Atlanta Hawks 2008-09 Season Preview

Team Name: Atlanta Hawks
Last Year's Record: 37-45
Key Losses: Josh Childress, the opportunity to hire a new head coach
Key Additions: Maurice Evans, possibly Othello Hunter or Randolph Morris, almost certainly not in a positive way Flip Murray, Rick Sund?

1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?

General Manager Billy Knight resigned after being informed he would not be offered a contract extension. Rick Sund was hired to replace Knight after several other candidates declined the opportunity to work for Atlanta Spirit LLC. It says something of Knight's tenure that hiring the man who spent consecutive first-round picks on Robert Swift, Johan Petro, and Saer Sene was generally assumed to mark a step in the right direction. Any warm, fuzzy feelings engendered by Sund's arrival did not last long as (possibly as a pre-condition to his hiring) he inaugurated his term as GM by signing Mike Woodson to a new two-year contract in the hopes that Woodson's first four futile years as head coach of the team were a fluke of some sort.

Re-upping  Woodson (career record: 106-222) was quite dispiriting to serious Hawks (By which I mean those who watched the team play prior to April 26th) fans who witnessed him come far closer to coaching a decent team (especially by the standards of the 2007-08 Eastern Conference) out of the playoffs entirely than winning their first round playoff series.* Management and ownership conspired to put that mistake in some sort of sick perspective five weeks later by managing to lose the services of restricted free agent Josh Childress without compensation when Childress signed with Olympiacos rather than play another game for the Hawks. Soon thereafter the Memphis Grizzlies signed Josh Smith (also a restricted free agent) to an offer sheet which finally prompted the Hawks to get a deal done with the franchise's best player.

*Seriously, the Hawks were never within 13 points (and got that close just once, with 7:01 left in Game 5) of the Celtics in the fourth quarter of any of the four games played in Boston.

Sund added free agents Maurice Evans, Randolph Morris, and Flip Murray to the second unit with Othello Hunter (likely) and Thomas Gardner (meh) candidates to make the roster. It's not an inspiring collection of acquisitions but anything that helps push Solomon Jones and Mario West down the depth chart or off the roster entirely has some value.

2. What is the team's biggest strength?

The front-line talent isn't bad. One could build a decent NBA team around Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, and Al Horford. I'm skeptical that the Hawks have done that. Which leads us to...

3. What is the team's biggest weakness?

Lack of depth. After Smith, Johnson, and Horford the Hawks have two starters who, at best, can be expected to be league-average in Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams. Bibby certainly helped the team's offense after arriving from Sacramento in February, but the team's defense declined just as much as the offense improved so his acquisition failed to make the team appreciably better.

Beyond the starting five, this season's the bench should provide greater quantity in terms of legitimate, NBA-quality reserve players than last year's squad, but no one can be expected to play as well as Josh Childress would have. Maurice Evans and Zaza Pachulia (if healthy) should be average reserves. It's not unreasonable to hope that Acie Law IV (again, if healthy) could improve significantly in his sophomore campaign. If Law struggles again, expect Flip Murray (career 3PTFG%: 27.9) to get enough playing time to challenge Josh Smith (career 3PTFG%: 26.3) for the team lead in ill-advised three-point attempts. Randolph Morris has played just 7 minutes and 16 seconds 24 minutes and 23 seconds (updated early Tuesday morning) of the pre-season, so the second big man off the bench could be either Solomon Jones or Othello Hunter. If Smith, Johnson, or Horford miss any significant time this will quickly become a profoundly poor basketball team.

4. What are the goals for this team?

The franchise's goal is to make the playoffs. I wish I could say the franchise's goal was to make the playoffs and win a series (or even a road game) but I don't think their off-season activity suggests they're trying to accomplish anything grander than to finish within a handful of games of .500 and hope that that again is good enough for a playoff spot in the East. As they finished eight games below .500 last year, earned the eighth-seed in the East last year by a one (1) game margin, and are trying to replace Josh Childress's outstanding (and unique among Hawks players) offensive efficiency (in part) with Flip Murray's profligate shooting, I put their chances of accomplishing this goal at less than 50%. If they don't make the playoffs, I believe the franchise would be far better off were the season to fall apart completely causing them to decide to end the Mike Woodson/Joe Johnson era and take on a long-term rebuilding project centered around Josh Smith and Al Horford.

5. You seem to be profoundly pessimistic regarding the 2008-09 season. What would have to happen to prove you embarrassingly* wrong?

  • Josh Smith becomes the focal point of the half-court offense and flourishes with the increased responsibility.
  • In turn, Joe Johnson shoulders less of the offensive burden and becomes a more efficient scorer.
  • Marvin Williams fulfills the legitimate potential that led him to get drafted ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
  • Acie Law IV gets regular playing time backing up Bibby and proves capable of being a league-average point guard.
  • Everyone stays healthy.
  • No player or coach has cause to use any variation on "I don't know why but we just came out flat to start the (game, half, quarter, overtime period)" even one time this season.

*I would like nothing more than to be embarrassingly, extravagantly wrong about the 2008-09 Atlanta Hawks.

Predicted Record: 34-48

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