Most fans wouldn't think it just by looking at his record (106-222) in the first five years of his tenure as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, but Mike Woodson is now showing the reason why he is a good coach and an excellent fit for what the Hawks need.
He is also starting to disprove the doubters who said that the Hawks were crazy when they signed him to a two-year contract extension this summer.
Woodson is the ideal leader for the young and very-talented Hawks team that is surprising everyone that is at all familiar with the organization's struggles over what seems to be their entire existence.
Not many remember that he was an assistant on the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons team that won the NBA title. He was brought to the Hawks to establish a defensive identity that would lead them to success.
The only thing that was wrong with that was that the Hawks had nothing. They were one of the youngest teams in the NBA, and were stocked with so many athletic wing players, with no true point guard to run the offense and defend the perimeter and no big man to patrol the paint.
But beginning last year, with the drafting of a skilled, athletic big man in Al Horford to fill a much-needed void in the frontcourt, the Atlanta Hawks turned the corner in their franchise's history. They now have become a team willing to win instead of hoping not to lose.
The acquisition of Mike Bibby last season for the stretch run was also a major statement to the teams in the NBA that the Hawks were no longer willing to be a doormat for others to stomp on. It also gave the Hawks there first formidable point guard since the days of Mookie Blaylock.
Horford and Bibby, along with All-Star Joe Johnson, versatile Josh Smith, continuously-improving Marvin Williams, and sixth man Josh Childress provided the city of Atlanta with its first trip to the playoffs since the strike-shortened 1998-99 season.
They were not done there either. The Hawks somehow managed to win all three of their home games against the eventual NBA Champion Boston Celtics. This unexpected and remarkable seven-game series gave the Hawk's fans and all fans of the NBA a glimpse at what might be a bright future for this young team.
However, during the offseason, there were many who questioned whether the Hawks were seriously ready to contend in a much improved Eastern Conference, which saw the Philadelphia 76ers sign Elton Brand and resign Andre Iguodala, the Toronto Raptors trade for Jermaine O'Neal to add to the frontcourt along with fellow seven-footer Chris Bosh, the Orlando Magic keep intact their core of Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, and Dwight Howard, and the Miami Heat add rookie Michael Beasley to a healthy and rejuvenated Dwayne Wade and Shawn Marion.
Plus, most NBA experts considered the contract negotiations that went awry between the Hawks new General Manager Rick Sund and restricted free agents Josh Childress and Josh Smith as signs that would point the Hawks back into the abyss of the NBA's cellar-dwellers.
Childress ended up signing a lucrative contract with the Euroleague's Greek Olympiakos that made him the highest-paid player in Euroleague history. Pretty good for a sixth man in the NBA, who nevertheless played an integral part in the Hawks' playoff season by providing scoring and energy off the bench.
Up-and-coming star and defensive stalwart Josh Smith, on the other hand, ended up staying with the Hawks—but not after signing an offer sheet with the Memphis Grizzlies, who were one of the league's worst teams last year. The Hawks did match the offer though, keeping their young star in a Hawks uniform for at least a few more seasons.
After Josh Smith's re-signing, the Hawks turned their attention to finding proven scorers to come of the bench to make up for the loss of Childress, one of the premier sixth men in the NBA.
The first step was the signing of Maurice Evans, a tough defender and good perimeter shooter from the Orlando Magic. Next was the signing of veteran journeyman Flip Murray. who had proven he could score in the NBA but had slowed down over the last few years.
Let's just say these two signings didn't do much to change most people's opinions on the Hawks' fortunes for this season. Well, safe to say they may yet be right—but that's not the case so far this season.
The Atlanta Hawks' 6-0 start to this year's campaign has quickly turned heads across the league and the media. The Hawks are winning with a mix of teamwork, hustle, confidence, and most importantly, defense.
That's right. I used the Hawks and defense in the same sentence. Pretty remarkable how things change in a year. After allowing over 100 points per game last season, the Hawks are second in the league behind the Lakers in scoring defense, giving up less than 90 points per game.
The Hawks are playing with the confidence and swagger that only a playoff experience like they had last season would provide. And as a result. they are off to the franchise's best start in a decade.
With a win tonight against Boston, where they lost all four games in last year's playoff series, Atlanta would provide the final piece of the puzzle to show to everyone that they are real contenders this season and for years come.
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