This is the year for the Atlanta Hawks; it's boom or bust.
If the Hawks don't make a significant splash in this year's postseason, then it will officially be time to start looking in a different direction in Atlanta.
However, I don't want to entirely rule out a Hawks run this postseason. Keep in mind the trouble they gave the Chicago Bulls last year with an inexperienced point guard in Jeff Teague, an overweight Josh Smith, a bothered-by-injury Joe Johnson and an at-the-time-dysfunctional-sixth-man in Jamal Crawford (great vs. Orlando, did terribly against Chicago).
This year, Teague will garner more experience and only grow as a player, Smith has lost 25 pounds since last season, Johnson is back and looking healthy and spry, Crawford is gone but he'll be replaced by a playmaking Tracy McGrady and an interesting project in Pape Sy is likely to get minutes early in the season with Kirk Hinrich out.
This year's team isn't full of world-beaters, but make no mistake—they'll be able to compete with and even beat Chicago or Boston. There is a cautious sense of optimism with this Hawks team, and rightfully so.
The bottom line remains the same, though. This is likely the last season the Hawks will be under Rick Sund as GM (expiring contract), and with the ASG looking to sell, a new owner could really look to shake things up.
If the Hawks don't make noise in the playoffs, a shakeup is just what they need. Here are five steps that could have Atlanta rebuilding without missing a beat.
The obvious wish of all Hawks fans and Atlanta sports supporters: The Atlanta Spirit Group needs to go.
They sue each other, engage in childish lawsuits, toss money around when it's not worth it and hoard it when it is.
The Hawks threw the bank at Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, putting the team in a tight situation financially for the foreseeable future. However, when it comes to turning this team into a championship roster and finding the missing piece, they refuse to go into the luxury tax to acquire that piece (that piece being and offensively and defensively competent center who can be played more than 20 minutes a game, immediately ruling out Jason Collins).
Furthermore, when opportunities have presented themselves in terms of Jamal Crawford, the ASG turned the other way. The Hawks will likely get nothing for the free-agent spark plug off the bench as he'll ink a deal with a new team. Just know that there was an opportunity to get some serious returns for Crawford, but the ASG wasn't willing to authorize Sund to make the move because they didn't want to spend the money.
A sign-and-trade for Crawford would have made the Hawks a tax-paying team, but the ASG decided that saving those few bucks and not paying the tax was more important than putting a championship team on the court. There were early talks amongst blog people of a Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer for Jamal Crawford sign-and-trade, and then a Toney Douglas-centered deal with the Knicks came into play.
However, the ASG was and is determined to stay under the tax threshold, making sure Atlanta will get nothing in return for Crawford.
To pile on, the ASG threw the bank at Joe Johnson last summer, making him one of the highest-paid players in the NBA. Johnson is a five-time All-Star and scoring machine when healthy, but there is no way on earth he deserved the hunk of money thrown his way. He'll be the most integral part of the Hawks offense for some time into the future, but his contract is restraining the team from making any major moves.
A new owner could be on the way. After a deal with Alex Meruelo was reached over the summer, it was terminated in early November and the ASG resumed ownership of the Hawks. The team is most likely still on the market, and a new owner with deep pockets would be ideal as opposed to a group ownership like the current one. The Hawks are the most appealing franchise on the market and are better suited for new ownership than New Orleans, Sacramento or any other team that could see a change upstairs.
An owner with a desire to win and sufficient funds could unlock the door to a bright future for the Hawks and start making the dominoes fall.
The first domino to fall would be Rick Sund.
He's a fine GM, but he's not a move-maker. He likes to stand pat with his team and make tweaks as opposed to a risk that could propel the team to a new level.
He has a sense of loyalty to the players he drafted or wanted to draft, evidenced by his signing of Vladimir Radmanovic, who he drafted in Seattle, and his haul of a trade for Kirk Hinrich. While at the time the Hinrich trade seemed like a small roster tweak, its overall impact has been palpably negative for the Hawks.
Sund was rumored to have told Hinrich on his draft day in 2003 that he shouldn't be surprised if he one day played for him. Sund made it happen, but gave up too much youth in the process.
He sent over Jordan Crawford (not to be confused with Jamal), Mo Evans, Mike Bibby and a first-round pick all for Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong. Evans and Bibby weren't young but at least Evans could give solid minutes off the bench. Crawford exploded upon arrival in Washington, going off for 39 points one game and tallying up a triple-double the next. Armstrong was another unusable big body on the Hawks roster, teaming up with Etan Thomas and Magnum Rolle as players who would wilt away on the bench because they weren't good enough.
What doesn't make sense was Crawford's place on the bench and Jeff Teague's seat next to him, but we'll get to that in the next slide.
The new ownership decides not to renew Sund's contract and they let him walk. The Hawks look no further than their current vice president of basketball operations to fill the new opening, Dominique Wilkins.
