May 11, 2010
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.
Everyone knows that the Hawks have to go. This rotation, as presently constructed, isn't good enough to battle with the East's big three out of Orlando, Cleveland, and Boston. And even if it did have the talent to see eye-to-eye with that lot, would anyone trust the brains behind these Hawks?
Though the team has steadily increased its win total over the last five seasons, the team's playoff output has remained about the same. Blown out on the road in 2008, blown out of the playoffs in 2009's second round, and blown out by a the largest point differential in the second round's history this season. Those are signs. Not good signs, but signs.
The problem here is timing. The coach's contract is up, and the team's fake superstar's contract is up. Which puts the Hawks' front office in an either/or situation that allows them to pick one or the other and hope that the replacement of that "one" will be enough to get 1-through-12 crackin' again.
The coach won't be back. There were significant rumors regarding Mike Woodson heading elsewhere just a week into the playoffs, and though you get the idea that Woody had been sending Larry Brown text messages that read "THUNDER F'N DAN?!? CALL ME" during the Orlando series, it seems pretty certain that he and his staff of Brown acolytes won't be retained.
In return, the Hawks will get a different voice, and a cheaper voice. The last part is significant to the Atlanta owners, and the initial bit should please fans. Woodson sent off a series of signs that told you that he could coach during his tenure with the Hawks, but he also seemed to pair that with just as many instances that left you wondering just how engaged he was. As if he was playing the martyr, throwing up his hands as the knuckleheads had their way.
To say nothing of a switch-everything defense. Switch everything? That works for when there are fewer than three seconds left in a game, and when you're playing the Warriors. And that's about it.
That's not a shot at Joe. That's not some smarmy take on his struggles against Orlando (29.8 percent shooting, nearly four turnovers a game in a slowly-paced series), though he should be criticized for falling that far.
No, that's a shot at the people who thought him just a step below LeBron, Wade, and Kobe. The ones who can't wait for their team to throw max money at him.
Joe Johnson was a small step behind Danny Granger(notes) this year. He was way worse, overall and per-minute, than Manu Ginobili(notes), and Manu didn't get his act together until February. He's so far behind LeBron, Kobe (superior defense, though his offensive stats faltered) and Wade that it's laughable to think that he'll get paid as much as he'll get paid this summer.
He turns 29 in a month, so you get him in his prime for a year before the drop off. And he was only able to put up those nice stats (over 21 a game, 9.5 combined rebounds/assists) because he plays huge gobs of minutes, and has the ball in his hands constantly. And not just in an offense that ran a ton of plays for him, either. No, the Hawks just ran from him, while Joe surveyed the situation, ball in hand.
Again, this isn't on Joe. He did the best he could under those iso circumstances, and he'll make a lot of money off of it. But he's bound to disappoint in a few years, because of outsized expectations, and that shouldn't be the case. I just hope people will get wise now, before Joe Johnson goes Joe Johnson, and disappoints everyone as a result.
The plan is for the Hawks to keep Joe at all costs, and that will likely be enough. He's been ticked off and wanted to leave great teams before, but the Hawks can offer him more than anyone else (save, possibly, for the possibilities that an income tax-free existence in Miami provide), and he might open up to a change of ways with Woodson not around. That said, I saw JJ looking longingly at Toney Douglas(notes) during one game this season, so you can never count out those cash-rich Knicks.
With Joe around, there aren't a lot of options for these Hawks, outside of massive internal development. And, if I'm honest, I wouldn't put that past them.
New coaches have a funny way of getting to people. And while there's a sound chance the Hawks blow their choice and the players have him tuned out by Thanksgiving (Canadian Thanksgiving), you often see players (sometimes spurred on by guilt wrenched from getting the first guy sacked) band together over the new voice. Sometimes that voice is a one-year wonder, like Frank Johnson in Phoenix a few years back. But sometimes you find a keeper. Either way, you win.
You could win. But that has to be how Atlanta rolls, because they're not going to find the sorts of things they need to improve on the court between now and November.
I understand that Josh Smith's(notes) ability to register blocks dwindles when he has to chase small forwards (or stretch fours, as we saw against Orlando), but the team needs a legit 7-footer to move everyone down a position. That said, what team doesn't?
The squad also desperately needs a point man who can handle setting others up (to move away from Iso Joe) and defend like mad, but once again, what team doesn't?
If Joe bolts, the Hawks could have around eight or nine million to spend in the free agent market, but even with this massive free agent class, there just aren't many pivotmen for the taking. Unless you think Brendan Haywood(notes) is enough. He might be enough. He probably won't be enough. But it could help.
Really, the "just find a big man who can score and defend" panacea is a go-to move for most who attempt these sorts of postseason breakdowns, and these players just aren't there. Even when they are there, I mean, Dwight Howard(notes) still gets crap for not being Kevin McHale in the post. It's never enough.
So the Hawks have to hit a home run with their coach. They have to find a guy with offensive sets that Bibby (he's not going anywhere, unfortunately) can work through, he has to take advantage of Jamal Crawford's(notes) ability to get to the free throw line, jump in the air to pass, and find the obvious option (don't laugh, JC can do it; he can help in that regard), and he has to get the team to run more. I know the Hawks were an average defensive squad this year, but even average teams can board and fly as a result. Josh Smith doesn't have to start everything.
All on the coach. Which means it is all on Rick Sund, and the Hawks front office. There are some impressive candidates out there, but money is an issue, which means the Hawks will have to get creative.