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Ball Don't Lie

The struggling Atlanta Hawks continue to wait for a hammer that may never fall

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Josh Smith and Al Horford may be entering their final month as teammates (Getty Images)

Last summer we rallied around Atlanta Hawk GM Danny Ferry’s cause, crediting the newly-named Atlanta personnel boss for not only clearing $80 million worth of payroll from his team’s roster, but retaining a solid enough core full of top level players to ensure his squad’s return to the playoffs in 2013. Not only that, Ferry set himself up for nearly $40 million worth of savings under the 2013-14 salary cap for this upcoming offseason if he played his cards right. As in, “cut everyone.”

The Hawks roared out to a 19-9 start, enjoying borderline All-Star seasons from Josh Smith, Louis Williams, and Al Horford while circling the wagons with a bench full of bangers and unheralded types. Since that peak, though, the team has gone 5-9, and just about everything else has gone wrong. Williams, one of the great bargains in basketball, sadly tore his right ACL and will be out for the remainder of the season. Al Horford is in and out of the lineup with various left leg maladies, Josh Smith is his usual self, and the team has taken to relying on Jannero Pargo to win home games against teams missing half a roster.

Attempting to hold it all together is well-regarded coach Larry Drew. Drew is held in high esteem by both the league and the Hawks, but he was hired by the previous regime in Atlanta. His contract expires at the end of the year and Ferry is taking his time with deciding on Drew’s fate with the team, not unlike the fate of the players Drew is charged with coaching. Somehow, Larry is keeping a professional tone on record. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“I made up my mind going into the season that my focus was just to do the best I can,” Drew told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The normal thing would be to look over your shoulder but I made up my mind, given my situation, that I’m just going to go out and coach every game. Just do what I can. If it works out, it works out. If it does not, it does not. I’ve been in constant talks with my agent about everything. The way we are looking at it is, we’ll just see what our options are at the end.”

Atlanta Hawks, 2012-13: We’ll Just See What Our Options Are at the End!

This is what the Hawks, knowingly, signed up for. The Williams injury and the various other bumps and bruises weren’t to be expected, but Ferry and his coaching staff and his players knew this was a lame duck season going in. After years of intractable middle of the road work under GM Rick Sund – and there’s no shame in that, because those teams won consistently -- Ferry is going for something with more dynamism.

Or, out of options, he may just have to bring everyone back next year.

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Larry Drew, patiently waiting (Getty Images)

This is why Josh Smith has been rumored to be on the trade block, even though you may have seen this dance before. It’s why the Hawks always seem to hit this malaise around this time of year, although usually you could blame it on Joe Johnson’s typical mid-winter swoon. Usually what perked the team up was an All-Star appearance or two to keep the spirits going. Not this year, though, as both Josh Smith and Al Horford missed out on being voted in as reserves.

Neither are complaining, but you can tell they wouldn’t have minded the trip to Houston. From the AJC, starting with Josh Smith:

Q. Are you disappointed, or how disappointed, are you on not being named to the All-Star team?

A. Not as disappointed as people think. I mean I got my hopes up last year thinking I was going to make it, probably a couple of years before that too, but it ever happened. It’s not a surprise to me. All I can do is keep playing my game. Keep doing what I’m doing to keep this team positive and successful and not worry about anything else.

Q. Do you think your one-game suspension was the reason you weren’t chosen?

A. I don’t know. Who knows?

Q. What do you think about the fact that there are no Hawks on the team?

A. Now that is a devastation. To have two people … that probably aren’t going to make the playoffs that are on the All-Star list, I feel that one of us should have made it, me or Al. I’ve seen stranger things happen. I can’t really worry about it or scratch my head on decision that the coaches made. It is what it is. Hopefully, me and Al (Horford) can take out our frustrations on the Eastern Conference teams from here on out.

And Horford:

Q. Are you disappointed about not making the All-Star team?

A. Well, actually there is. I felt like I worked and put myself in the position. But at the same time it’s going to be good for me to rest. I have a lot of nagging injuries that will be good for me to take that time to take care of them.

Let’s rein it in there, Al. Lose the soap opera angle, OK Mr. Hothead?

In reality, there’s no real reason for Ferry to make a big move involving Smith. Contrary to most reports, the team doesn’t have the cap space needed to pair Josh with his buddy Dwight Howard in the free agent market this summer because of Smith’s massive cap hold. The team could renounce Josh at the end of the season to try and acquire Dwight, but why would Howard take less money than the Lakers could offer to join a team that doesn’t feature his pal Josh? Even if it does feature his pal Lou Williams.

Nearly seven months after Ferry initiated this rebuild, the Hawks are still stuck in that purgatory, not really knowing what to do until July of 2013. It’s an uneasy time, with the squad having dropped nine of 14 heading into a Friday night home game against a desperate Boston Celtics team. With no All-Stars and no answers and no idea who will be starting nor coaching this team as heads into 2013-14.

It could be worse. The team could be back in a different sort of purgatory, the one that saw endless capped-out seasons with winning totals that were always topped off in the low 50s at best. It’s true that the Hawks haven’t answered much halfway into their turnaround season, but at least the questions that follow this year will be interesting for once.

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