With every season that ends, for the playoff teams at least, we felt it right to take a look ahead. TNT already has the rights to "Gone Fishin'," and because we're sure that someone, somewhere, still likes that Wyclef song, we're going with "Gone Till November." And, yes, we know the season starts in October. Today? The Atlanta Hawks.
When Danny Ferry swooped in to take over the Atlanta Hawks in the summer of 2012, almost immediately dumping the contract of Joe Johnson in the process, the Hawks went from maddeningly frustrating purgatory to a sort of hopeful purgatory – built around solid players, the promise of salary cap relief in both the summer of 2013 and possibly beyond, and a rise in spirit as Josh Smith and coach Larry Drew left for another division during the last offseason.
For a while there, once Chicago fell victim to injury yet again, the Hawks seemed to stake claim to the East’s third best team, before the league began to catch up with their spaced-out ways, and center Al Horford once again went down with a season-ending pectoral injury. The team lost 15 of 16 games after a sparkling 25-21 start, leading some to wonder – hell, Danny Ferry to wonder – if the Hawks wouldn’t be better off letting the Knicks catch up with them for the East’s eighth seed, and trying out some slim lottery percentages.
The Hawks “prevailed,” I suppose, winning 38 games and making it in to the playoffs to pair off with the Indiana Pacers. Most expected a tough series despite Atlanta’s sub-.500 resume, considering Indiana’s late-season struggles, but nobody is on record as predicting what eventually came to pass: Atlanta took the home court advantage and then a 3-2 series lead over Indiana before finally relenting in Games 6 and 7. It was a tough end to a fantastic playoff turn, one pitched without the services of an All-Star level center in Al Horford.
Horford’s return would mean the world for the Hawks and there’s no real reason to believe that Horford will be anything less than the players we’ve come to respect once 2014-15 tips off. Toss in a solid enough mid-first-round draft pick and what should be double figure cap space, and the Hawks figure to have a fantastic future ahead of them.
I mean … I guess.
The purgatory under Ferry is different. It really is. The Hawks are paying less than $30 million to its top three semi-stars (Horford, All-Star Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague), and they’ll have plenty of room to either go all in on a big free agent this summer, or more than likely toss out the salary cap space in chunks as Ferry finagles trades while attempting to find pieces that fit in coach Mike Budenholzer’s ever-expanding spacing schemes. This is in so many ways different from how things worked in the years prior, when the Hawks did consistently make the playoffs, but they also had to pay through the teeth (first in assets, then in dollars) for Joe Johnson, while constantly being at the mercy of Josh Smith’s shooting whims, capped out along the way.
Still, is there are star, here? A Heat-dethroning star? Hell, a Pacer-dethroning star?
Finding a pure passer to perhaps play alongside Jeff Teague would help possibly encourage Teague to stay aggressive offensively. Pero Antic worked hard and provided solid enough center relief for Horford until a playoff shooting drought hit, but the Hawks need to find a consistent backup big man. Kyle Korver figures to age well and DeMarre Carroll’s perimeter game is becoming more and more consistent, but this still isn’t an overwhelming team even with the addition of Horford and however many Ferry-acquired new options. Signing someone like Luol Deng to cut offensively and defend on the other end would seem to be a proper fit, but it doesn’t exactly guarantee a three-round playoff run.
And while the squad may have gone 16-13 with Horford last season, that only rounds out to a 46-win season. The 25-21 start only puts them on pace for 45 wins. Ferry’s work over the last two years has lifted a cloud, but it hasn’t put the Hawks over the top.
“Yet,” some Hawks fans could counter, and it’s all very true that a knowledgeable coach like Budenholzer working with a like-minded general manager like Ferry could combine to produce something that is bigger than the sum of its parts.
That’s the hope, at least. Which Hawks fans have been given the luxury to have, in the two years since Danny Ferry took over this team.
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