Hawk Str8Talk is back - Offseason/Season Musings

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 30: The Atlanta Hawks dancers perform during the game against the New Jersey Nets at Philips Arena on December 30, 2011 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)

It's time for some Str8Talk. After flirting with the end of the blog (by virtue of my pledge that I would quit blogging if the Hawks defeated the Bulls in last year's playoffs), it's time to get back to blogging. As we go into our 4th year, I'm sure my tens of fans have asked - why the lack of blogs this offseason. Well, two things happened - there was this thing called the lockout, which was really not about principles but was simply a money grab for the owners so they could continue to run the league with the same issues of competitive balance at play (see Paul, Chris & Howard, Dwight) and there ALSO was this thing that happened called - the Hawks are NOT sold. The first muted my desire to blog, the second KILLED it...

Yes, this was a crushing blow for us here at Hawk Str8Talk HQ. You've seen our disclaimer since the start of this blog (and if you haven't - here it is - Disclaimer: As always, all criticisms come after blaming the Atlanta Spirit Group first, management second, and then coaches and players last. Those criticisms come through the prism of winning championships (or the things that result in championship team building)) and we thought we had permanently retired it at the sight of Mr. Alex Mereulo. But then, in true Hawks ownership fashion and like Sugar Ray Leonard, someone's money was kinda funny and well, long story short - the disclaimer is un-retired and is back. For those who are new to this blog, then you only need to read this and this to understand why the disclaimer is necessary. We'll discuss these further below, but to be clear - all critical thinking starts at the top and trickles down from there. So, with that, we needed a minute to ready for the season, but just like last year - 6 days in, we're ready to go. So, let's end 2011 with a kickoff for Hawk Str8Talk...like last year, the desire to do game recaps is over, but we will continue to do a weekly article here and on Peachtree Hoops called Honesty Corner's 5 Truths - where we put the week's 5 most important observations. Also, we will talk about things off the beaten path (like Al Horford's marriage - scandalous stuff indeed) and what's happening in Hawk land behind the scenes. If you want to get our musings during the games, you can check me out at @hawkstr8talk on Twitter. So, with no further ado, it's time to get to the thoughts and predictions where we promise - all predictions wrong or this blog costs you more than free.


Before we delve into the season, let's talk about the value of our blog in relation (not instead of) to our Hawks blog brethren - who you can check on here here and here and here along with my Hawks blog boo here. There are some things that you need to be aware of:

  • This blog is all about winning championships. So, you can read here how we could win the battle and lose the war. This is about critical thinking our way to a NBA championship. Yes, on game day, I'm cheering my HEART out for the Hawks, but the goal of the BLOG is to report on all things related to how the hell do we win a title? Period. Go to our other brethren if you want a viewpoint that's more cheering no matter what the facts may say (Note: that's not meant as a slight to other blogs, just to say that that's my only true angle - winning a title).
  • This blog is about talking the things that other blogs don't...like - how did the dance team do? where groupies in full force for the big games? what is happening in the front office? why you should go to Miami for a road trip once a year? Etc, etc, etc...
  • This blog is lastly about fun - so keep your hate confined to Tea Party rallies. Here is where sanity reigns and critical debate is welcome as long as you know how to keep your feelings in check.

As we did the last 3 years, it's time to give our review of the coach and the team and its prospects. As well as our (drum roll please) best case and worst case predictions along with our true prediction for 2011-2012. One last note - we reserve the right to change our prediction as things change. We'll identify when that happens and make adjustments as necessary. Now, off to the analysis:

Offseason Additions/Subtractions:

Let's start with the subtractions - Hilton Armstrong, Josh Powell, and Etan Thomas will not be missed one iota. Damien Wilkins was replaceable while providing some negligible value last year. This leaves us with Pape Sy and Jamal Crawford. It's unfortunate that we have to use a seemingly average to below average player to prove a point, but Pape Sy is just another example of either the Hawks inability to develop talent or their inability to scout players. In either (or both), the waiving of a player that you bought out of his contract just last year should be a significant demerit against the Rick Sund regime. For me, it's both. A team with the limited budget that the Hawks have can't invest in a player that you don't get a chance to validate one way or the other. This more than a concern that we're missing out on hidden gems is the problem with our management and the coaching team's synergy in selecting players that will aid in our pursuit of a title. The franchise that doesn't give a reasonable chance to Jordan Crawford, Keith Benson, and now Pape Sy. Not to mention past casualties Acie Law IV, Salim Stoudamire, Solomon Jones, Sergiy Gladyr, and Cenk Aykol, Oh, and did I forget to mention Jeff Teague (we'll come back to him later). The point is simply that a team with razor thin margins for adding talent (via draft and veterans signed at the minimum) cannot be cavalier about the process of adding talent nor acquiring assets (draft picks, trade exceptions) that will move the franchise forward. After saying all that, Pape Sy and Keith Benson weren't good, never were, so let's move on.


