HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In his first eight days on the job, new Hawks general manager Danny Ferry cleaned up the biggest mistakes of the men who preceded him and positioned the Hawks as potentially the biggest player on the free-agent scene in 2013.
He has rid the franchise of Billy Knight‘s Draft blunder in 2005 (Williams ahead of both Deron Williams and Chris Paul) and Rick Sund‘s free agent fiasco of 2010, when the Hawks signed Johnson to a $126 million deal, the richest deal in the league.
Do the math. The Hawks are shedding $100 million in outgoing salaries and taking back a fraction of that ($24 million), which gives them all sort of flexibility to make a play for hometown All-Star Dwight Howard (who has demanded a trade from Orlando) this summer or next summer when he’s a free agent.
Why that would be needed for a team that’s made five straight playoff appearances is not the point. With five core players (Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Zaza Pachulia) on the roster for the 2012-13 season chewing up the bulk of the salary cap space, the Hawks are in need of a mini-makeover.
Ferry, the vice president of basketball operations for the San Antonio Spurs (and the former general manager in Cleveland) – until he was announced as the Hawks new GM this morning – has proved capable of mastering the mini-makeover. He did it several times in Cleveland when he had to put together the right supporting cast for LeBron James.
HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS – When the playoff pairings came into focus late in the regular season, we knew there was the potential for this when the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks got locked into the No. 4-5 battle in the Eastern Conference.
An era was coming to an end. A five-year run for one of these two franchises would continue on for at least another series and that same five-year run (that began in their epic first-round series in 2008) for the other franchise would have run its course.
Well, it’s time for the Hawks to face the reality of their own situation and turn the page. The Hawks are facing more than just elimination after their disastrous 101-79 Game 4 showing in Boston Sunday night. Most compassionate observers turned away from when the Celtics’ lead grew to 37 points … with more than a quarter and a half to play remaining.
How many times can you hear about a team talk about “not responding” or “we just didn’t have it” or “our energy and effort was nonexistent” in a big game situation before it sinks in?
The Hawks have dropped 12 playoff games by 20-plus points since 2008, a staggering number that does not include all of the games they lost by 16, 17, 18 and 19 points.
They’d fight back with stats of their own — such as along with the Celtics and Lakers, they are one of just three teams to reach the second round in each of the past three seasons. But that would foolishly suggest that the Hawks belong in the same sentence with two franchises that have won championships in the past four seasons.
The Celtics won it all in 2008 while the Lakers won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. The Hawks, for all of their accomplishments during this same stretch, have been escorted from the postseason in an ugly fashion each and every time, without once truly breaking through with this current core group.
They’ll tell anyone willing to listen that this series is far from over at 3-1 with Game 5 Tuesday night at Philips Arena. And with their history against these Celtics, it might be worth a listen. They played seven games in 2008, with each team taking turns ruling their home floors all the way through to Game 7.
But this time is different. As much as you’d like to believe these limping Hawks have a chance to make a series out of this one, the stench of inevitability is floating in the air after that Game 4 debacle in Boston.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The last time the Hawks swung a trade deadline deal for a point guard, they got Mike Bibby from Sacramento and proceeded to make the playoffs three years in a row with the veteran big shot artist directing their attack.
That was February 2008. Fast forward to now and the Hawks are still trying to find the right fit at point guard. They traded Bibby, Mo Evans, Jordan Crawford and their 2011 first-round Draft pick to Washington for Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong yesterday.
The Hawks are trying, once again, to solve the point guard problems that have plagued them since Draft night 2005, when they passed up Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Raymond Felton to take Marvin Williams with the No. 2 pick.
“In hindsight, that might be the biggest top three Draft mistake since the Pistons took Darko [Milicic],” an Eastern Conference executive said. “And it’s not just about the player you take, it’s about the player or players you pass up when you make that pick.”
The Pistons passed on Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to take Milicic after LeBron James was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 Draft.
“Anyone that doesn’t think you’ll pay for your Draft mistakes for years to come, just take a look at the Hawks and Pistons right now,” the exec said. “It doesn’t mean you can’t have some success even with those mistakes. But at some point, you will pay for the mistake.”
The Hawks reportedly targeted both Felton and Devin Harris as potential trade pieces but came up empty both times. Bottom line: the Hawks still don’t get the point. Hinrich is yet another short-term answer to a long-term problem. He only has one year left on his deal (at $8 million), meaning the Hawks will have to make decisions about their point guard future all over again this time next year.
Jeff Teague, the Hawks’ second-year point guard, is clearly not ready for a starring role … and might not be anytime soon. He was given every opportunity to supplant Bibby and couldn’t do it. He’s the latest in a long line of supposed point guard solutions that ended up being a problem (Speedy Claxton, Acie Law) for the Hawks.
They’ve tried everything at the point from Royal Ivey to Anthony Johnson to Tyronn Lue to even playing Joe Johnson at point guard during his first season with the team. That’s nine different point guard options spanning two different regimes (former general manager Billy Knight is the man who drafted Marvin Williams, paid Claxton, drafted Law and also traded for Bibby while current general manager Rick Sund is the man who shipped Claxton and Law out of town for Jamal Crawford, drafted Teague and made the deal for Hinrich).
While Hinrich is clearly an upgrade over Bibby, particularly at the defensive end, he still doesn’t solve the Hawks’ seemingly eternal point guard problem.