May 10, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith (5) during the third quarter of game six in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
The 2012 Atlanta Hawks season came and went in what was lockout induced blink of an eye. Just when it looked like there wasn't going to be a season the games were suddenly back and firing off in rapid succession. I took an extra day purposefully before I close the book on this season just because it felt so much like a blur but now it is time to close the cover and focus in on what comes next for this team and this franchise.
When I look back on 2012 the first thing that enters my mind is a missed opportunity. Never before have I seen the Eastern Conference open up the way it did thanks to injury to key players like Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard. Of course the Hawks were derailed early with the loss of Al Horford just 11 games into the campaign. The injuries didn't stop there either with Zaza Pachulia going down late in the regular season and missing the entire playoff series with the Celtics.
Every loss of a key player brings an opportunity and Josh Smith grabbed that opportunity with both hands once Al Horford went down. Sure Joe Johnson, Pachulia, Jeff Teague and others deserve mention but Smith had his finest hour as a pro this season. Smith's seizing of that opportunity though creates more clouds for this franchise as they shift now into the offseason. More on that in a bit.
The season began like many of the previous ones with prognosticators predicting that this was the year that the Hawks came apart. Many pointed to Jamal Crawford's departure and the subsequent signings of Tracy McGrady, Jannero Pargo and Willie Green as evidence. Well that trio successfully replaced Jamal and then some. Sure the Hawks probably could have used Crawford's firepower at some point this season but in a big picture look at things it probably wouldn't have altered the outcome.
Once Al Horford went down the feeling was unanimous that this team was finished. Yet they went on to win 40 games and capture home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs which was something they did not enjoy during the 2011 season.
The Playoffs however once again served as a reminder that this team is what it is. Its a good team, and a much better team once Al Horford returned but its not a championship team and it begs to question whether or not there is a coach out there that could mold this group into champions.
Larry Drew had a nice regular season and I praised him to jeers on more than one occasion but his matchup with Doc Rivers in the playoffs left a lot to be desired. Perhaps the Celtics are an unfair comparison. They after all are a team that has won a championship but they have incorporated some new players with their championship core. They are also a team that believes in their tried and true offensive and defensive systems and many times it is execution that tips the scales in their favor.
You can watch this Hawks team for one week and realize that nothing comes easy especially at crunch time which is otherwise known as winning time.
Now the franchise once again enters an uncertain offseason. Its very well possible that we could see some major changes to this team starting with the general manager, the head coach and down into the roster's core. Its also very possible that they push off any such decision on the roster until next year and use the Al Horford injury as an excuse for their first-round exit.
Make no mistake though change is coming whether they like it or not. Josh Smith's previous trade requests combined with him entering the final season of his contract make his situation shaky at best for the Hawks. Does Atlanta shop him in the offseason if they feel that the team can't re-sign him to avoid losing him for nothing in return or do they roll the dice. Can the team afford to re-sign him in the first place? What kind of money is Josh going to ask for or command? All valid questions that will be answered over the next 12 months.
The first question however is who will be calling the shots?
Thanks Hawks and Peachtree Hoops fans, it was fun