It’s exciting to get back to tackling new reporting angles of our beloved Hawks organization. Exciting enough that I’m adding a wrinkle into my blog pattern called research. My failed attempts to write more consistently always resided in "What storylines are not being written about?" The fire to write about the same topics had waned (Will Josh reach his potential? Is Drew going to blame something other than energy? What is our identity?), which is why it’s awesome to be a part of the Peachtree Hoops collective. I get to be fed by the diverse viewpoints presented about our fair team and that food has served to shape and reshape many of my notions about the Hawks organization with one notable exception – and that I’m all about the chip.
The rebuild we’ve so desperately needed will now be met with the renewed fire in my writing philosophy of "speaking truth to power." That philosophy has no regard for popularity, so if you detect a laser focus on how we rebuild this franchise that has little regard for Ws and Ls this season – well, that’s what research does. And so – let’s get to the Truths.
Survey Says "We Need A Hall of Famer"
There’s been heated debate all summer about what the new normal is for the Atlanta Hawks. Should we be patient or tank? What does patience entail? What is tanking? Many questions, few unanimously agreed upon answers. So, I spent some time trying to cut through much of the unscientific rhetoric to see if there were some undisputed truths around what wins NBA championships (read: actually winning it, not almost, not getting to the conference finals – actually raising the trophy). So, I reviewed the coaches and players of every NBA champion from 1950 until 2013. While the eras and team building exercises have changed dramatically, one thing stood out: YOU GOTTA HAVE A HALL OF FAMER!!!!
Since 1950, there have only been 2 championship teams that did not include a Hall of Fame talent. The 1956 Philadelphia Warriors and the 2004 Detroit Pistons. That’s it. 64 championships – 2 without current or future Hall of Fame talent. Now, you can argue a lot of different reasons why this is so, but you can’t ignore that this ingredient is the ONE constant that stirs the drink. Yes, you want to have great coaching, great ownership, and great luck. In whatever ways that leads you to a Hall of Fame talent to build upon, it should be a universally agreed upon idea that this is necessary to win a championship.
This brings me to the point – the Hawks don’t have one Hall of Fame talent. We barely have an All Star and yes, I do have favorable feelings about Al Horford, but he’s still a fringe All Star. Hall of Famers are bookable for the All Star Game every year barring injury. Let the season begin and all debates center around this one fact. Anything proposed or done to acquire a Hall of Fame talent should be in play, Hawks fans. Until then, we’re building the house on a sand lot.
Delusions of Grandeur
With the Hall of Fame talent point firmly established, I scoured the internet to figure out – how exactly will the Hawks fanbase begin to coalesce around a core set of goals and it appeared to me that we have to know where we are. And then this blog slapped me upside the head. The premise being that the Hawks are stuck in a rut. After reading about our Hawks all offseason, the one thing that people don’t believe is that the Hawks are stuck. There is a common feeling that our team is moving in the right direction. I even shared that feeling. I loved the decision to change the head coach and to move on from the Josh Smith experiment.
Then, there was the reality of what’s our path to the Hall of Fame talent.
Do we have assets to acquire one via trade? Well, maybe if Al Horford is traded to do so. What under-25 future Hall of Famer is likely to be traded?
Do we have the cap space and the organizational acumen to lure a future Hall of Famer to come here via free agency? This summer certainly calls that into question, but the summer of 2014 will give us another chance to change that narrative.
Finally, do we have the draft picks that will potentially yield that player? Well, it’s possible, but when reviewing the Finals MVPs in the lottery era and there’s only one who was not selected in the lottery and his name is Tony Parker (who was backed by two other Hall of Fame talents in Duncan and Ginobili). Why is this important? Well, it means it’s EXTREMELY rare to find a Hall of Fame talent outside of the lottery.
When weighing all of these factors, the thought of being stuck is still applicable. Is there reason to believe we’ve improved on the edges? Yes. Is there reason to believe that the foreseeable future is still the same as it has been for the past 20 years? Sadly, yes. After hearing about an offseason speculative optimism, the question still remains – when will we demand better than what we’ve gotten?
Tanking vs. Rebuilding
No topic has been more contentious this summer than the "why we should or shouldn’t tank" debate. Again, it’s probably instructive that we all ensure we’re talking about the same thing here and what camps the debates come from. First, my definition of tanking is to not play the players you need most in order to develop into a contending team. So, the real world example of that is if Nerlens Noel gets to 100% health and is still sitting on the bench in March – the Sixers are tanking.
