With every new era, new expectations come with it. Some expect more than others, some expect less, but few expect more than the man who triggered the newest era of the Atlanta Hawks himself, Alex Meruelo.
"My focus is one focus: to bring a championship back to Atlanta. That's it." Meruelo said, "I'm committed to the city, I'm committed to winning, and I'm committed to a championship team."
He later continued, "I can't promise you a championship. I can promise you I'll never give up."
He has high expectations for himself as an owner and has high aspirations to go with it. He's stated he will be a hands-on owner, and, of course, that's what people want to hear.
The Atlanta Spirit Group (former ownership of the Hawks) carelessly tossed out money and giant contracts as they tried to cling to a slipping core. They gave Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams huge extensions. They inked Joe Johnson to one of the biggest contracts in the NBA. They made basketball decisions when they weren't basketball people.
Meruelo seems like a basketball guy. He seems to know and love the sport. He seems to be just what the Hawks need.
Just because he is a basketball "guy" however, still doesn't mean he is the one divine voice the Hawks should turn to. Sure, it's a relief not to have the owners suing each other (...ASG...), but hopefully he can give a new GM wiggle room. Hopefully, Meruelo lets the staff of real basketball people, make the basketball decisions.
He was not able to state any of his plans for the team due to the ongoing NBA lockout, but here are 5 bold predictions for the Atlanta Hawks under Alex Meruelo.
Atlanta was knocked out of the playoffs in the second round. Again.
This franchise has been pummeled in second round match-ups for the past 3 seasons, but last season was less of a pummeling than normal.
Hawks fans found hope in Jeff Teague, the second year point guard who exploded onto the scene with an impressive second round performance.
After his impressive showing, he is in a situation in which he will be given the keys to the car. Next season will be make or break time for Jeff Teague. By this time next year (if there's a season), the Hawks will know if Jeff Teague is the future at the point guard position. If he is, chances are he'll get a contract extension. If he's not, he'll be shopped or finish out his contract on the bench.
This would have happened regardless of Meruelo buying the Hawks, but when discussing the future of basketball in Atlanta, it's impossible to leave out Jeff Teague.
As previously stated, Alex Meruelo wants to be a "hands-on" owner.
He also, realistically, wants to bring a championship to Atlanta. It has become evident that that is not going to happen with the current roster, so chances are he'll speed up the process of rebuilding by swapping pieces.
Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams all get dealt.
Meruelo doesn't want the Hawks to continuously be in a financially unstable position, so getting rid of both Williams and Johnson should be the first thing on his mind.
Meruelo was not responsible for Johnson's gargantuan contract and probably wants nothing to do with it. He'll be looking to ship him away if a fair deal comes along. The only issue is, what on earth is a fair deal for him and his horrendous hunk of money he drags around?
Realistically, fair market value will not be reciprocated, but that doesn't mean that the value itself is lost. The Hawks can get a first round pick or a second, take another bad contract (not quite as bad as Johnson's) and nab an up-and-coming player in exchange for Johnson.
Here is a sample trade: Joe Johnson and Magnum Rolle to Charlotte for Gerald Henderson, Boris Diaw and DJ White.
The Hawks take on Diaw's contract in a swap of terrible contracts, and the up-and-coming Henderson tags along. On the other hand, Kemba Walker gets to start off his career in the backcourt with five-time all-star Joe Johnson by his side.
With Smith on the other hand, the Hawks finally commit to Al Horford full time at the power forward position and pull off an Andre Iguodala-Monta Ellis-Josh Smith trade. Iguodala goes to the Hawks, Ellis to the 76ers and Smith to the Warriors.
Marvin Williams gets traded for anything Atlanta can get cheap in return.
Many Hawks fans want to trade Al Horford instead of Josh Smith.
Thankfully, they are neither the General Manager nor the owner of the Hawks.
What those people don't understand is that Horford is one go-to post move away from averaging 20 points per game, and if he demands the ball more, we're looking at 22-25 points per game.
Sure, his activity level is not the same as Smith's and his defense could use some work, but he's coachable and won't miss every 18-footer he shoots. He spreads the floor much more effectively, opening up lanes for penetration.
With Johnson and Smith out of the picture, Horford becomes the focal point of the offense and turns into a very, very good poor-man's Tim Duncan.
Larry Drew was another cheap hire by the Atlanta Spirit Group.
Sure, he did a decent job coaching in the playoffs, but there are several question marks when it comes to Drew's coaching skills.
Jeff Teague was rotting and rusting on the bench all season.
He looked like a superstar in the playoffs.
You have to wonder if the Hawks could have kept Jordan Crawford, sent Bibby to the bench, and let Jeff Teague run the show. If the Hawks still had Jordan Crawford, the Hawks wouldn't even have to think about resigning Jamal Crawford. Now, if Jamal leaves, there is a gaping hole in bench scoring.
You have to wonder if all of that is due to Drew refusing to play Teague.
Then comes the motion offense he promised? I barely saw motion throughout the season on offense. Any movement was rare. Johnson resorted back to stall ball, Smith insisted on shooting, Horford wouldn't demand the ball, and the power of Drew looked minimal.
Again, you have to wonder. What if the ASG had decided not to hire within the Woodson coaching tree? What if the Hawks hired Rick Adelman? Would Smith be on the trading block right now? Would Jordan Crawford still be a Hawk?
There are so many places where things have gone wrong with the ASG, Rick Sund and Larry Drew. I would expect Meruelo to want to give Atlanta a new look. That means firing Drew after another subpar season, chasing after an experienced coach to replace him (like Adelman) and letting GM Rick Sund walk after his contract is up following this season.
While the man to your left might not even be a Hawk this coming season, you can expect to see similar gestures in the future from Hawks' players.
Under Alex Meruelo, the Hawks will win an NBA Championship.
I can't tell you if that's next year (it's not), 10 years from now or 20 years from now, but I see a long relationship between Meruelo and the championship starved city.
I see Meruelo making all of the necessary moves to give Atlanta their first NBA title.
The Larry O'Brien trophy has never been hoisted by the Atlanta Hawks. One day, Alex Meruelo will change that.