HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — In the moments after last Thursday’s trade deadline, when Hawks general manager Danny Ferry emerged from the team’s war room without anything major to report, he laid out a reasoned plan for why the Hawks didn’t do anything significant.
His explanation for not trading Josh Smith, who had been the subject of most of the biggest and best trade rumors heading into the deadline, probably sounded cliché to most.
But Ferry was just speaking the truth — as he sees it — when he made his case.
“We were in an unusual situation with Josh’s contract, our cap space and flexibility going forward, having a good team right now,” Ferry said. “There were a lot of factors that played into this. The main factor is we value Josh. He’s been important to our group this year and we want to finish the year strong. Hopefully, we play well and we’re a solid playoff team in the future.”
Ferry wasn’t necessarily referring to the Hawks’ immediate future. But the players obviously got the message after nothing major happened on deadline day. They’ve won three straight since the deadline, six of their last seven games and have moved into a tie for fourth place with the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
Al Horford, still smarting from not making the All-Star team, posted his career-best sixth straight game of 20 or more points (23) and grabbed a career-high tying 22 rebounds in Monday night’s win over the Detroit Pistons. Smith added 23, Jeff Teague 20 and 12 assists and role players Kyle Korver (15 points) and Devin Harris (11) chipped in again with big contributions off the bench.
The Hawks are playing with the same energy that drove them earlier this season. Fueled by doubts that they would remain in the playoff mix after Joe Johnson (Brooklyn) and Marvin Williams (Utah) were traded away in the offseason, they smashed the competition early, scoring big road wins over Oklahoma City and Memphis in the first few weeks of the season.
They struggled in January as the trade rumors heated up around the same time they lost Lou Williams, the team’s biggest offseason acquisition, for the season with a knee injury.
But like they have done so many times the past six seasons, the Hawks continue to do what no thinks them capable of, and that’s grind away against all odds. Coach Larry Drew has done an impressive job of holding things together with a roster filled with players who are probably not in the Hawks’ long-term plans.
That stubbornness/resilience is part of what makes this mismatched group so intriguing.
“We are playing with an edge,” Smith told reporters after the win over the Pistons. “We are playing confident. Whenever we are playing confident like that and just having fun out there, it’s fun to be a part of.”
Getting Smith to buy in for the remainder of this season, and perhaps beyond, is one of Ferry’s main objectives in the coming weeks and months. There were trades on the table for the Hawks, names like Paul Pierce and Amar’e Stoudemire were tossed around, but nothing that included the complete package of assets Ferry was looking for in exchange for a player he values the way he does Smith.
“You weigh everything as you make decisions with your roster and with trades,” Ferry said. “I understand the media and the bloggers and the people who are NBA junkies, it was a very Josh-focused trade deadline here in Atlanta. But we talked about a lot of different things. We did a couple different things. We weighed the positives and negatives of each of our opportunities, and with our situation we felt the best decision was to stand pat, based off some of the things we were looking at.”
The Hawks are looking at nothing but opportunity right now. They are two games behind the New York Knicks for the third spot in the Eastern Conference, and just 2 1/2 games behind the Indiana Pacers for No. 2. The Miami Heat have a comfortable cushion over the rest of the field.
But that No. 2 spot could very well be up for grabs over the next two months. And the Hawks should be right in the middle of that chase, provided they keep doing what they’ve been doing of late.