ATLANTA - MAY 10: Al Horford #15 and Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks defend the basket against Marcin Gortat #13 of the Orlando Magic during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 10, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
I do not care how bad it ends, the feeling is always the same. Sadness. You do not go through the trenches of the season, bond however ridiculously to a team and a dream, and not end saying........nothing. For all the ups and downs, frustrations and joys, we stay fans because we like being fans and any time a chapter is closed and there is nothing left to root for, nothing left to tweak or look forward to, it is sad. Nothing for sports fan is always sad. Whether it comes with a whimper of 20 point losses or the pain of a seven game battle, the emotion remains the same.
By almost all standards (even mid-season) revised ones, the Hawks' regular season was a success. One can lift up specific gripes but against the back drop of 53 wins, a dominant home record, All-star birth, sixth man awards, and defensive player of the year consideration, this team did great things, praise worthy things, things each of us enjoyed. There may not be that moment we will cherish for years to come, but it would be silly, no matter your perspective on changes, to say stepping stones were not laid down. The playoffs will certainly try and destroy any notion that this truth ever existed, but the fact is, our team was good this year. Really, really good.
But obviously not good enough, and in that sense, I am glad the playoffs happened like they did. It was worst case, but it was the best worst case you could ask for. The gauntlet of the off season has been thrown down and the road map of success is obviously serious change. We can debate later if it means simply a coaching change or something much greater, something far beyond letting Joe Johnson walk, but what is clear is the trajectory of the team must change. Without a major shift in thinking, this team will run into one more second round sweep before crashing into something major and far more damaging.
Of course, one of the key decisions will certainly be what to do with Mr. Johnson. I am of the opinion that Joe Johnson is going to get paid close to max money so I am of the opinion that Joe Johnson needs to move on. That being said I have no time for booing Joe. He is the best Hawk since Dominique Wilkins. He came to this city when no free agent looked at Atlanta as anything more than a leverage tool. He destroyed his body for five years playing huge minutes. He won games. He made huge shots. He guarded the other teams best player night in and night out. He never complained, and he did near everything with class. Yes, Joe Johnson has faults. I have been accuse of being a Joe hater more than once for pointing them out, but if you are going to let one post game quote said out of anger and a bad playoff performance, cloud what Joe did for the team and this franchise, you are being worse than petty, you are being childish. Joe Johnson was not Kobe Bryant and he did not play well enough this playoffs for most us to want him back, but he was the best player four out of the five years of colossal rebuilding project and never had an off year. For our next max contract guy, I hope I can say as much.
So yes, the changes are coming. They need to come, but today, today is sadness. The end of era. An era that was far from wonderful nor close to ideal, but one I enjoyed every second of. Fandom is not always perfect and it is not about settling for less than perfect, but perfect fandom is being appreciative of what you got to root for. And through the thick and thin, I can say it was a joy of a ride.