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Atlanta Hawks: Stay Put Now, Blow It up Later

Dan WeinerCorrespondent IMay 27, 2009

ATLANTA - MAY 09:  Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks drives against Zydrunas Ilgauskas #11 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 9, 2009 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 Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Trade Joe Johnson.  Trade Josh Smith.  Sign and trade Marvin Williams.  Fire Mike Woodson. 

Many suggestions to fix the Atlanta Hawks have been debated since the second-round stinker against Cleveland.  Sadly, Hawks fans, the news is grim.

The Hawks are stuck right where they are.

One fact remains fundamental.  The Hawks have peaked with their current makeup.  They could get to 50 wins next year, but they aren't going to crack the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.  They will be second round fodder for Cleveland, Orlando, or Boston at best.  Unfortunately, there is nothing they can do about it.

At the top, they have retained Mike Woodson, the coach who manages to suffocate his talent.  Woodson's abject failure to design any semblance of a half-court offense has doomed the Hawks to embarrassment against competent defensive teams. 

He's ruining Joe Johnson by wearing the tread on his tires down to nothing.  Johnson is the entire Hawks offense and it's clear after two years of playing more minutes than anybody in the NBA, it's taking its toll. 

Josh Smith and Marvin Williams are two talented players who have yet to realize their full potential.  Woodson is the only coach either has had as an NBA player.  It seems as if they tune him out. 

Smith is completely unable to play smart basketball.  Williams is almost afraid of his potential.  The flashes have been there, but they're too few and far between.
Al Horford hasn't improved tangibly from year one to year two.  His points are marginally up.  His rebounding is marginally down.  His passing skills are underrated and under-utilized. 

That's three guys who aren't developing at the rate they should.  It can't be a coincidence, can it?

As flawed as Woodson is, he's working with an undoubtedly flawed roster.  Atlanta counts on Joe Johnson to be a leader he clearly is incapable of being.  He doesn't have the alpha dog personality needed to lead a team deep in the playoffs.

He and Smith, Atlanta's second leading scorer, don't seem to play well together.  Seldom will you see games where they both score a bunch of points and neither seems to thrive off of what the other does well. 

So how do you fix the problems?

Your two main trade chips are Johnson and Smith.  There are pros and cons for trying to trade both.  Johnson might be an easier sell for a contending team as a one-year rental player for a title run.  Wouldn't he look good as Chris Paul's second banana?  The problem is there is no way to get equal trade value for him.

As for Smith, the main negative is his contract; you'd need to find a team that sees him as a building chip for the future.  Your only real option is a team in the lottery who would probably have to give you their draft pick in a deal.  In such a weak draft, there's no real value past the top three.  What constitutes equal value for Josh?

Another important fact in the matter is the current economic state of the NBA.  Half the teams in the league are struggling to make ends meet.  The other half aren't looking to take on a lot of salary and are willing to roll the dice on the 2010 Free Agent class which figures to be the best ever.

The best bet for Atlanta is to re-sign the three key free agent pieces, Marvin Williams, Mike Bibby, and Flip Murray.

Woodson prefers a spot-up, jump-shooting point guard and Acie Law ain't that (nor are any of the bevy of point guards Atlanta would consider with the 19th pick), so re-signing Bibby makes sense if you can get him for roughly half of what you paid him in 2009.

Murray was a godsend off the bench as a scoring guard.  He saved the team on multiple occasions and if Atlanta loses him, it will be devastating to the bench.

As for Marvin, he's the only person on the roster besides Joe who has natural inside and outside scoring ability.  If Joe bolts in 2010, you run the risk of having no potential scorers on the team if you let Marvin go.

Atlanta's best option right now is to hang tight where they are, try and reach the 50-win plateau in '09-'10, and roll the dice next summer.  The only real way the franchise is ever going to contend for a title is to blow it up and rebuild again, forgetting the Knight/Woodson era ever happened.

Unfortunately, the opportunity to do that doesn't exist right now.  Atlanta is stuck thanks to the poor economy and the mistakes of management past.  Hopefully, they can have a Falcons-like resurgence, but the Falcons have competent ownership, and when it comes to the Hawks, that's a whole other story.

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