Just a couple of years ago, the Atlanta Hawks looked like one of those teams on the rise and that it was a matter of time before before they did big things in the Eastern Conference.
They were at a fork in the road last summer when it came to Joe Johnson and decided to max him out, much to the chagrin of most Hawk fans.
Their thinking was that in order to remain relevant in the east, they had to keep him, even though they knew that Johnson is more suited to be a second or third option, not a number one.
In essence they chose to keep their playoff bound team that really doesn't have a chance to contend for a title, rather than to take a step back and retool from the draft and free agency.
Even though they were the fourth seed in the East two years ago, and the fifth seed this past season, they are still poised to lose more ground because of the emergence of the Knicks, and maybe even Philadelphia.
This is in spite of the fact that they tied up so much money in Johnson. Atlanta has been plagued with poor decision making by their general managers for years, and now they are faced with trying to get to the next level with no cap room, and a roster that has a lot of question marks.
These are the same Hawks that chose Marvin Williams with the second pick in the draft instead of Chris Paul, and quite a few other good pros. These are the same Hawks that chose Sheldon Williams with another lottery pick.
These are also the same Hawks that traded an aging nonathletic point guard (Mike Bibby) for another over-the-hill point guard (Kirk Hinrich) that is just a little less flawed than Bibby was.
Included in that trade was some young talent that they could have used, not knowing that their point guard of the future was on their bench for the last two years.
The Hawks never bothered to play Jeff Teague since they drafted him out of Wake Forest in 2009. They found out after Hinrich's injury in the playoffs that he was the point guard they needed all along.
Decisions like these have plagued the Hawks and have cost them a chance to be in the upper echelon of the NBA. Now they are faced with more decisions that will define their franchise for years to come.
Josh Smith is one of the most talented power forwards in the NBA. As he has shown in these playoffs and in flashes in the regular season he is a stat sheet stuffer and a difference-maker on both ends of the court.
The problem is that his basketball IQ is not that high, and he thinks he is a two guard sometimes and starts jacking up jump shots when that is not his game.
It has been a bone of contention with the Atlanta fans, and with the coaches because he needs to play with his back to the basket most of the time. With his jumping ability and strength he is unstoppable there.
He is the only player that Atlanta has that has a lot of value on the trade market, but there are questions about his ability to be coached, and his reluctance to limit himself to his strengths.
His skills are in demand and he could fetch a lot in return. The question is: Should the Hawks hitch their wagons to him long term?
I say no. His value is as high as it is going to get, and the Hawks need to re-shape their team for the long haul.
Sometimes in the NBA, you have to go down in the short term in order to come up in the long term. It is time they build the team around Al Horford. They have Jeff Teague, and no one will take Joe Johnson with his max contract, so it's not like they will be starting completely over.
One thing we do know is that they are not cracking the top four in the East with their present team. They have gone as far as they can.
The Hawks are at a crossroads with Jamaal Crawford as well. Should they try to sign him? At times he was their offensive leader in the backcourt, not Johnson. He was the one hitting the big shots.
He was the go to guy at the end of the games. Do they invest long term in him? I say no here as well. Johnson's contract took away a lot of the flexibility they had financially, and it might not be a good idea to tie up a lot of money long term in a guy who doesn't even start.
Crawford is looking for one more big contract. The Hawks should pass. All indications are that they will so far, but judging from their other decisions, who knows what they will decide to do.
The Hawks need a face lift of sorts. They would be smart to deal Smith, and let Crawford walk. They will regret the Hinrich trade, but like I said before, sometimes you have to go down a little to go up.
Build the team around Horford and go from there.
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