The way the system is designed and what history has taught us is that being mediocre begets being mediocre. It rarely propels you to a Finals push and never results in a NBA title, so being in the lottery is a goal that any non-contending team should strive for. Most teams play their way there, but some find bad organizations who for strange reasons give their picks away. Much of the anti-‘ta’ crowd’s reasoning was centered around two things – that you don’t want to go through the early 2000s again or that being the lottery doesn’t guarantee anything.
Well, I’ll answer both without regard to whether we should tank or not. First, we shouldn’t tank, but if that’s the only way we’re getting a lottery pick, then so be it. The fallacy that many fans are still under is that the late 90s/early 00s were infinitely worse than the where we’ve been the last 6 years. Trust me, it’s not much different. There were only 2 seasons where we realistically had a very small shot at making the Eastern Conference Finals. Letting yourself think we were better than the bad teams in the NBA because we made the playoffs with absolutely NO chance of advancing is why we are going through yet another rebuilding effort. And since we are – if there’s ever a time when you want to sell out completely for 2014, it’s now.
For those who have ESPN Insider access, these two articles should explain why this season has become either a push for a title (for the 8 or so contenders) or a push toward a future title (for the 10 or so really bad teams) by way of potentially the greatest draft haul ever. Here’s the quick synopsis from several GMs and scouts:
"There are potentially 5 to 8 All Stars, an elite freshman class, a solid sophomore class, and a strong international cast."
So, let’s get the easy naysaying out of the way first. Yes, drafts sometimes don’t pan out as projected and there is absolutely a luck factor involved in moving up in the lottery. That said – the question must be asked - can we afford to operate as if the people who do this for a living are wrong, or is the opportunity to get a cost controlled Hall of Fame talent one that you do everything to acquire?
I say it’s the latter. This is why it’s critical that we do everything possible to land in that lottery without tanking. Every asset should be in play with regard to on having as many picks in that draft as possible. And if it’s determined that we can’t do it any other way than to tank – well… I’m willing to watch sucky basketball for a full season in order to do so. The opportunity is too great not to. Remember – it’s not putting all of our eggs in a basket for Wiggins or Randle, but it’s putting our eggs into a basket that has more potential stars in it than in recent memory. If you trust Danny Ferry, then you should trust him most where the talent is the greatest.
Who Should We Watch
While the season unfolds, there are definitely people we should be watching in judgment of how well the rebuild is going. Most will watch the players. I’ll be watching Danny Ferry and Coach Bud.
I know people are going to say – what about Teague? Millsap? Schro? And well, I definitely am going to enjoy watching them play (or not), but more than anything – this is the year where our true direction from a leadership perspective is set. As I said before, Danny Ferry hasn’t won my undying devotion yet. He’s done the easy part and that’s the teardown. Like Ferry, Billy Knight did a fantastic job of the same thing. Now, we’re into the hard part. I want to see how Coach Bud’s system plays and his ability to operate with a superstar. That’s hard to figure out when you don’t have one, but part of attracting talent to Atlanta will hinge on just that. And let’s be clear – everything that Danny and Bud should be doing should focus less on 2013-2014’s win-loss record and more on their ability to make Atlanta attractive to the kind of talent that wins championships. Systems don’t win championships. Systems with Hall of Fame talent do.
So, how we focus on acquiring talent and how we develop the talent we hope will take us to the promised land is much more important than what peripheral talent does this year. It’s why you won’t see me spending much time on Kyle Korver or Demarre Carroll in Hawk uniforms. Our players are still just pieces on a chessboard until the foundation is in place. To think otherwise takes our eyes off the prize.
2013-14 Prospects and Prediction
If you hadn't figured it out by now, you may be under the impression that I don’t think highly of this year’s team and you’d be right. But any team without championship upside is going to fall into that category with me. So, with that said, this team has the talent to be a 6th or 7th seed. Problem is I don’t see much upside in actually attaining that seed, particularly if the team ends the season led by a healthy starting 5 of Teague/Korver/Carroll/Horford/Millsap. The 17th pick in the draft and more cap room is not what this team needs to have come out of the end of the season.
I’ll be much more excited about a Schro/Jenkins/enter SF name here/Horford/enter C here lineup and its development that just happens to miss the playoffs in the name of development (and lottery luck). I don’t see that happening, but I can dream, so mark me down for 42-40 and the 7th seed and another first round exit. And now we comment…