The Atlanta Hawks' Offseason Gamble Will Be a Success

Dan WeinerCorrespondent IAugust 26, 2009

ATLANTA - MAY 11:  Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks shoots against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 11, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Immersed in the darkness of a playoff drought that lasted nearly a decade and saw the franchise give money back to season ticket holders for unfulfilled promises, the Atlanta Hawks finally came into the light in 2008.

After a stunning first round series with Boston that year and a fourth place finish in the Eastern Conference in 2009, the Hawks have taken a serious gamble this offseason.

The Atlanta Hawks have gambled on stability.

The Hawks faced plenty of uncertainty heading into this offseason.  Four members of the Hawks eight-man rotation were entering free agency.  The Hawks re-signed Mike Bibby, Marvin Williams and Zaza Pachulia.  They flipped two mostly unused players Acie Law and Speedy Claxton for Jamal Crawford to replace last season's super sixth man Flip Murray.

Yesterday the Hawks cemented one more crucial bench piece by signing veteran forward Joe Smith.  Smith isn't the kind of player who will bring a title to Atlanta, but front court depth has been a major weakness for the Hawks the last few years and Smith brings a much needed experienced presence to the Hawks roster.

The Hawks kept the starting nucleus in tact and improved the bench pretty significantly.  Will all these moves help the Hawks crack the top three in the Eastern Conference? Barring an injury to LeBron, Dwight Howard or multiple members of Boston's big three, no.

What the Hawks have done, however, is guarantee that no matter what happens in the summer of 2010, they will come out of it one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.  The potential of getting involved in the glitz and glamor of next summer's free agent class is appealing, but it's going to leave a lot of teams heart broken.

Atlanta is an appealing city for a lot of professional athletes.  It's a hip, exciting, en vogue city and a lot of athletes live here or spend a lot of time here.  Still, it's been 13 years since a marquee free agent has signed with the Hawks.

While the Hawks are more stable than they've been in a decade, it's still a long shot to think that LeBron James or Dwyane Wade would end up in Atlanta.  The only big name free agent who would conceivably end up in Atlanta is Chris Bosh who spent a year at Georgia Tech.

So what is Atlanta's potential for the next couple of years?  While it doesn't seem like there is an elite player on the Hawks' roster, it's important to remember that the Hawks have three starters under the age of 25. 

At times Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Al Horford have all shown flashes of big time skills.  Smith is one of the elite athletes in the league and if he can improve his game from a mental stand point he could be an All-Star. 

Williams will never make people forget about the decision to pass up Chris Paul and Deron Williams, but he showed tremendous improvement last season.  He developed a three point shot, improved his ball handling skills and showed much more confidence than he had previously in his career.  He's also become a very reliable defender.

Horford seemed to level off from year one to year two, but there's no doubt he can be an elite rebounder, but he's still raw offensively.  If he can develop a low post offensive scoring game to go along with his underrated passing skills, he'll be among the best big men in the East.

As much potential as Josh, Marvin and Al have, the Hawks are going to go as Joe goes.  There is a lot of criticism that Joe Johnson is not an elite player capable of carrying a team in the playoffs.  I'd say that criticism has some validity to a degree, but you can't put all of the blame on Joe's shoulders.

Joe has put the team on his back the last two years and led them to the playoffs so it's hard to dog him too much. Also, over the last six seasons Joe has played an average of 76.5 games and 40.8 minutes per game. 

The Hawks offense is way too reliant on Johnson which has led to Joe developing tired legs at times. Last season, Joe was worn down and battling injuries and that limited his effectiveness against Miami and Cleveland in the playoffs.

The onus is on Hawks coach Mike Woodson to utilize his deeper bench, Crawford in particular, to conserve Joe's energy as the season progresses.  There is no doubt, barring injuries, that the Hawks are a playoff team for the foreseeable future. 

The Hawks aren't going to win a title any time soon.  That will disappoint a lot of people.  For this franchise to become elite they need stability.  That's the gamble Rick Sund took this summer and it will payoff in the long run. 

You have to walk before you can run.  The Hawks have crawled out of the dark ages.  Now it's time to start walking.