HawkStr8Talk: Operation Championship? The Hawks 2010-2011 Season

It's certainly WELL overdue, but it's about that time that we do our end of season review of our Atlanta Hawks.  Unlike most blogs that do these things, the point here is - what is moving us toward or away from a NBA title from my POV. Normally, the next thing I would say is read this disclaimer:

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).

This disclaimer leads us to the first of the GOOD things that happened this year.

Good #1: New Ownership Means New Disclaimer

 

This is actually good #1, #2, and #3.  It can't be expressed how poorly the Atlanta Spirit Group have run this organization.  Lawsuits; spending money lavishly on players who didn't deserve it; not spending money on scouting, coaching, the other roster spaces, D League, etc.; not treating the employees well; not being fan friendly; and the list goes on (tops on my fan list - the lack of plastic dipping cups for ketchup).  Bottom line, this tenure has not been a good one. For those who say - well, we did go from assy to classy. Well, I offer to you that the Clippers have made the playoffs in our lifetime - that doesn't make Donald Sterling less than a terrible owner (and universally regarded scumbag).  The fact that he has obtained Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon from all that ineptitude will probably result in an uptick in wins.  Same thing applies here. We've long said that ASG (nor Mike Woodson) should be given an outsized amount of credit for things that they did for this franchise.  Yes, they didn't completely mute the forward progress, but they certainly didn't aid the long term (or sustained) progression to excellence.  

So, in enters - ALEX MERUELO (my new BFF) to swoop in and save the day. Let me start this off by saying that 1) he could be worse than ASG and 2) he could fire all my friends in the Hawks organization and I would hate that, but as I ALWAYS - if you're not making moves to push every level of your organization to be excellent (and giving them the tools to do so), then you're regressing. I hope this gives the organization a reset that says - we will only accept top notch candidates for GM, Head Coach, Assistant Coach, Scouts, etc. So, the greater good must always be at the forefront.  Hopefully, this will hit the reset button on Atlanta as a prime location for talent (on and off the court).  [Note: I'm reserving my Los Hawks (or Halocones) and Hispanic communiques for later, but uh... can you say more Latina Dancers and Groupies? #WINNING]

Good #4: Jeff Teague's Playoff Run

It would not be a stretch to say that the most exciting thing we saw all season was Jeff Teague going toe to toe with Derrick Rose (and not getting ANY sort of respect from the officials).  Anyone who has EVER read a HawkStr8Talk blog regarding our point guard play knows 2 things - 1) two way play is valued at a premium and 2) player development at the point guard is respected almost everywhere except ..Atlanta (or the Mike Woodson coaching tree), so starting with Acie Law IV (who admittedly never may have been anything more than a backup or quite possibly a poor man's Mike Conley) and extending throughout the Jeff Teague era - the coaching staff has never made an attempt to develop a player they didn't have to (see Smith, Josh; Childress, Josh; Williams, Marvin; Horford, Al). As a result, cheap talent has never been mined for any appreciable amount of time. It's not my lot in life to determine who will shine and who will suck, but it is rarely revealed solely in practice what value a player with talent can provide your team.  

ENTER Jeff Teague - the guy I've been touting as the guy who should have been our point guard post All Star break of his rookie seasaon.  Last year, it was apparent that Mike Bibby should only serve to mentor and back up Teague and that any bumps should simply be weathered.  There were times when I thought I might be wrong to show faith in the old chap, but the Portland game essentially sealed any doubt I had about his talent AND his potential impact on the team. The treatment he's received is still inexplicable to me.  Not one analysis has provided me a reason for why Jeff Teague had 12 DNPs last year - TWELVE!!!!!! And so, it was with the glee of a fantasy football player who select Jamaal Charles and Arian Foster deep in back to back drafts - that I watched Jeff Teague's playoff run. Simply put, he was the best Hawk to play in the playoffs. Every time he came off the court - the gaping hole in defensive pressure and penetrating ability was palpable.  You can't say that for any player during the playoff run where you were actually afraid that he was going to leave the court and were yelling for the coach to put him back in. He was THAT good (and would have been better if they called the 7-8 fouls I saw him taking in the lane). I can't promise that he'll start for the Hawks next season because I don't know why he didn't before, but I can say that I hope that the Alex Meruelo owned Hawks won't tolerate anything less.  

