There exists four kinds of teams in the NBA. The elite, the bad, the rising, and the mediocre. For over a decade, the Hawks have spent all their time in the middle two categories. For their entire history in Atlanta, they have never been in the elite one. But for the first time in a very long time, we find ourselves back in the land of mediocre. And it sucks.
What is mediocre? It is the land where potential is reached. Where familiarity breeds contempt. Where hope dies. It is the place where the freedom of terrible does not exist and the joy of winning is never tasted. It creates teams just spirited enough to be crushing, just hopeful enough to look foolish, and I for one do not want to stay more than one season.
Mediocre is fleshed out in three ways, bad habits, fan experience, and the players.
The bad habit
Every team has them. Every player has them, and if you follow the game religiously enough, you know the specifics of your teams so well you can spout out exact moments when they happen during a game before they happen. On bad teams, these things are comical. It is where my love and shoulder shrug to the Zaza travel was birthed. It is where the Royal Ivey four minute starter becomes something you look forward to. On elite teams, it is impressive. How good would LeBron be if he did not settle for three pointers so much? On rising teams, it signals hope. When the Hawks were good enough to not have to relie on isolation Joe, this team was going to be incredible. Now that the medicore has settled in, the bad habit breeds intense anger. The hope was right, the Hawks did get better around Joe, but the isolation did not evolve to better things, it just bred babies. Everyone gets an isolation, and now, everyone one of my livers gets punished.
The fan experience
I lived away from Atlanta from 2001 to 2006, but upon returning, I started going to games again fairly regularly, and I have to tell you, I loved every second of it. If I never tasted the NBA playoffs, I would not have cared about what I was missing. I loved that the players could hear every taunt, that I could sit wherever I wanted, the ushers knew my name. It was wonderful. I genuinely enjoy NBA basketball so telling people they should come to a game was a can't lose situation. "This is rock bottom" I would say, "You literally have nothing to lose." As a fan of a bad team, you rejoice as you see people come to a game and actually get excited. You get to watch them see the same enticing things you do. On a rising team, the new fans are validation. You feel like you are a part of something that in some weird way you helped start. For the rest of my life, I will remember running down section 208 after Joe Johnson's crossover on Leon Powe to high five my favorite usher and walking back up seeing a packed Philips Arena go straight crazy. All I could think was "Thank you for coming."For elite teams, watching fans try and jump on the band wagon feeds the ego. You relish your season tickets, you rub them in peoples faces. You gladly mock friends as they try and hold on to the end of the bandwagon. But for mediocre teams, all I have is resentment. If I hear one more diagnosis of the problem from someone who started watching a month ago, if one more person tells me this team is lost without Joe Johnson but they do not know who Mo Evans is, I am going to punch them. Right in the face. And then in the thigh. And possibly in the stomach. At this point, you do not want more fans. You do not want to feed the beast. Because this beast is mediocre, and he only eats dreams.
Let me put it very simply:
On bad teams, you have middle school crushes on players. Fleeting, endearing, and real.
On rising teams, you have a loyal love that binds you with their new success in ways that make every trade possibility with one of your players seem ridiculous and one sided.
On elite teams, it is idolization or canonization depending upon if you are an optimist or pessimist when it comes to religion.
On mediocre teams, you sit in disdain. No one is good enough (even if they are). Everyone is to blame (even if they are not). And the negatives so outshine the positives you forget positives once existed at all (even if they still exist). You are the jilted lover.
Why hash out all of this? Well, because I cannot take hearing people say, "Do you want to go back to win totals in the teens?" and "You do not know how good you have it." Well, yes I do know how good, and it is not very good. It is, in fact the very worst.
Now I do not know what needs to be changed. Maybe just the coach. Maybe just the star. Maybe just the bench or even the guys with the highest trade value, but standing pat is not an option. Well it is an option, but it is one that chooses anger, disdain, and fan on fan hatred. And while I get I am risking painful losses and other people are risking jobs and money, if fans are in any way the client, the time has come. The Hawks need to restart their way to elite by getting the hell out of mediocre.