Last season, Hawks GM Rick Sund famously did not offer long time Hawks head coach Mike Woodson a contract extension.
Many howled that any coach that had shown the improvement that a team like the Hawks had since 2004-2005 would be given at least a two year life raft for his efforts. But Sund, for whatever reasons he had, did not do as such, leaving both the possibility of Woodson leaving for greener pastures should the Hawks continue their trek up the NBA charts and the option to make a leadership change on the bench in 2010-2011.
Now, with the Hawks closed out behind the double digit throttling by division rival Orlando, Sund comes to the decision point that he created last summer.
And the coaching decision is just one of the choices he has to make this offseason, but it might be the most telling it terms of what Sund feels and/or has felt about what this team is after two seasons in the front office.
The question is, will it be the postseason that drives Sund's choices or the ongoing record improvement of the regular season that has the most influence over the critical decision to stay the course or shift course this offseason?
More after the jump:
In this corner...
The Regular Season:
The Hawks have enjoyed a well publicized rise in wins since their bottomed-out 2004-2005 campaign, Woodson's first. The (13) win season featured the Two Joshes and not much else. Since then, the Hawks have added Joe Johnson, the leading scorer of the franchise since, and Al Horford as core pieces to the puzzle.
With the Hawks attaining (53) wins, the most since the Mookie-Smitty-Mutombo days of the late 90's, and the Hawks third straight playoff appearance, not to mention the return to national relevance, there is considerable anxiety and pressure to do whatever it takes to stay at that level, if not improve even more.
After all, it's this relevance that has had the Hawks all over national TV this season and led to recognition for their own players. Joe Johnson made his 4th consecutive all-star game and his first All-NBA team. Al Horford made it to the AS game based not only on his stellar defense and rebounding, but the fact that he was driving the Hawks to the top of the East. Josh Smith was snubbed for similar honor, but finished 2nd in the Defensive Player of the Year honors and the 2nd Team All-Defensive team.
As Sund looks at his team, shouldn't there be some desire to keep things rolling? He already cast a vote last offseason when, despite holding out on extending his coach, he offered a 4 year, 60 million offer to Johnson, a contract that would pay him elite money until he's 33.
Also last offseason, Sund turned somewhat of a blind eye to what occurred in the second round against Cleveland and provided Woodson with more of the same roster-wise by resigning all the Hawks significant free agents (and even brought back Mario West during the season) as well as trading for a player that symbolizes the Woodson Hawks, professional scorer Jamal Crawford from Oakland. Crawford, who also enjoyed national recognition thanks the Hawks winning ways by winning 6th man of the year, is a player that creates his own offense by isolating and breaking down his defender off the dribble. Sund essentially doubled-down on what the Hawks had done by spending a lot of future cap space to ensure that Woodson had the same players that been a part of the team's continued improvement.
So the regular season has a strong Rick Sund track record behind it---might it win out again?
And in this corner:
For the second straight season, the Hawks struggled against an inferior first round opponent before finally winning out in (7) games.
For the second straight season, the team have been summarily dismissed from the postseason in four game fashion, offering little resistence along the way.
It spurs the question---what good is regular season improvement if it's not translating to post season improvement?
The Hawks style of basketball is almost gimmicky what with their defensive switching and their isolation offense. In the regular, the Hawks' athleticism and talent can win out. Against the more stout teams with better defenses, these gimmicks aren't as successful and the team is laid bare and then sent home.
The playoffs also require a strong mental approach to the game. Teams that don't offer a full (48) minutes worth of all out effort are going to have problems. There is no relent in the top teams. The Hawks have not shown, even in the regular season, that they are capable of playing at that level for more than a couple of games (Utah and LA are the ones that come to mind).
For all the regular season hath brought, isn't it the playoffs that teams players truly play for? Shouldn't this be the litmus test for the team---how all the regular season success translates towards competing for a title?
If it is, then it's the playoff performance that should shape Hawks management's choices heading into this critical offseason.
Regular Season vs. Postseason---what will emerge most influential and define the course for next season and beyond?