Good #5: 2 All Stars & 1 All NBA Nod

I'll get to the other side of this coin (called the paper dragon this represents), but deservedly or not - we had 2 All Stars, 1 other possible All Star, and an All NBA nod. It shouldn't be taken lightly. So, thanks for the production that resulted in it. Joe Johnson and Al Horford, hats off to you.  

Good #6: Damien Wilkins

 

We are reaching here, but when you take a guy off the scrap heap and he pushes your #2 draft pick and recently minted, compensated small forward for his playing time. You are winning.  Maybe not championship level winning, but the takeaway that should come from this is that it can be done.  Sund, yes - you can do more of that and less of the signings that yield us Joe Smith, Etan Thomas, Josh Powell, et al.


And now, it brings us to (Bill Simmons-esque blog length) the bad that was the Atlanta Hawks season. Let's just the disclaimer side out of the way

Bad #1: The GM and Coach Still Are Subpar (Pending Meruelo Scrutiny)

I certainly won't budge on my stance that the Damian Wilkins signing and the signings of Horford & Josh Smith at reasonable prices are the best things that have happened in the Sund administration.  I know you want me to add Jamal Crawford, but I won't - I don't think taking on that salary was worth it if we could have gotten other more needed pieces OR simply just let the money roll off the books for a better position to make deals during the talent-rich summer of 2010.  I've always seen Jamal as a one trick pony that if you don't get that trick - he's useless.  His two years while entertaining in stretches did nothing to move this organization toward a title. 

So, that really only leads me to the coach to come up with a defense for.  And when I squint, I can give you the dispensing of the switching at every opportunity as a positive, but when balanced against the Jamal Crawford as point guard, the highly egregious Jeff Teague behind Mike Bibby situation, the continued existence of the 2 foul and sit rule, the lack of playing time for Jordan Crawford, and the regression of Marvin Williams (oh the lack of media savvy, suit selection, and inability to go bat sh*& when your team is being disrespected or is disrespecting you by giving up.) The Larry Drew era so far has been defined in my eyes by the exchange with Zaza Pachulia, who is arguably your hardest worker and gets yanked and blessed out in public because he took a 16ft jumper in a 30 point blowout.  Forgetting the simple fact that your favorite players have been shooting ill advised shots ALL SEASON LONG in much more important winnable games than this one.  If that's when you are determining that you need to take a stand, you sir no longer deserve to be the coach of the Atlanta Hawks. I didn't want him to be selected in the first place and nothing save a decision to play Dwight Howard straight up has changed that stance.  In a nutshell, GM Sund and Coach Drew are not leading this team to a title, so let's end the charade and move on to bigger and better things.


Bad #2: Trading The Wrong Crawford

Say word, L - you wanted to trade Crawford, not Crawford. Damn straight.  Again, Jordan Crawford may not be the answer to replacing Jamal Crawford, but if you ask me - he's younger, cheaper, and has a penchant for passing, rebounding, and faking defensive desire in ways you only dream of.  For that, I'm willing to roll the dice.  For $10M+, you must do more than shooting well in spurts.  This again is why Bad #1 hurts so much.  Sund is playing a one trick pony $10M and yet, will give up on talent and a shorter contract to get another (should be) backup point/combo guard with a longer contract. It's not that the economic model is bad in the NBA, it's that teams make stupid decisions with the money that's spent. You can argue that Jordan Crawford may never pan out, but at the cost he commanded - it was well worth the gamble to explore it further.