The former Hawks All-Star who brought basketball to life in Atlanta looks to rehabilitate the struggles of the ASG era and provide stability. Wilkins would clearly have the best interest of the franchise at heart. He's the king of Georgia basketball, going to the University of Georgia and then becoming a Hall of Famer for the Hawks. He bled red and yellow until the colors were switched to red and blue; his blood color changed with it.
On a side note, if Wilkins did or does take over as GM, it would be nice for him to restore the true colors of the Hawks, the aforementioned red and yellow. Who knows? The Pac-Man Hawks logo may just come with it.
Larry Drew is a good coach. He makes adjustments in the game well, and he understands how to play his opponent. He improved the offense greatly in his first year, trumping the efforts of previous coach Mike Woodson.
His issue is playing the young talent that he has. It's understandable to make players earn their spot on the court, but when a player has been warming your bench, gets traded and drops 39 points in his first game with his new team, questions will come up, especially when that's followed by a triple-double.
The Hawks would be happy to let Jamal Crawford walk if they knew what they had in Jordan Crawford, but they didn't as he sat on the bench the whole game.
Also, because Drew was apprehensive about handing over the reins to Jeff Teague, the Hawks were never able to see he was the point guard of the future until it was too late. They'd shipped out Mike Bibby and Mo Evans, but more importantly Jordan Crawford and a first-round pick all to get a perimeter defensive stopper in Kirk Hinrich for $8 million a year.
Guess what the Wizards did what that first-round pick: They took a defensive stopper in Chris Singleton out of Florida State. If Sund wasn't so infatuated with his former players and Drew played either Teague or Jordan Crawford enough, that mess wouldn't have happened. It's poor managing and coaching working together.
While Drew is a fine in-game coach, and as said earlier, a huge step up from Mike Woodson, new ownership wouldn't be terribly afraid to let him go. He's the lowest-paid coach in the NBA, so while you lose a bargain, you open yourself up to bigger and brighter things.
Keeping with the retro Hawks theme started by Wilkins becoming the new GM, the Hawks try to lure Doc Rivers away from the Celtics or out of retirement (whatever the case may be) to realign the stars of Wilkins and Rivers.
The chemistry between the front office and the coach would be incredible. The two made Atlanta basketball exciting, and although it hit rock bottom in the early 2000s and has seen a mini-renaissance, Rivers and Wilkins would be the perfect combination to restore a true winning attitude in Atlanta where the team consistently competes for a championship.
If Rivers can't be lured from the Celtics' locker room or the golf course, the Hawks snag Jeff Van Gundy, take him off TV, suit him back up and plant him in a head coach's seat where he belongs.
If Wilkins takes over as GM, some changes will be made for sure. For starters, you can expect the Josh Smith trade talks to stop. Wilkins and Smith have always had a good relationship, and not only would it please Smith, but Wilkins would do what he could to make Smith better.
The real trade scenarios would be centered around Al Horford, Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. The Hawks could get three or four first-round picks along with a borderline All-Star or two for Horford and Johnson, assuming they are separate deals. I think Marvin Williams is due for a breakout season, so his trade value should likely go up as well.
If the Rockets are so anxious to get an All-NBA big man, look no further than Al Horford. Ship Kevin Martin and a first-round pick to Atlanta, and you'll get Horford and another role player of your choice.
For Johnson, the team has to be close to a championship or rebuilding to take on his contract. He's a guy who can put you over the hump or help your team grow, but he wasn't made to carry a team like he's doing with the Hawks. It will be tough to move his gargantuan contract, but if the Wizards could move Gilbert Arenas', then the Hawks can move Johnson's.
There is no reason the Hawks couldn't get a few young players and a first-round pick or two in return for Johnson and Williams.
Keep in mind, this whole article is based on the Hawks floundering under expectations this season and the ASG finally selling the team, but if a perfect storm hit, the Hawks could gain some picks and young talent as mentioned in the previous slide.
If a good trade with Horford or Johnson is made to a bottom feeder for an unprotected first-round pick or two (the Hawks could easily get that if the Cavs got one for Mo Williams and taking on Baron Davis' contract), the Hawks could find themselves with a lottery or top-five pick. With that, they should target either Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out of Kentucky or Perry Jones out of Baylor.
If the Hawks are lucky and it's top two or three, they could go for Anthony Davis or Jared Sullinger. Either way, one of those four will likely set you up nicely for the future.
For a pick that would be in the middle of the first round, there are options like the potential-filled, but work-in-progress LeBryan Nash out of Oklahoma State. Or, the uber-athletic lefty point guard in Tony Wroten out of Washington. If you want more of a little but crafty point guard, there is Myck Kabongo out of Texas or Phil Pressey out of Missouri.
Talent is in abundance in the coming draft, and if the Hawks play their cards right they could put together a good young team paired with some not-too-old veterans like Josh Smith and the other products from the Johnson and Horford trades.
While some of this is extremely unlikely, it's always fun to brainstorm these ideas. So please leave a comment and discuss.