The biggest adjustment Atlanta must make during this offseason is improving their porous defense. The Hawks have offensive firepower, but it became apparent in their loss to the Indiana Pacers in the first round that they will have a tough time advancing in the playoffs if they do not develop a defensive identity.
In Games 1 and 2, the Pacers shredded Atlanta's defense as the barely competitive Hawks gave up an average of 110 points per game.
After returning home, the Hawks evened the series. But back in Indianapolis for Game 5, Atlanta returned to its porous defensive ways, giving up 106 points and allowing the Pacers to shoot 51 percent from the field.
Although the Hawks' defense played well in a sloppy Game 6, it was not enough to stave off elimination.
The breakdown of this series is very simple. When the Hawks were able to play well defensively, they won. But when their defense struggled, they had no chance against Indiana.
The Hawks' defense during their losses in the series was atrocious. Because their defensive performance was so bad, it was difficult to say whether the frontcourt or backcourt needed more help.
If the Hawks are ever going to be true contenders in the Eastern Conference, they need to shore up their defense in the frontcourt.
Every elite Eastern Conference team has elite big men. The Heat have Chris Bosh, the Pacers have David West and Roy Hibbert, the Bulls have Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer and the Celtics have Kevin Garnett.
As their roster stands now, the Hawks would be at a significant disadvantage against any of these teams. Rebounding and low-post play is often a key to success in the postseason, and Atlanta's inability to control the glass and create more second-chance opportunities has led to early exits in the playoffs. If a change does not come this offseason, those early exits will continue in the future.
To win in the East, you need to defend the paint, and the Hawks cannot do that unless they make a significant splash during free agency.
Defense wins championships, and, as constructed now, the Hawks' defense is too suspect for them to go on a deep playoff run.
The big free-agent names every Hawks fan wants are Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. While both of these players are elite and could change the fortunes of the franchise, the acquisition of Howard would have a bigger impact on Atlanta's championship prospects.
Paul is a great player but does not have the same impact on defense that Howard does.
The Atlanta native could fill the void at center for the Hawks. Howard's attitude in Los Angeles was in question, but if he is healthy (many question if he was fully recovered from his back injury this past season) and focused, Howard can be one of the most dominant players in the NBA and could provide a formidable frontcourt when teamed up with Al Horford.
Throughout his career and especially during his peak years in Orlando, Howard was a dominant force on the defensive end of the floor. He annually was one of the league leaders in blocks and influenced countless other shots. His offensive game comes and goes, but the one constant since he came into the NBA has been his defensive presence
At the end of his tenure with the Orlando Magic and in his one season in Los Angeles, Howard was not happy, and his play suffered because of it.
A homecoming could do him a lot of good, and if the Hawks are willing to make the financial commitment necessary to land a star like Howard, they would have an elite big man for the foreseeable future.
Another free-agent big man who could help cure Atlanta's defensive woes is Andrew Bynum.
Any team who signs Bynum this offseason will be taking a big risk. With that risk, however, a team will be acquiring one of the few true centers in the NBA.
The risk is not just with his suspect knee, which is a major concern, but it is also with his attitude. He often sulked during his time with the Lakers and was never fully committed to playing with the Philadelphia 76ers this season.
All of that being said, Bynum can be a dominant player and will be one of the most coveted players this offseason. Although it may seem like he has been around for a long time, he is only 25 years old and just entering the prime of his career.
During the 2011-12 season—his last full season of play—Bynum was beginning to hit his stride. He averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and nearly two blocks per game.
After his acrimonious departure from Los Angeles and his subsequent injury problems in Philadelphia, people have forgotten what kind of player Bynum is—a young center just entering his prime with the potential to become a dominant force in the NBA.
In recent years, many have proclaimed that the era of the big man has ended, and with the NBA trending toward a more open style of play, the need for burly big men in the center has diminished.
With the likes of Hibbert, Duncan and Blake Griffin playing crucial roles on some of the elite teams in the NBA, the Hawks need a truly dominant big man on the defensive end in order to contend.
The organization has the money this offseason to change the fortunes of the franchise, and acquiring either Bynum or Howard would boost the team's defensive prowess and immediately turn Atlanta into contenders.