So, yes - the move to be made was - Jamal Crawford for Kirk Hinrich OR something of that nature.  That was where our backup/starting center or our small forward or defensive specialist talent was supposed to come from.  So, that really only leads me to the coach to come up with a defense for.  And when I squint, I can give you the dispensing of the switching at every opportunity as a positive, but when balanced against the Jamal Crawford as point guard, the highly egregious Jeff Teague behind Mike Bibby situation, the continued existence of the 2 foul and sit rule, the lack of playing time for Jordan Crawford, and the regression of Marvin Williams (oh the lack of media savvy, suit selection, and inability to go bat sh*& when your team is being disrespected or is disrespecting you by giving up.) The Larry Drew era so far has been defined in my eyes by the exchange with Zaza Pachulia, who is arguably your hardest worker and gets yanked and blessed out in public because he took a 16ft jumper in a 30 point blowout.  Forgetting the simple fact that your favorite players have been shooting ill advised shots ALL SEASON LONG in much more important winnable games than this one.  If that's when you are determining that you need to take a stand, you sir no longer deserve to be the coach of the Atlanta Hawks. I didn't want him to be selected in the first place and nothing save a decision to play Dwight Howard straight up has changed that stance.  In a nutshell, GM Sund and Coach Drew are not leading this team to a title, so let's end the charade and move on to bigger and better things.

Bad #3: Joe Johnson's Season


Simply put, Joe Johnson didn't have a great season. He didn't really even have a good season. It was somewhere between average and good.  Of course, his usage produced numbers (and that yielded him another All Star berth - this one much more on reputation and lack of other shooting guard options vs. undebatable excellence). But I have watched all of these seasons with Joe Johnson and the first 3 were full of evidence of Joe Johnson's talent.  These last 2 years have been a mixed bag.  Coming off of one good season, unfortunately, yielded the largest contract in the NBA last off-season.  It's normally a bad practice to pay a premium for a noticeable decline in play. This brings us to this year's performance. Sure, there were some injury concerns and there was a change in offensive philosophy. That said, the most disturbing thing of the past 2 seasons is that we haven't really seen a DOMINANT basketball player in Joe Johnson. Forget the contract. He's just not making the difference that he MUST make to win a title and then there's the contract. Seriously, I've seen Nate Robinson dominate almost as many games as Joe Johnson since 2009.


That is a problem. That is my litmus test.  If you can't win some games all by yourself (injury/offensive philosophy/double team be damned), then we don't need you. Not at $20M per...and therefore, we need a buyer. Not sure if there is one, but it's almost at showcase him proportions where you have to offer him after any hot week, month, etc to get that contract off the books.  For those who say, but who do you get to replace him and does that mean we win as many games? I simply say - being hamstrung by a player that can't win you games in the playoffs means you don't need that player (if you want to win a title).


Bad #4: Al & Josh's Power Forward Conundrum


We still haven't figured this out. Listen, we have 2 power forwards on our team. They play best as power forwards and so, it means you pick one - you trade the other if you can get fair value and you move on to finding a balanced roster that can grow into a championship level team.  Do you want the steady, hard working leadership type OR do you want the enigmatic, but ultra talented wonderkid?  Personally, it's simple - whoever gets the best value back.  That's it.  I have no allegiance to either. Al doesn't have a low post game and he shrank noticeably in the 2011 Playoffs (Joahkim Noah, seriously, AL?). Josh can take over a game, but unfortunately has a propensity to spend 30% of his time doing things he's only average doing vs. the 70% of the time doing the things he is sublime at.  So, bottom line, the new GM must solve this.  The sooner, the better.


Bad #5: Marvin's Disappearance


I really don't have an analysis or words for this. It's actually sad. He seems like a nice guy who was saddled with expectations he never deserved.  For any other franchise, Marvin is just another tale of draft bust-ness, but for us - it's symptomatic of the failed ASG administration.  It's not that we don't make mistakes - it's that we compound them. Drafting Marvin was a mistake.  Drafting Shelden after him was a catastrophe.  Re-upping Marvin was a George Bush double down.  That's what hurts.

He's just been average before now, so to go to subpar is borderline depressing. I guess the victory is that all that 'core' talk has done a 'remove Marvin, add Jeff' 180 that seems to make more sense for the direction of the franchise.  Yes, we need a small forward, but not at that cost for that effort. If we find a buyer, it's time to cut bait.

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