This brings us to Jamal Crawford. There was a lot of chatter about whether or not to bring back Jamal Crawford and so that I don't spend a lot of time on this - here's a truth that many people still haven't grasped and that's that - Jamal Crawford was never a great acquisition for this franchise. For $18M over 2 years, getting highlights and scoring is not enough. You can compare him to Acie Law IV and Craig (can't call him Speedy) Claxton, but I'd prefer to compare him to what else other teams would have attempted to get for $9M a year in their place. So, instead of trading for a luxury piece vs. a true need, I've said this since the trade and I maintain that Jamal Crawford (much like Kirk Hinrich) are not players you can retain at the price tag we are paying when you have other glaring needs. It was tolerable during his 6th Man of the Year season, but last year - a $9M price tag for a backup shooting guard who doesn't do anything other than score (esp. at less than an elite level) - Jamal Crawford should have been on the trading block from offseason through the trading deadline. Unfortunately, our management and coaching staff looked at him as a core component instead of the enhanced Eddie House luxury piece to a puzzle that any other championship level team would view Jamal as. To be clear, I like Jamal Crawford as a person, but I've maintained for 2 years that he's a flashy guy who exhibits traits that belie why his previous teams have never made the playoffs. Additionally, there are players for a cheaper price that could put up similar numbers if all you asked him to do was come in and score the ball. The whole thing was always illogical to have $30M invested in the shooting guard position for a combo that doesn't include Jordan, Wade, etc. So, in true Hawks fashion, we never looked to get an asset back from a player we certainly weren't going to be able to resign from the moment we re-signed Joe Johnson. Like Mike Woodson, I suspect that we'll look back and say - hmmm, why isn't he setting the world on fire the way we thought he was (for those who believe that) in his post-Hawks career? (Note: I'm still waiting for the first article blasting the Hawks for letting Jamal Crawford go.)


Enough of looking backward, let's go forward and say that we added some players...Tracy McGrady, Jannero Pargo, Donald Sloan, Willie Green, Jerry Stackhouse, Ivan Johnson, and Vladimir Radmanovic. We know that all of these guys are coming in for the absolute minimum you can pay a player, so let's separate the gold from the fool's version. Here's what you hope happens - Tracy McGrady and Vladimir Radmanovic are good additions that you hope don't fall victim to the insane schedule this year. Whether they have anything left in the tank by the (spoiler alert) playoffs will determine what round this team bows out of. Jannero Pargo and Willie Green probably shouldn't be on the team (not at the expense of Pape Sy or Wanamaker in my mind), but we know that developing talent is ..oh, see my rant above - so let's just hope that their veteran-ness provides some value or their terrible-ness keeps Teague and Hinrich on the court more often that not. Jerry Stackhouse is what we hoped Josh Powell would be last year..a veteran leader who provides locker room leadership. Anyone who watched the Hawks last year, there was not much leadership, so let's hope that Stackhouse can be that guy - or else he needs to be cut. Finally, Ivan Johnson and Donald Sloan are this season's sit on the bench guys and they may deserve to be, but let's hope that when the schedule is insane and players are in foul trouble or injured that opportunities to prove their worth are offered to these guys (or in Pargo's case - simply letting Sloan play could just be the best thing to do no matter what).


Overall, the additions are a net positive over last year's group at first glance (Jamal Crawford included), but we'll see if that lasts since we know that one or two of these guys will be waived during the season to keep the team under the tax and who knows how the injury front will impact us. So, I congratulate Rick Sund on signing players who can contribute this year while I continue to give him the side eye for not being able to make the hard decisions to carve out cap room and draft picks for use this year and in anticipation of next season's free agent pool.


Coaching:
I was a very vocal dissenting voice in selecting Larry Drew as our coach. Never say that I'm not consistent when I say - I still don't believe in Larry Drew. I give him credit for his use of Jason Collins in last year's playoff series vs. the Orlando Magic. That's about the only thing I can say was A+ work. When I juxtapose that with his decision to sit Jeff Teague long enough that we gave away our Jamal Crawford replacement AND a draft pick (hello Chris Singleton or even Norris Cole) searching for what was sitting on our bench at (wait for it) a higher price tag than the other guy we shouldn't have been paying (Mike Bibby anyone?) as much as we were, then the Jason Collins move doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy. In fact, that decision alone makes me angry. Every time I watch Jeff Teague do something that none of our other guards can do - I say to myself how can the point guard developing Larry Drew not see what my limited basketball knowledge seems to see. So, call me biased, but something drastic will have to happen to change the opinion that this is NOT the coach for the future.


