Kleeman's Jumphook: Atlanta Hawks Take Flight After Long Wait

Robert KleemanSenior Analyst IJanuary 27, 2010

ATLANTA - JANUARY 15:  Jamal Crawford #11 of the Atlanta Hawks lays in a basket against Amare Stoudemire #1 of the Phoenix Suns at Philips Arena on January 15, 2010 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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Once upon a time, the Atlanta Hawks stockpiled lottery and first-round picks, many of whom were stunning athletes, hoping the future would someday look brighter than a Dumpster in a dark alley.

They drafted Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Shelden Williams, Acie Law, Al Horford, and Josh Childress.

They executed a Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson sign-and-trade and snatched up free agent center Zaza Pachulia. They traded for Mike Bibby and made the unheralded, best move of last summer in acquiring Jamal Crawford.

Management took "good things come to those who wait" to the extreme.

All the organization did for most of the 2000s was wait and wait some more.

In 2007, the Hawks won the franchise's first season opener since 1998 and ended an NBA-worst eight-year playoff drought in 2008.

Atlanta last drafted an All-Star 23 years ago. None of the players the front office has selected in that span has made the vaunted East exhibition squad while in a Hawks uniform.

The team won 13 games in the 2004-2005 season.

In 2009, the Hawks secured a winning record for the first time since 1998.

The franchise owns the most 50-loss seasons in league history. The team has failed to escape the second round since its relocation from St. Louis—unless you consider getting battered an escape.

What fan would not be proud of those marks?!

Some of the aforementioned high draft picks now play elsewhere. Shelden Williams plays limited minutes as a reserve in Boston. Oscar the Grouch and Jack Nicholson have seen comparable court time to Law, as he plays sparingly in Charlotte.

Nicholson, at least, gets a front row seat to some of the best hoops action around.

Embattled general manager Billy Knight quit when his incessant lobbying to fire coach Mike Woodson failed. Woodson, to his credit, has earned an extended stay in Atlanta.

Finally, after an excruciating wait, the Hawks appear ready to realize most of their high-flying potential.

Johnson's arrival pushed the franchise in the right direction. Now, Smith has decided to  divorce his unfortunate wife of many years, the three-point line. That marriage should have been annulled years ago.

He can still drain looks from long-distance, but he now plays more of the game closer to the basket, where few forwards and centers, big or small, can stop him.

Marvin Williams is looking more like a lottery pick than the would-be bust selected ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams. He's shooting 55 percent over his last five games.

Bibby provides steady leadership and lends his deadly outside shooting to the Hawks' cause on the offensive end. Atlanta almost scores enough points to make up for Bibby's un-defendable or undependable 'D.'

Horford, just 23, averages nearly 14 points and 10 rebounds a game this season. The 2008 Rookie of the Year runner-up now ranks near the top in assists per game for centers.

When this bunch uses its sans-pareil, collective athleticism, it can beat anybody.

Case in point: The Hawks won in Houston on Saturday night, the first time Atlanta left Toyota Center with a victory since 1999. A gaping 7'6" hole in the Rockets front line was evident, but put the win in the "impressive" column nonetheless.

The quest for Eastern excellence continues tonight when Atlanta visits San Antonio. The Spurs look as vulnerable as a pole vaulter in a lightning storm.

With Boston banged-up, Orlando searching for the right wand to cure numerous chemistry issues and Dwight Howard's primitive low-post game, and Cleveland forced to play without starting point guard Mo Williams for a month, the Hawks could make things interesting.

They can also lose badly to the New York Knicks at home, a testament to their continued fight against immaturity.

Finally, the league's most athletic team looks like more than a collection of lost boneheads. Atlanta is on the threshold of title contention, but might need more seasoning and epic misfortune on the part of Boston, Orlando, or Cleveland to win the East.

Still, it says a lot that Sunny Delight would be a more fitting team sponsor now than BFI or Atlanta's solid waste department.

Good things come to those who wait.

From trash to treasure, the Hawks know all about it.