Atlanta Hawks: 4 Reasons Fans Should Be Optimistic About the Future

Michael BrumaginCorrespondent IIIOctober 15, 2012

Atlanta Hawks: 4 Reasons Fans Should Be Optimistic About the Future

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    The Atlanta Hawks made major moves this offseason, and Atlanta fans should not only be optimistic for the future, they should be excited.

    This team has the future potential to be one of the best teams in the league.

    The Hawks made waves this summer by orchestrating trades that cleared the large, previously immovable contracts of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams.

    Not only did new Hawks GM Danny Ferry manage to unload their "toxic" contracts, but, in doing so, he acquired desirable assets: Expiring contracts and draft picks.

    Atlanta, which returns only five players from last year's roster, only has four players under contract for the 2013-14 season: Al Horford, Lou Williams and rookies John Jenkins and Mike Scott. 

    Jeff Teague and Ivan Johnson will be restricted free agents with qualifying offers. DeShawn Stevenson, who is technically under contract through 2015, may not be retained, as the Hawks maintain a team option for the next two seasons.

    The team of future free agents that has been assembled for this season should still be good enough to get Atlanta into the playoffs for the sixth-straight season, thus maintaining the standard level of mediocre success that Atlanta fans are used to.

    What is really exciting, though, is the potential of what the future beyond this season may bring.

Josh Smith

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    With his impending free agency forthcoming, Josh may not be with the team next year. But—and a big but at that—fans should expect a fantastic year from Smith this season.

    Not only will the man known affectionately to Atlantans as J-Smoove be playing for a new contract, with Joe Johnson out of the picture, Smith becomes the primary option—along with Al Horford—on offense.

    Shaquille O'Neal, TNT / NBA TV analyst, told Vince Cellini during an interview for the Hawks NBA Team Preview:

    [Speaking of Joe Johnson's departure] Joe Johnson was a little bit of a ball-stopper...What's that going to do for Josh Smith? Now, when you're on a team with another scorer, and that other scorer leaves, now it's your turn to step up. So, I see his PPG going up, at least, four more points...If he [Josh Smith] wants to make noise, he has to raise his game up to the next level. And, with Joe Johnson not being there, this is his year to do that.

    Smith, not unlike LeBron James, is a swing-type player capable of playing multiple positions. His versatility, particularly to play either forward position, will help to create mismatches this season.

    Health permitting, look for Josh Smith to finally make the All-Star team this year while having a career season.

Lou Williams / Devin Harris Combo

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    Lou Williams finished last year second in voting for the Sixth Man of the Year award.

    Devin Harris has always been a serviceable point guard and a respectable scorer in the NBA.

    According to John Schuhmann of NBA.com, Williams and Harris will improve the Hawks' play in one statistical area that Joe Johnson could not—free-throw rate. He writes:

    Replacing Johnson with Devin Harris and Lou Williams could help the Hawks in one offensive category. As talented as he is, Johnson doesn't get to the free throw line very often, and he attempted just 20 free throws per 100 field goal attempts last season. As a team, the Hawks ranked 21st in free throw rate.

    Harris and Williams attempted 39 and 37 free throws per 100 field goal attempts respectively. That ranked them sixth and seventh in free-throw rate among 66 guards who attempted at least 500 shots last season. Those trips to the line can make up for a lot of other things offensively.

    Mike Fratello on NBA TV's Atlanta Hawks NBA Team Preview suggested that one possibility could be the Hawks using dual point guards, similar to the Denver Nuggets, by playing Jeff Teague and Devin Harris at the same time, enabling Lou Williams to continue providing a spark off the bench.

Al Horford

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    One of the biggest reasons for Atlanta fans to be optimistic coming into the 2012-13 season is health. Specifically the health of Hawks center Al Horford, who missed the last 55 games of the regular season last year after tearing his pectoral muscle.

    He returned for three games in the playoffs, but he enters this season at full strength.

    Excluding last year's injury riddled season, Horford's play on offense—particularly scoring—has steadily increased each year that he has been in the league.

    He should be back to form on offense this season.

    With more team depth, a faster tempo on offense and more guys capable of shooting from range this season, expect to see the Hawks to take a fluid approach with their roster. Atlanta may switch Horford between the center and power forward position to take advantage of potential mismatches.

    Additionally, expect Horford to average his first double-double this year, as there will be more rebounds to go around—especially on offense.

    An 18-10 average for the season should not be too much of a reach.

2013 Offseason

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    The most thrilling thing for Atlanta fans to anticipate is the upcoming offseason.

    With only $18 million committed to their roster in 2013, the Hawks will have enough cap space to spend on elite stars.

    Who they intend to target in the offseason is not yet known, but it isn't hard to speculate that Chris Paul—who many Atlanta fans believe should have been drafted over Marvin Williams—should be near, if not at, the top of the list.

    If Dwight Howard does not sign an extension with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Hawks may also go after him.

    If the Hawks are able to pursue Paul and Howard, building a team around them, while resigning Smith and retaining Lou Williams, they could potentially drive season ticket sales up in droves, as they'd have a four player nucleus from the South.

    Howard, Smith and Williams all hail from Georgia, and Paul grew up a couple states away in North Carolina.

    Additionally, the Hawks have added assets in the draft.

    It is true that the 2013 first- and second-round picks that Atlanta acquired from the Houston Rockets (via the trade for Joe Johnson with Brooklyn) are both protected picks. It is also quite possible that the Hawks may not get to use those picks in this year's draft.

    But, while that may all be true, it doesn't mean that the picks are not assets.

    The Hawks may be able to package them in a deal to either acquire a big name free agent (via a sign and trade) or to move up in the draft.

    However things actually end up shaking out next summer, there is one thing to be sure of: It will be exciting.