Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, meanwhile, couldn't care less.
Although his Hawks are locked in a battle for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with the Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers, Ferry stressed to USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt that earning a playoff berth is not the team's goal (h/t Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie):
Throughout the year, I felt we've been on a good path. When healthy, we've been a very good team. I like the way we play. It's system-based. I like our players. There's some substance to them. With the way we're set-up from a salary cap standpoint and a roster standpoint that good things can continue to unfold.
We're not focused on trying to be the eighth seed in the playoffs because that's not our goal. We're trying to build something that's good, sustainable and the components are in place for us to do so.
Surely Ferry jests. The Hawks have been in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race all year. Making the postseason has to be their goal.
Or maybe not.
Dwyer points us to additional comments Ferry made to The New York Times' Mike Tierney, confirming what he told Zillgitt.
"Our biggest thing is, don’t worry about the playoffs," he explained. "It’s about building the system."
Maybe this is some big, weird misunderstanding, but it sure doesn't feel that way. Ferry has plans for the Hawks. Big plans. "Sustainable" plans.
What those plans may be, we don't exactly know. He didn't elaborate enough during either interview, leaving many of us baffled, perhaps even angry.
But before grabbing pitchforks and busting out the old flail, let's be clear about one thing: Ferry wasn't talking about maintaining the status quo in Atlanta long-term.
More likely, this was his way of admitting that the Hawks are rebuilding, concerning themselves with contending in the near future and not right now. And for that, who can blame him?
There isn't much to be gained from nabbing eighth place. It sets up a first-round matchup with the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers, both of which are likely to dispatch the Hawks in five, six games at most.
Finishing outside the Eastern Conference's playoff picture opens more doors. While the Hawks would have the best or second-best record of any lottery team out East, that could still put them in position for a top-10 pick this summer.
The Hawks currently have the 11th-worst record in the league, and could fall even lower given how frequently they've been losing. If the ping pong balls bounce their way, they could land even higher than the top 10.
Like Dwyer Writes:
Ferry doesn’t want a mediocre team that just makes the playoffs, and does little else. In drafting Schroeder, dealing for cap space, passing on Josh Smith’s supposed “prime” and hiring one of the more highly-regarded assistant coaches in the NBA in Mike Budenholzer, he’s cleared out room to build a ceiling. The foundation for that ceiling isn’t in place yet, but at least the Hawks aren’t maxed out and still well short of elite, as was the case during the Joe Johnson and Josh Smith eras.
Unfortunately for Ferry, optimistic hypotheticals aren't going to save him now. His lack of clarification makes it sound as if he's indifferent to the Hawks' ceiling.
"Candidly, I don’t pay the amount of attention to the standings that you would expect," he admitted to Tierney.
Hawks fans are now free to retrieve their pitchforks and flails.