Are the Atlanta Hawks Contenders or Pretenders in 2011-2012?

Mark EvansCorrespondent IIIAugust 3, 2011

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 12:  Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks walks onto the court during introductions before facing the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Phillips Arena on May 12, 2011 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

Over the past few seasons, the Atlanta Hawks have had nice regular-season records and consistent playoff appearances.

They locked up shooting guard Joe Johnson for the long term in the summer of LeBron James, even if they did overpay.

Al Horford may be a little undersized as a center, but he is certainly one of the tougher and better big men in the league, especially when it comes to rebounding. To his credit, he was also an All-Star.

And then there's Josh Smith, the freakish athlete. We all know he can run the floor, play defense and get to the rim with the best of them. He averaged 17 points and nine rebounds this past year.

Point guard seems to have been a question mark for some time, as Mike Bibby never really was able to get it done. Kirk Hinrich was added during the season, but Atlanta still isn't sure whether he is the answer. Jeff Teague is a young guard who brings some promise, but he still has a way to go.

Yes, they have been a pretty good regular-season team. Yes, they have been making the playoffs. But are they serious title contenders?

No, they're not.

I can never see them beating the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls or Boston Celtics in the East. They might not even be able to get past the Orlando Magic again. Not to mention the Western Conference, which possesses the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies.

Can Joe Johnson outduel the other elite wing players that he will have to face in a deep playoff run? You can answer that. Is he also overpayed? I think so.

Al Horford and Josh Smith are definitely nice players, but are they elite enough to take the Hawks to the next level? I doubt it. And I'm not expecting Marvin Williams to come to the rescue.

Don't get me wrong, I expect the Hawks to be a playoff team. They might even win a series. But as of now, would I even put them ahead of the New York Knicks? It's questionable.

That being said, can they get better? Of course.

It might start with a trade. Josh Smith rumors have been swirling around for a while now, and he seems to be the most tradable piece. Would they be able to get pieces that could push them to the next level in return? Maybe; that is still to be seen.

They could also get better from within. Jeff Teague is a key part of that, given that he is still developing and could step up greatly.

But until they show me otherwise, the Atlanta Hawks are title pretenders, not contenders.


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