, 2012
2:14 pm

Should say make sure they ‘do’ come in as community pillars first.

moorman

June 7th, 2012
2:15 pm

remember joe caldwell’s book, in which he related how the then nba commissioner in 1970, approached the head referee at halftime of the hawks and lakers western conference playoff series, and instructed the referee to fix the series………theres your answer, billy knight wasnt THAT stupid. he was instructed by sterns to make those moves…………. the nba fixes where the top players go…..

doc

June 7th, 2012
2:16 pm

agree blueland, the east has been there for the taking for the last decade. nooo dominant teams at all. with only one championship the celts cant be considered one and we have finished with a better record than them the last few years. we conceded and decided to only be good enough especially when queen went to miami. there has not been a commitment to excellence or being the best only to being entertaining and expecting fans to buy into that. they couldnt even entertain this year by giving away t-shirts where the thunder have had different colors every game.

doc

June 7th, 2012
2:19 pm

dont forget there was a 7 footer drafted through the lottery named bynam when we were drafting ahead of the lakers, but we passed on him, too.

Blauser

June 7th, 2012
2:20 pm

Now thats more like it Mark, good read! Neil Diamond brought more excitment to the higlight factory last night that Marvin Williams did all season.

Wrecking Ball for Rent

June 7th, 2012
2:31 pm

Hey Hawks, let me know if you need my services. I can give you a fresh new start.

Kurt Busch

June 7th, 2012
2:35 pm

Let me get a tryout, Im just sayin…

HawksHeroZero

June 7th, 2012
2:53 pm

If it wasn’t for that terrible NBA Draft Lottery, The Hawks would have Dwight Howard that year..

No “Joshes” (or maybe The Hawks still draft Josh Smith with that 2nd pick..).

B. Knight have no more chances to draft numerous Forwards.., he probably would’ve focused on guards..It’s a better chance of finding an over-achieving guard in the middle rounds that any dominant big Center or Forward after pick #3.

Probably no need to spend for Johnson..

That draft lottery is destroying franchises that absolutely needs young stars to sell hope and tickets..lol. The owners should pull a “coup” because the NBA is making $$$ in major markets, and Oklahoma City is like a high-brow exception, but these other cities (in much better markets like The Bobcats) are floundering..

Starting with the 2nd pick, Value drops, and the chances of finding a Star (and The NBA is driven by faces and stardom).

Orlando gave-away Shaq… They did not need another major star..

Pete

June 7th, 2012
2:54 pm

Comparing the Hawks to the Thunder is like comparing a Chevy Volt to a Porche 911.

Different universe.

HawksHeroZero

June 7th, 2012
2:57 pm

There are not many great coaches in the NBA.., and The Hawks did not want to have to fire a Doc Rivers (Hometown Hero)…

He was fired in Orlando…And he needed Danny Ainge to draft Rondo, and sign 3 Hall of Famers (Re-sign Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen)…

Double Zero Eight

June 7th, 2012
2:57 pm

The Hawks were destined to fail once Ted Turner
sold the team. The only way we can get a true
superstar is to draft him. With ASG, Sund and Drew,
why would anyone in their right mind consider
coming to the Hawks? ASG and Sund have proven
they have no concept of what the true definition of a
superstar encompasses, based on prior draft picks.

I am a realist, I stopped wearing those “rose colored
glasses’ several years ago.

jfreak13713

June 7th, 2012
3:01 pm

You can NOT compare these two clubs seriously! I point to one move that OKC would NEVER make Joe Jonhson 200 million dollar contract. How about resigning Larry Drew when everyone knew Stan Van Gundy would be available? Not to mention Marvin and Sheldon Williams as noted above. The Hawks have NO player on their team nearly as talented as Westbrook and Durant. No, these Hawks are generally good players with average to below average management.

I have seen nothing by ownership that leads me to believe that the Hawks will be anything more than a 45 – 50 game first round bust.

HawksHeroZero

June 7th, 2012
3:13 pm

it can still be done:

Trade PF Horford and SF Marvin to Orlando for Howard..

Howard and Smith are friends, and maybe he can stop Smith from trying to be a Superstar Scorer…

Dejay

June 7th, 2012
3:15 pm

Boy oh boy. This column strikes home more than most Hawk fans will ever care to admit. The failure of this team to draft worth a hoot is one of the main reasons why they’ve never seen a game beyond the second round of the playoffs since leaving the Midwest.

