Team Name: Atlanta Hawks
Last Year's Record: (Prorated for 82 game schedule) 50-32
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
Joe Johnson had an offensive system named after him in Atlanta (Iso-Joe), made six straight all-star teams, All-NBA, saw the team rise from 14 to 53 wins while being the leading scorer, including a current five season playoff streak after the franchise had missed for eight straight.
He scored the fourth most points for the franchise since the move to Atlanta in 1968, the fourth most assists and the ninth most win shares.
And yet....folks are more than alright with new Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry swooping in this offseason and shipping Johnson to Brooklyn for the Ending Contract Package and a #1 pick. Three cheers for financial freedom!
While folks around the league see this as a rebuilding move, the Hawks brought in Louis Williams on a relatively inexpensive MLE deal, the first such full MLE spend in over 10 seasons for the Hawks. Williams, along with shooters Morrow, Jenkins, Korver and the like, are expected to efficiently replace Johnson's offense and are a main reason folks are coming around to the Hawks still being competitive during this transition. Well, that and still having stalwarts Josh Smith and Al Horford up front.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
The Hawks have a chance to floor three 20+ PER players on offense this season in the uber-efficient Horford, the stat-stuffing Smith and the free throw shooting Williams. With the snipers and the shot-producing driving of Jeff Teague and Devin Harris, this could be a fun, lethally offensive team inhabiting the Highlight Factory this season.
Having the frontcourt of Horford, Smith and Zaza Pachulia together for so long and the return of energy tough guy Ivan Johnson, should give the Hawks nightly stability inside.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Even with Johnson and extremely competent small forward Marvin Williams being traded, the Hawks set up to be good offensively. What isn't accounted for is where the defense will come from in the defensive slots Johnson and Williams once occupied.
Smith and Horford are good, but Smith is best when he is able to stay closer to the hoop and provide the help defense. A leaky perimeter could see more moments where Smith and Horford end up on point guards and, while Horford is very able to do so, such a regular occurrence would lead to a potentially inefficient defensive effort for a team that scored really well in that category (6th in the NBA) a season ago.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Financial freedom for the next offseason is a box already checked for the franchise, and winning is always the goal, but one could make the argument that even in this season of transition, there are important developmental storylines to follow.
- Is Jeff Teague the point guard to retain and include in a new team core at season's end?
Teague will have to prove he can continue his playmaking improvement from a year ago, raise his defensive level and be a leader on the floor to give Ferry a reason to believe. This alone could determine just how successful this team is this season --- and who Ferry chooses to go for after the season.
- Can Al Horford take over a dominant role on offense?
With Johnson gone, more will be asked of Horford, in theory. For Al to take the next step, a more confident post game will be needed to balance his terrific mid-range game. If he is unable to step forward with more possession usage while maintaining his efficiency, then Horford may relegate himself to only being one of the best all-around frontcourt men in the league, just outside of the true elite.
- Will Josh Smith make an All-Star team?
He has been deserving at least twice before, but Smith has been stymied in his efforts to be recognized at the All-Star level. With Johnson traded, Smith has been thrust into the spotlight as the signature Atlanta Hawk. With good production as he has in the past, he'll perhaps knock the knocks against him away.
One thing working in his favor: A more robust transition offense could mean more possessions for the usually slow-footed Hawks. More possessions could raise Smith's excellent box score numbers to a point where he can't be ignored.
5. What will be the one story all Hawks fans will be tired of before Christmas?
- Will Josh Smith be traded?
Some back story:
Josh Smith was drafted #17 in the 2004 draft, 11 spots after Josh Childress for the Hawks and long after he had thought he would get drafted after spending months in the Mock Draft top 10s across the board.
Smith came in and annually worked on improving his game, proving his worth by displaying more facets to his game than Jay Bilas ever could have imagined when he famously predicted that off all the players in that draft, Smith was the most likely to bust.
As he came available for an extension, the Hawks passed. Instead the Hawks made him a qualifying offer and told Smith to find his own deal and they would let the market dictate his value. After Smith did just that, signing a long term offer sheet with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Hawks matched.
Season after season Smith had to listen to people pick apart what was wrong with his game rather than the staggering amount of what was right in his game. When he turned in an fabulous half season while the Hawks were on their way to 53 wins in the '09-'10 season, Smith got little or no support from the team in his quest to make his first all-star game.
Following that, Smith watched as the Hawks quickly extended Al Horford's rookie contract without letting the market determine his value. Then came Joe Johnson's contract and the promises of adding key players in free agency to augment the signing - promises that weren't kept.
Smith was watching his team sag into the worst position possible - good, but not great and financially capped out and unable to add talent further.
So, with no visible commitment for a championship or to him as a player, Smith asked for a deal.
Now, fast forward to the arrival of Ferry, the July deal that sent Johnson and his cap-capping contract away, bringing financial freedom for Atlanta to chase players to put around Smith and Horford, along with the change in philosophy that saw the Hawks pay the full MLE to Louis Williams, something that had not been done since Josh has been a Hawk.
All of that plus the first real public pronouncements around the importance of Smith to the future of the franchise and the trade demand is no more.
Still --- his contract status (he is a free agent at the end of the year) and his prior disenfranchisements will lead story after story around the league about the possibility of Smith getting traded.
And more stories - and still more stories. Much will be said about no extension for Smith, though the current CBA pretty much incentivizes the players to wait to go on the market, meaning that even if Smith really, really, really wanted to play in Atlanta, he would be financially foolish to not wait to do so when the market opens up next offseason.
Hawks fans may be in the middle of a fun, low-expectation season with a terrific offense and yet the only things they might hear is how the Hawks are rebuilding and will Josh Smith be traded. Yay.
Season Prediction: Atlanta Hawks win 47 games and make the playoffs for the sixth straight season.