What drastic thing could happen - well, glad you asked...they are going to be things that aren't foreign to many Hawks fans (and some that may). They are:

  • Not allowing Josh Smith to shoot jump shots without his ass hitting the pine
  • Giving Jeff Teague the freedom to run the offense and allowing him to make mistakes without pulling him like the rest of the starters.
  • Never starting Kirk Hinrich (unless it's as a SG and Joe Johnson as a SF or as a result of an injury).
  • Selecting Al Horford as your ONE and ONLY captain.
  • Retiring the Horford Treatment (a la 2 fouls and you sit for the half).
  • Making Marvin Williams your 6th Man (my request for the past 3 seasons)
  • Putting an end to the Hawks proclivity to turn transition opportunities into jump shots (mostly due to forwards and centers trying to run the break)

These are things that would move the needle in terms of putting a stamp on this team's identity and showing that we are more disciplined and focused on the things that win championships. The sooner he recognizes that this team's ability to win a title is tied to defense, depth, and Jeff Teague's development - the better. Until then, I'm not a believer.


Starters:
This season I'll only make some statements in the form of bulleted items:

  • Bottom line, Jeff Teague is the far and away X factor for this team. It can be argued that there's some improvement to be pulled from Joe, Josh, Al, and Marvin, but I prefer to think that those guys are who they are within some standard deviation. I'm not expecting them to do much different this year than last year (unless of course, you move Marvin to the 6th Man role), but as the number one Teague fan (see here and here) and as seemingly the only sane voice in the Hawks blogosphere in Teague's rookie season who called for him to start THEN - it's beyond obvious that having a penetrating guard who can finish at the rim AND defend other point guards credibly is the key to giving this team a new look and more varied options offensively and defensively. He is more and more becoming the guy I said he could possibly be and that's...Rajon Rondo. (Note: It's also fair that I'm going to be biased about this all season long because it validates maybe the best call I've made since I drafted LaDainian Tomlinson his rookie year in my keeper football fantasy draft.)
  • As for the rest of the team, they are who they are. Hopefully, we'll decide to trade Josh or Al and get a center (Howard anyone?) and move toward pushing toward a title, but until then - let's just see whether Joe can put up a $20M worthy season, Marvin's back lets him get to making a better defensive contribution and open jump shots and that Al and Josh do what they do BEST ALL THE TIME.


Bench:
I mentioned much about them in my offseason piece, so I'll simply say that if we don't have to use Jason Collins over Zaza Pachulia, then this season is success. I'm not sure why he's not considered a part of the core, but Zaza is a 2nd team beast and he should be utilized as such. Done and done.



Intangibles:

I'm not really sure what to make of the Hawks being full of veterans that we know aren't going to be here next year, but we will have to just see if T-Mc and V-Rod can provide some significant value to go along with Zaza and Hinrich. While I have serious reservations about the ability of this team to go past the 2nd round, I can say that as long as Teague is leading this team - I have hope that we will compete differently than ever. We still don't have any championship leaders or toughness, but...in Teague I trust.

Last note - there have been recent discussions about trading for Dwight Howard. Short of them saying we want your starting 5 and your next 3 years worth of draft picks - my answer is DO IT! Yes, it's a risk, but if you're trying to win a title - you will do it with Dwight Howard more than with Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, etc. So, doesn't matter the package - just do it (well, it does, but I'm saying that a reasonable offer even one more weighted to the Magic is ok with me), then figure out how to keep him in town. Probably too much to ask of this ownership and management, but I must admit that if the conversations are even being had, then KUDOS. Bout time we're in the discussions for elite talent.




Ok, you had to read through all of that just to get to my predictions, so here they go:


Best Case Prediction - 44-22 (3rd in Eastern Conference)
Worst Case Prediction - 31-35 (9th in Eastern Conference)
My Prediction - 38-28 (5th in Eastern Conference) and a 1st round playoff exit


Simply put, at our healthiest, we are a good team with a puncher's chance, but I can't overlook the fact that the schedule is crazy and injuries and overuse happen, so we can't believe that no one is going to get hurt and that these old veterans won't be shells of their selves by season's end and with little evidence from past years that we'll develop our players for that circumstance - we have to believe that we'll hit a stretch where we lose games we shouldn't that will lead us to the 5th seed (Miami and Chicago are easy - I'm fearful that New York and my darkhorse, Indiana may jump up over us).

So, what do you guys think? Leave your predictions in the comments and we'll see you at the Highlight Factory!!!

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