There was once a man called the "Human Highlight Film." He could jump higher than everyone, was a slam dunk champion and often put on magnificent scoring displays that shocked the masses.
He single-handedly struck continuous fear into the Boston Celtics. He averaged over 30 points per game in two different seasons, and over 25 points in 10 different seasons.
Dominique Wilkins was the last superstar to put on an Atlanta Hawks jersey. Since the 1993-94 NBA season, the Atlanta Hawks have seen a bundle of halfway stars walk through Philips Arena: Mookie Blaylock, Jason Terry, Shareef Abdul-Raheem and most recently Joe Johnson, but none of them have even been remotely close to enough.
What does 'enough' mean? It means enough to contend, enough to legitimately compete for a championship. I mean goodness, Terry and Abdul-Raheem never even sniffed the playoffs as Hawks, Blaylock and Dikembe Mutumbo knew their team wasn't strong enough to get past Jordan's Bulls and Johnson and the current roster have been the victims of atrocious management. The Hawks have never had a chance ever since their relocation, clearly evidenced by the fact that they've never made it to a conference finals series since becoming an Atlanta-based franchise.
Wilkins had the misfortune of playing during the dynasty rich Golden Age of the NBA. His Hawks teams could never get out of the second round, mostly thanks to the Boston Celtics, but even if they could it's not like they stood a chance. A one star team had no business succeeding in that era, and that was evident in Atlanta.
So if the Hawks in some unknown or unrealistic way got a star in this era, wouldn't they be subject to the same misfortune that Wilkins and Company were? Potentially, but Hawks fans have been thirsty for real success for the longest time, which is not defined as being a consistent playoff team who knows they will go down in the first or second round. We felt like we could sniff it in 2008 when a young Hawks team pushed the eventual NBA Champion Celtics to the brink in a seven game series. The aroma of success quickly vaporized though, as terrible ownership, management and coaching have plagued an era that had the slightest bit of potential.
If the Hawks really want to win they need new management, but it seems like that just might be on the way. In the next two years, the Hawks have a genuine chance to put themselves in position to rebuild for the future, and in some way, shape or form, acquire a superstar.
The options are limited, but here are two different ways for the Hawks to seize their long-awaited star:
1. Convince Dwight Howard to come home. Yes, this is where people tell me I've started venturing over to fantasy island. Maybe, maybe not, but Dwight Howard is from Atlanta and is incredibly active in the community. Crazier things have happened than a star going to play in his hometown. He won't go to the Lakers because he doesn't want to be in Shaq's shadow. He won't go to the Knicks because he'd be a hypocrite for criticizing LeBron for doing just that. Maybe he'll go to Boston, maybe he'll go to the Clippers, but maybe the Hawks trade Smith for some value, find a way to unload Johnson's seemingly unloadable contract, and have the cap space to chase him in 2012 free agency. Just maybe.
2. The slightly more realistic route. The Hawks trade Josh Smith to a bottom-feeder like the Bobcats, the Cavaliers or the Kings for a serviceable player and an unprotected first round pick. A pick from one of those teams is likely to be top five and if it's unprotected, it has a legitimate shot to win the lottery. With that, the Hawks rebuild through the draft by nabbing their future star in the top five, and then slowly getting rid of Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson, and using Teague, Horford and the new draft pick to contend in the future.
GM Rick Sund says he wants to model the Hawks after the 2004 Pistons, one of the only true starless teams to win it all, but we know the chances of that succeeding are slim to none. You build through the draft, free agency or trades, that is how you win a championship, not following a hapless model that happened to work one time in the NBA's entire existence.
Well rounded teams win you games. Well rounded teams with stars win you championships. The Hawks have never truly had the latter since being in Atlanta, and the former seems all too familiar at the moment.
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