Now that the current Hawks have done something that hasn't bee accomplished since 1999, I feel the urge to look back and wrap up all my thoughts about the last good basketball team we had in Atlanta (excluding some very exciting college teams).
That squad had the misfortune of being a good basketball team in the Jordan Era-which was the pitfall of many other good teams, like the Utah Jazz. Not that this Hawks team was on the level of those Jazz teams; if the Bulls hadn't ended up finding Scottie Pippin, Karl Malone could have been the most celebrated player of that era, rather than MJ.
But at that point, the Atlanta Hawks were one of the most respected organizations in the NBA. Going back all the way to the 'Nique years, they were competitive in pretty much every season, and were riding a good streak of 7 straight playoff teams. Dikembe and Mookie were both ALL-NBA defensive players. They were struggling to find a solution at small forward right as the league saw a wave of young swing players who would come into stardom-yet Ty Corbin was a solid defensive option who seldom hurt the team. They were basically 1 good starter and 1 more bench contributor from being among the league's elite teams.
More after the jump...
With a nice new arena being built, there was also a good bit of disappointment in the Hawks organization. They couldn't make it past the second round, and it was decided that the current group of players was aging and overpriced. The decision was made to go younger.
I can't wholly disagree with this plan. History has shown that Mookie was pretty much at the end of his effectiveness (he remains my all-time favorite Hawk, above even 'Nique, since I never saw him live), and the aforementioned Ty Corbin wouldn't start in today's NBA. But history also demonstrated that Steve Smith had several good years left, and Mutombo was able to even start as late as this season. He started all of Houston's playoff games last year (this alone is very impressive, not only because of the sheer length of his career, but because the game has seen significant changes since his peak years).
Atlanta then completely destroyed a team in order to build younger. I say destroyed because you had an NBA team that was respected for having many high character players like Smitty, Mookie, and one of the great humanitarians in Dikembe Mutombo, and they traded Steve Smith to acquire Isiah Rider-one of the worst possible influences you could want to make on a team going younger. Atlanta got less than one year of the troubled Rider and 1.5 years out of Jackson. It was this trade that eventually prompted a Hall of Fame NBA coach to leave town. You'd have a tough time arguing that this team has ever had a better coach than Lenny Wilkins.
It was, in fact, a good year to go young. Atlanta had 3 first round draft picks, and it was a minor coup to get the 10th pick of the draft for Mookie Blaylock. Four first round picks in a draft that's widely viewed as one of the best in recent history. When you look at BK's draft record, or Rick Sund's, keep this in mind. Only 1 of the top 10 picks, Jonathon Bender, can be labeled a bust from that draft, and after the top 10, you had Andrei Kirilenko, Corey Maggette, Ron Artest, James Posey, Manu Ginobili, Jeff Foster, Kenny Thomas, and even Devean George all had solid/useful NBA careers. The Hawks came out of that draft with Jason Terry, Carl Bowdler, Dion Glover, Jumaine Jones, and Roberto Bergerson.
Probably the worst blow was seeing Andre Miller go two picks ahead of Atlanta's 10th overall selection. With all of Atlanta's picks in that draft, I can't understand why there was no trade-up to secure Miller, who ultimately could have anchored the PG position from 1999 until the present. After that, the draft blunders continue-drafting Pau Gasol and then trading him. Please don't forget that this franchise traded Rasheed Wallace and managed to get absolutely NOTHING back aside from a first round pick.
In conclusion, this plan was flawed from the get-go. The Hawks were not a broken team, and you only need to fix what is broken. Effective, useful point guards are valuable commodities, and defensive centers are nearly priceless. In the case of Mookie, the smart thing to do was to use him to mentor any young point guard Atlanta could add, and Atlanta's desire to save money should have started with NOT giving a huge contract to Alan Henderson. The financial situation then might have ultimately forced them to trade Steve Smith, but he should have brought back so much more in return-especially when the key piece coming back is man your head coach once called a "cancer."
So even though Atlanta ultimately had some talent in the intervening years (like Shareef, Terry, and Ratliff), the avalanche of horrible drafting and decisions that followed the 98-99 season turned this organization from a proud franchise into a laughingstock.