AJC Hawks beat writer Michael Cunningham chronicles a frustrated Larry Drew as he talks about his team that he says has become complacent. After last night's disappointing loss to Philadelphia at home, Drew said that perhaps change was needed and wondered out loud if a change in the starting lineup was the answer. Today Drew didn't back off from that claim and went so far as to suggest that perhaps a trade was in order to shake up a locker room that has become far too comfortable in its surroundings.
It seems that team meeting didn’t go as Drew had hoped. He said he asked every player and coach why the Hawks seem to play with more urgency on the road. There were a variety of answers, Drew said, but he concluded the Hawks too often fall into a "comfort zone . . . a safe zone" at Philips.
On the matter of changing the lineup, perhaps it would cause a jolt but perhaps that would only be short lived. The Hawks have been forced into a variety of lineups this season due to injury and at times have opted to go with a big lineup with Jason Collins starting at center and Marvin Williams coming off the bench. When Drew talks of a lineup change, that is the first combination that comes to mind. By moving Williams to the bench it does theoretically improve the second unit but is it a tangible enough change to warrant going to it on a full time basis?
While talking lineup changes, let us first examine who I deem as safe. Joe Johnson isn't going to the bench and neither is Al Horford. As frustrating as Josh Smith is at times, I don't see him going to the bench either because of his impact to the Hawks defensively. He isn't as safe as Horford or Johnson in my opinion but I don't think he is a likely candidate. Mike Bibby has looked worn down of late and I don't think it is necessarily a lack of effort on his part as much as simply not being able to do the things that need to be done athletically. Perhaps Drew could bring Bibby off the bench in favor of Jamal Crawford or (gasp!) Jeff Teague. Could Jeff Teague pump some much needed energy into that starting lineup? I don't know the answer but I would like to find out. I still feel like the safe and easy move for Drew is to simply goto the big lineup but his comments in today's Cunningham article don't sound like a guy that is thinking about what might be safe or easy.
Drew didn’t sound like a coach who was simply ticked at his team for a bad loss. Rather, he sounded like a coach who has come to realize that sending out the same players in the same roles is good enough to be on pace for 52 Ws but isn’t going to lead to a much better ending for the Hawks than last spring.
Drew goes on to say that maybe lineup changes aren't enough and perhaps the team needs a trade to help fix what ails it. That is an interesting statement considering that neither Hawks management or coach Drew have ever really acknowledged a problem with this team publicly. Performances like last night make it hard to hide from them.
"With the trade deadline coming up, there is always discussion about possible trades, personnel changing," he said. "There is always that dialogue going on about looking to improve the team. ‘Would this be a good fit? Would that be a good fit?’ There is always that possibility. Certainly at this stage we have to continue to explore those possibilities.
So who is expendable? While discussing any possibilities I think it is highly unlikely that Atlanta would consider trading any of their core of Al Horford, Joe Johnson, or Josh Smith. Perhaps Jamal Crawford makes the most sense to be moved given that he is in the last year of his contract and the Hawks have shown no interest thus far in extending him. Could he bring back a defensive minded point guard? The difficulty for Atlanta on the trading front is how close in proximity they are to the luxury tax. A tax which to this point they have shown zero interest in paying. At any rate, when discussing who is potentially available it would seem that only the above three and maybe even just Johnson and Horford would be deemed off limits.
Bret calls today's comments as Drew coming to terms with his job. Perhaps he is right but too me it almost sounds like a call for help. It certainly adds an element to Saturday's game as we now will heavily be anticipating what moves, if any, will be made. Perhaps this turns out to just be coach speak, as it wouldn't be the first time that a professional head coach took to the media to try and get his team's attention. Even with all of the confidence that has been shown in this group by management, Drew's words today feel sincere. Perhaps his words should be heeded because he has been in the trenches with these players for the last few years even when he wasn't head coach.
Exit Question: Who would you put in the starting lineup for Saturday's game against the Bobcats?