Ever wonder why Nique couldn’t get a ring? Look at the guys Stan Kasten passed over in the ’80s (Karl Malone, Joe Dumars, Fat Lever, Rolando Blackmon, Larry Nance). Ever wonder why Mookie, Smitty, Deke, and the gang had to play 99.99999% of the game in order for them to stay within single-digits of MJ’s Bulls? Look at the stiffs Babcock picked (Ed Gray, Doug Edwards, Roshown McLeod, Dion Glover, Cal Bowdler).

And as for the current group that was basically put together by Billy Knight’s master plan of collecting 6′9″ players with ‘length and upside’, well if anyone else was in charge who had a clue, Chris Paul would be here (or Deron Williams). How much could Andre Iguodala, Rudy Gay, Al Jefferson, or Luol Deng have helped this bunch against the Celtics a few weeks ago as opposed to Marvin Williams and Josh Childress’ trade exception? Any combo in that group would’ve made all the difference in the world between being a SERIOUS contender who sells out Philips every night and being laughed at by Charles Barkley and his crew every week on TNT.

Yes, I know, everyone misses on draft night; but not like this franchise does. Even the Clips didn’t strike out with Blake Griffin like the Hawks did with Marvin, Shelden, and Childress. Roll this in your head for a second; Over the last quarter-century, the Hawks have drafted a grand total of FOUR players to have a career scoring average in double-figures (Smith, Horford, Williams, and Jason Terry). THAT’S IT. This isn’t an organization like the Spurs, who pick in the bottom part of draft every year; this is a team who’s had multiple picks in the lottery who just can’t get their ish together.

With all of that failure in the draft and in their front office (’we love our core’), isn’t it any small wonder why they have such a hard time selling tickets? Anyone else in the national media want to go on another ‘Atlanta stinks as a sports town’ rant after taking a serious look at this franchise and the way it does business? Anyone else wonder why there are as many folks in the stands wearing the opposing team’s jersey when (insert star player here) comes to town?

Columns like this and the reactions from such should be the blaring alarm to the folks in charge that something is amiss with this organization and changes need to be made. And when I mean changes, I don’t mean switching out minimum-salaried veterans for other guys that other teams no longer want; I mean blowing out the front office, clearing the coaches’ offices, fully staffing a scouting department and finding guys who know what they’re doing, and hiring a marketing guru who does more than just place a few billboards up around town. I couldn’t imagine how much scorched earth Arthur Blank would leave behind if the Falcons went 7-9 this year. For all of their playoff failures, everyone knows how badly he wants to win and his willingness to do whatever it takes to get to the mountaintop? Can we say the same for Michael ‘its the media and the fans’ fault’ Gearon and his band of merry men? Really?

People perish for lack of knowledge; what does it say about organizations who have no leadership or vision?

HawksHeroZero

June 7th, 2012
3:17 pm

Too many Forwards, and Teague and these Forwards differ to Johnson…

Marvin could really develop in Utah, Orlando, or some other Franchise that “clears the path” for him to succeed… The Hawks drafted Marvin #2, but built around Joe and Josh.. Some of the things that people feel that Marvin should be doing, he cannot because was drafted to support and tailor his game around 3 other players..lol. As a franchise, one you loose that opportunity to make a high draft pick a dominant presence, you’ve lost him..period..The Hawks just continued to draft Forwards, and signed a dominant Guard/ Forward…and Johnson is more of a Small Forward now…

Fredi Will Screw It Up Somehow

June 7th, 2012
3:18 pm

hawks would have drafted Greg Oden if they got the #1 pick in 2007.

But more importantly, Hawks fans are too scared to get rid of Josh Smith, who obviously wants out and will net a prince’s ransom. You need to get rid of all the players who don’t want to be around. Should have learned that lessin with Joe Johnson, but instead you rewarded him with 100M. Don’t make that same stupid mistake twice, ASG and Hawks fans.

Ryan

June 7th, 2012
3:18 pm

it’s all about the draft picks that’s why the falcons and hawks never win

HawksHeroZero

June 7th, 2012
3:21 pm

This team should differ to Teague..Joe should remain outside for kick-back shots …He should differ to Teague becasue he cannot get away from good defensive teams, and it leads to gridlock..They need to be setting picks for Teague..

.Teague is the only one who has speed to cut to the basket…And these Hawks players have bulked-up too much…It’s 5 seasons later… They could add pounds of unhealthy food, and nearly run the Celtics off the floor…Not now.. They need to trim, and lose weight…And stop lifting so much..