I tweeted Sunday night about the prospects for this Atlanta Hawks team as they pulled their annual one game no-show in the playoffs, a reprehensible 101-79 "effort" where the scoreboard looks more kind that the game actually was. This, despite the fact that they were risking further injury to one player (Josh Smith) while rushing back another (Al Horford).
Now, poised one game away from a first round elimination (sorry, Tracy McGrady), the Hawks are closer than ever to facing a scenario that has been discussed ever since the Hawks playoff ceiling became obvious to Bird Watchers everywhere.
That scenario would be the systemic taking apart of the players that have made up the core of this now five season playoff run. But upon further review, it seems the prospects of a Billy Knight-like dismantling of the team and subsequent rebuilding is far off until the team's ownership situation settles.
Whatever the ownership status, there are some issues that will have to be dealt with as soon as the season is officially over.
Let's look at the major decisions the team has to face, bullet-point style:
- Will Ownership again try to sell?
- Is Rick Sund going to be the GM moving forward and for how long?
- Are the Hawks going to bring in another coach and, if so, what level with that coach come from?
- Who will be coming back for the 2012-2013 Atlanta Hawks?
They are famously capped-out, even with the expiring contract of Kirk Hinrich coming off the books this summer, making this a referendum on whether the Hawks double-down again on this core (or is it quadrupling-down at this point) or make some serious changes.
As hashed out above, without a clear management/GM picture, there is little clarity on whether making any major moves are even possible, since making radical changes to a roster before a sale of the team or a long term contract for a GM/coach could prohibit and eliminate suitors for all those positions.
Rather, it seems that if the current keep-the-lights-on approach is held, then we'll be seeing the same guys doing the same things next season. That means that Marvin Williams, Joe Johnson and Al Horford will likely be wearing the ATL across their jerseys for another season, if that approach is maintained.
One interesting wrinkle, however, is the Josh Smith situation.
He will be entering the last season of his deal -- a deal signed after he was told to go find your own deal as a restricted free agent. This was an approach, mind you, that the team did not take with Al Horford.
Smith is more than interested in looking at a change of scenery, but I believe would be just as interested in remaining in Atlanta if the team showed more than the minimum level of effort in wanting him here as well.
This offseason, the Hawks can talk about an extension for Smith, but without a long term plan in place, would the Hawks be willing to address the situation before he becomes a free agent? Joe Johnson had to wait it out before he got his fortune -- would the Hawks do the same with Smith?
If ownership hasn't changed and they are still wanting to sell, can they risk adding another huge deal to the payroll, especially when they don't have to until after next season? On the other hand, can they risk not tying him up to protect the integrity of the roster and their relative success to this point.
If they don't re-sign him, that means that Josh Smith, the team's most productive player this season and who fills a ton of roles and responsibilities with the team, will be able to walk away for nothing. And if that happens, the value of the team drops significantly.
If they don't, they would have to figure to want to shop Smith, but for what? If they don't have a long term plan in place other than protecting stability and assets, then what could they possibly attempt to bring back for Smith that accomplishes the charter of holding the team's value, in their point of view?
This -- is a huge decision the team has to face in the offseason. One of many as now noted, none of them certain due to the tenuous nature of the current ownership situation and their recent attempt to sell the team.
Of course the Hawks could make a huge comeback against Boston, beat the Celtics and make a magical run through the postseason that would render much of this moot. But the path to making that happen is as murky as understanding the path that ownership will take this offseason -- one which presents a major crossroads for the future.