The following is Peachtree Hoops' entry in the NBA Blogger preview series, follow all the team previews at SBNation.com:
Team Name: Atlanta Hawks
Last Year's Record: 53-29
Key Losses: Joe Smith, Randolph Morris, Mario West
Key Additions: Jordan Crawford, Etan Thomas, Pape Sy, Josh Powell
Well, Kris, it's time to present our SBN Season Preview like the others that have come before us.
Let's get to the questions!
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
THHB: Much like they did last season, they heavily invested in the status quo, which worked well for the regular season (46 to 53 wins) but resulted in the same flush in the second round of the playoffs.
This offseason, as in the last, the price was high for maintaining this relative relevance.
Joe Johnson was signed to a massive 6 year, 123 million dollar deal, leaving little for the Hawks to do over the next few season but (hopefully) re-up with Al Horford, hope the rookies drafted (Jeff Teague, Jordan Crawford) can fill roles soon to be left by Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford and pray for no injuries to the starting five.
KW: The Hawks made two significant moves during the off season. The first was deciding to bring back Joe Johnson with a brand new max contract and the other was replacing head coach Mike Woodson with assistant coach Larry Drew.
THHB: The Drew move could be seen as status-quo, but points to more of a admission of post season guilt and the mounting criticism from all angles regarding two key problems with the on court gameplan---the iso-offense, and switching defense, two areas Drew has vowed to change.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
KW: One of the Hawks biggest strengths should be continuity. The core group of starters have now been together for some time so familiarity should be a strength. The group as a whole is still very young and athletic and players such as Josh Smith and Al Horford still have room for improvement.
THHB: Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Joe Freaking Johnson.
Sure, we make hey about Joe's iso-heavy possession usage, Josh's affinity for ball-in-blue-sky shooting, and the team's use of Al as team mascot on the offensive end, but they are the core of the talent on this team and, when they are being used efficiently, are hard to stop.
And, before people cry "hypocrite" at lauding Johnson after being steadfastly against the mega-deal the Hawks signed him to, it doesn't mean he won't be a useful engine for at least one more season. So why not enjoy it?
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
KW: The Hawks can sometimes get overwhelmed by bigger players in the post and on the boards. Al Horford does a very good job at Center on most nights but he is more suited to play power forward. Also the Hawks have struggled with perimeter defense. Hopefully with a new philosophy on defense (less switching) and the Jeff Teague seeing more playing time will help shore up the perimeter defense.
THHB: Well, the biggest two (iso-offense and switch-a-roo defense) are supposedly going to be revised by Drew, but as those holes are patched, will any other open up? The Hawks have been strong in turnover rate the past few seasons, but will that change with a more ball moving offense?
Other than the unknowns there, depth has to continue to be considered a weakness. Untested youth and unwanted free agents are no way to stock a playoff bench, but the Hawks have just that behind the starting five and Jamal Crawford.
4. What are the goals for this team?
THHB: By making the only major change on the team on the bench, and significantly reinvesting in maintaining the frontline talent, the Hawks obviously feel that, with the changes Drew will make philosophically, that combined with the talent will result in a better playoff fate. Anything else has to be considered short of anyone's goals.
KW: The simple goal for this team is not to go backwards in record or in conference standing all the while figuring out some way to escape the second round of the playoffs. The Hawks basically broke the bank to bring back the same group of players and now it is up to those players to show that they still have some growth and improvement left in them. The East has gotten better so they will have to improve if they want to stay in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.
5. Wild Card Question-KW: Was Larry Drew the correct hire? Typically I would say that when a fresh direction is desired then it is not wise to replace an outgoing head coach with an assistant from his own staff. With that said, Drew has sounded like the polar opposite of Mike Woodson this off season. He has said all the right things in promising less iso sets and more movement on offense, scrapping switching every screen on defense, and more playing time with an opportunity to win a starting job for Jeff Teague. The challenge will be in getting the players to buy into his new fresh schemes and having that talk translate to happening on the court.
5A: Wild Card Question-THHB: Is the roster suited for the changes being made from the bench?
With all the discussion about Joe's big deal and the Larry Drew hire based on the significant changes promised on offense and defense, I wonder about putting the two issues together. After all, if the Hawks aren't immediately successful in a new motion offense, will Joe Johnson-buoyed by the power in his contract---decide to take matters, and the offense, into his own hands if he's not comfortable or satisfied?
Not exactly related is the question that, if the Hawks aren't on pace to do great things in 2010-2011, do they deal Jamal Crawford and his expiring contract for future considerations?
THHB Prediction: 50-32
I am sensing change won't be the magic elixir for playoff excellence, given Joe getting a year older and an inevitable dip in team fortune in regards to injury, but it will be enough for a back-to-back 50 win campaigns and grab the home court once again.
KW Prediction: 52-30
While the mounting injuries are of a major concern to me, I do think that the way this team is being written off is premature. Are they a championship contender? Probably not, but there may be only two or three of those in the Eastern Conference and the Hawks are still right at the top of the rest of the pack. I am going back to back 50 win seasons and a top 4 seed in the conference.