How Patience Has Become the Hawks' Trademark Formula for Success

Mike Foster@michaelsfosterCorrespondent IApril 21, 2010

ATLANTA - APRIL 20:  Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks reacts after a basket against the Milwaukee Bucks at Philips Arena on April 20, 2010 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

Six years ago Mike Woodson took over the Atlanta Hawks franchise. The Hawks were coming off a 28-54 season under Terry Stotts, who lasted just two years as the team's head coach.

Under Woodson's first year, Atlanta declined, winning just 13 games. The New Jersey Nets, who some argue was one of the worst NBA teams ever in 2009-2010, won just one less game than those 2004 Hawks.

But, Mike Woodson stayed in town, and six years later the city of Atlanta couldn't be more pleased that the organization didn't give him the quick boot, like they did to Stotts.

In this day and age there is more pressure than ever on sports clubs to achieve instant success. Head coaches and managers in all major sports, including the NFL, NCAA, MLB, and NHL are put under a short time-table to turn things around.

If they fail, they are packing their bags. Players are put under the same pressure, especially in the NBA where player shopping is more blatantly a business affair than anything else.

The pieces of the puzzle are constantly getting moved around, and we all know that mixing puzzle pieces makes for a pretty messy puzzle, does it not?

That metaphor might be the most accurate description of what has gone down with the Atlanta Hawks in the past six seasons. Instead of mixing the puzzle pieces around, the Hawks sat patiently, and have slowly put all of the pieces together.

And "slowly" is most definitely an understatement.

The Hawks have stuck with a group of "bust" draft picks, a former bench player in Joe Johnson, an old and versatility deprived Mike Bibby, and a center who isn't even tall enough to handle jump balls.

The Hawks also have stuck with the head coach who won us just 13 games in his first year.

While the busier teams, when it comes to player shopping and coach firing, continue to lurk in the pool of mediocrity, the Hawks have risen to become one of the NBA's premier teams.

Behind the likes of Cleveland, the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas, and maybe even Boston, the Atlanta Hawks could arguably still be the model franchise of the NBA.

Heck, they could be the model franchise for professional sports in general.

Without a hometown fan base, any marquee players, and a single starter who stands above 6'9", the Hawks have surpassed another milestone.

Milestone is becoming a word that is getting old for Atlanta fans.

Last night the Hawks 96-86 victory, in front of a raucous sell out crowd at Philips Arena, got their first 2-0 lead in a playoff series since the 1994 season.

It was their first 2-0 lead under the Woodson era. The snowball effect of the Hawks' patience within management, and within the fans and players, is paying huge dividends.

Let us take a look at the chart—the chart that ESPN has likely shown you twelve times this year—that draws the picture of Atlanta's success.

2004-2005: 13-69

2005-2006: 26-56

2006-2007: 30-52

2007-2008: 37-45 (First playoff appearance in Woodson era. Took Boston to seven games in the opening round of the playoffs)

2008-2009: 47-35 (Second playoff appearance in Woodson era. Won first round series vs. Miami)

2009-2010: 53-29 (Third playoff appearance in Woodson era. Opened series with a 2-0 lead)

You might be tired of seeing this chart, but it speaks volumes. While most teams look for instant gratification, following acquisitions in management and personnel, Atlanta has ridden a blue collar cast and crew to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Sure, I might be jinxing things by writing about milestones when Atlanta hasn't even won at Milwaukee yet; heck, the Hawks could even lose the series (God forbid).

But there is no doubt the Hawks have taken center stage in the Atlanta sports scene, despite being the laughing stalk of the NBA just a few years ago (granted that kid Jason Heyward and the Braves aren't doing half bad either).

The Hawks used to be known for having the worst attendance in the league. The only reason fans showed up for games back at the turn of the millennium was to watch Kobe, or 'Melo, or LeBron.

Now fans are showing up to watch the Hawks, and in full force. ESPN claimed at the start of last year's playoffs that no building in the NBA is more exciting to be in than Philips Arena when the Hawks are winning.

What used to be a vacant venue, aside from a few snoring fans and obnoxious superstar followers, now fills up with 19,000 white t-shirts, and fans chanting, "Now You Know!"

Al Horford has developed into an All-Star "center?"

Whatever he is, he is one of the most impressive youngsters in the NBA.

Josh Smith has drastically cut down on his childish behavior, and has evolved into one of the most complete players in the league.

His 21 point, 14 rebound, nine assist, two steal, and two block game last night against the Bucks is proof.

Jamal Crawford is the most blue collar of them all, never having played in a playoff series in his entire career until last Saturday. Crawford is a guarantee for this year's NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award.

Together, along with the mysterious persona of coach Mike Woodson, the Hawks continue to improve.

Some fans have been scratching their heads, wondering, "Will we ever get over the hump?"

We will ever get to the NBA finals?

Will we fire our coach?

Yes, Woodson would have been fired back in 2008 had Atlanta not done what it did to Boston. And, many started calling for Woodson's head this year because the Hawks blew some leads and Woodson had a shameful run in with Jason Kidd in the middle of a game.

The small amount of fans who are in this boat lack one thing: patience.

Patience is what Mike Woodson has. Patience is what the Hawks management has. Patience is what the players have. And patience, as a loyal Hawks fan, is what I have.

As Atlanta heads to Milwaukee for their two road games vs. the Bucks, they have a chance to get another milestone: a series sweep.

Then comes Orlando. Atlanta might very well fall to Orlando. Fans will begin to gripe again. But, maybe we win a game or two in the series. That is still a milestone.

These milestones probably seem meaningless to most. Who cares about how many games you win in a series? Who cares about winning six more games than last year?

But, if anyone has a tad of knowledge in statistics, they can look at the Hawks resume from the past six years and see one thing.

This team is improving, consistently, year, after year, after year.

So, until the Hawks take a step backwards, their patient rise to the top is sure to continue.

Say, in 2010-2011, we win 56 games? Say we win 59 in 2011-2012. Say we become a two seed, or eventually a one seed in the playoffs.

Eventually folks, if the past is indicative of the future, the Hawks will make it.

With that said, it is imperative that the Hawks somehow resign Joe Johnson at the end of the year. Johnson, who has been the cornerstone of the Hawks success, will be a free agent due to turning down contracts earlier in the season.

Jamal Crawford could be an answer, as a shooting guard, if Joe gets away.

Many negative-Nancy's are pinpointing the Joe Johnson situation as a flaw on the Hawks franchise.

But, the truth is the Atlanta Hawks are a model franchise. The most fan friendly franchise out there.

They held on to a coach who has gone under tons of criticism. They have held on to raw players, rather than trading and dealing for a lineup of "fantasy-league" proportions.

And within this time consuming process the Hawks won 53 regular season games and placed third in the Eastern Conference.

So when you tune in for the next Hawks game, look at the 19,000 fans decked out in white with their waving towels. Look at the flames shooting from the floor.

Take in the intense atmosphere of the "Highlight Factory," home to one of the most electrifying pro sports teams in the nation...

...and thank the Lord that someone had some patience.


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