I'm doing a series of posts on each team over at my blog. For each team, I'll discuss why their fans should be both excited and nervous. Started with the Hawks, so I thought I would share here.
Having moved back to the Bay Area after living in Atlanta since 2008, I just have to say, you chose a fine time to radically change the team, guys. Ok, make that just one guy: Danny Ferry, who was brought in as the new GM this off-season. After being mired in the mode of "getting to the playoffs every year only to be eliminated early every year", it took new leadership to do the two things that everyone around the league had been saying to do for years: 1) Break up the team; and 2) Get some more guys who can shoot the damn ball.
Amazingly to me, Ferry was able to off-load the one contract in Joe Johnson that I thought might be even more immovable than Amare Stoudemire's (or David Lee, for that matter). Out goes Joe Johnson's huge contract ($89M guaranteed over the next 4 years) to Brooklyn (we'll talk about them soon, don't worry), and back comes a bunch of expiring contracts in the form of Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, and Johan Petro, along with some small change (Jordan Williams on a 2 year deal with only 1 guaranteed at $760K) and DeShawn Stevenson (also 1 year guaranteed at $2.2M).
If you're a Hawks fan, don't worry that you didn't get back a "star" for Joe Johnson. You got back a ton of cap room and future flexibility. And at the very least, you got a guy in Anthony Morrow who's been a great 3-pt shooter in the past, although he's coming off a mediocre season.
The second major move that Ferry pulled off was sending out Marvin Williams and his 2 years/$15.8M contract for Devin Harris who is on an expiring deal worth $8.5M. This gives the Hawks future flexibility.
The third move that I really liked was signing restricted free agent Lou Williams for the MLE ($15.7M over 3 years). Lou was a big part of the 76ers, because he provided a ton of offense off the bench. He's sort of a poor man's Monta Ellis, except he's arguably better than Monta Ellis and on a cheaper contract. Joe Johnson is much better than Williams defensively, but given the difference in contracts, Atlanta is better off with Williams going forward.
Josh Smith and Al Horford still form the core of this Hawks team, and both are still only 26 years old and have loads of talent. This team now has the financial flexibility to go out and try to add a third major piece. They'll surely go after Dwight Howard, who is from Atlanta, and would radically change the fortunes of his hometown team.
In the draft, the Hawks added sharp-shooting John Jenkins from Vanderbilt. Between Morrow, Jenkins, and Williams, the Hawks have just improved their outside shooting infinity-fold. The only problem is all those guys are basically shooting guards, and Atlanta won't be able to run them all out on the floor together.
One more good thing to look out for is the progression of Jeff Teague. He's becoming a much better shooter each season, starting his rookie year with an abysmal 45.9% TS on 19.1% USG, improving all the way to 55.1% TS on the same 19.1% USG. If he can improve on that or even just maintain there, he'll keep opposing defenses honest. Play him next to Lou Will or Jenkins, and that's actually a decent backcourt, at least, offensively.
Ok, so that all sounded pretty good. If you're a Hawks fan, maybe I've got you a little pumped up now. If you don't want to come down from that, this would be a good time to click somewhere else on the internet, or even better, just leave your desk and go spend some time with your family or read a good book.
Still here? Welp, you must be a hard core fan. So then, what's the part you should be nervous about? For starters, as expensive as Joe Johnson was, he's a pretty good basketball player. If he was on a contract of half the size, you'd consider him a bargain. Losing JJ and replacing him with the trio of Williams, Morrow, and Jenkins makes the Hawks immediately worse, especially on defense. With those little guards running around the perimeter and playing no D, it's going to be up to Josh Smith and Al Horford to play the backstop all year. Jason Collins is now with the Celtics, so Zaza Pachulia will be relied upon heavily for minutes at the 5. Zaza is much better than Collins on offense, but I think the Hawks will miss Collins on the other side of the ball.
The larger question is all about the future. Can Ferry pull off the moves that will be necessary to take advantage of the cap flexibility that he created? This team is far too talented to add a major piece through the draft, so that will have to come via a trade or free agency. Does Ferry go all in trying to woo Howard next summer, and perhaps, falling short of that, decide to blow it all up and start over? Or if the Howard strategy doesn't work, would Ferry settle for a lesser chip? Surely, he could make a play for Andrew Bynum. But after those two, it's a pretty steep drop-off at center. Pekovic? Maybe.
Then again, maybe I'm looking at this wrong. Maybe a center isn't the answer. What if Ferry thinks outside the box and makes a push for a Stephen Curry? Curry would juice that team up and make them loads of fun to watch, anyway. Of course, I'm a Warriors fan, and I can't see us not re-signing him, but stranger things have happened. Atlanta is much closer to his home base in Charlotte. Let's also see what happens with James Harden. If he isn't extended by Opening Night, Atlanta could throw a ton of money at him and see if it sticks.
Overall, there's plenty of reason to be both excited and nervous about Atlanta. Excited because you now have a glimmer of hope to be something more than you were. But nervous because there's a risk that if it doesn't work out, and Ferry decides to really shake things up, you may have to
find out what it's like to root once again root for a team that doesn't make the playoffs every year. A feeling I know all too well.