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HS8T: Discarding The Disclaimer

Larry Drew, you're on the clock.
Larry Drew, you're on the clock.

(Channeling my inner Bill Simmons)

In August 2008, I started HawkStr8Talk. The purpose of the blog was to give voice to an honest appraisal of the Atlanta Hawks while also being very much the Hawks #1 Fan. Over the past 3+ years, this blog went from regular game recaps, funny features, previews, reviews, predictions, and the like to sparse commentary and barely monthly postings. How did this happen? Well, watching the Atlanta Spirit Group, Rick Sund, Larry Drew, Mike Woodson, and a maddeningly inconsistent team will do that to you. Why blog regularly when you know the end results before the season even gets started? Why waste precious time doing a movie review when you've seen the movie many times over?

When I started the blog it was done to give a different blog voice that focused on what I consider championship moves. (Note: A championship move is drafting Josh Smith at 17. A non-championship move is trading for Jamal Crawford and tying up over $25M in the shooting guard position and never getting further in the playoffs as a result or never getting any asset back for him. Insert Kirk Hinrich's tenure as a bonus example.) Under that view, to read the blog correctly, we'd need to create a disclaimer to keep people from taking the tough love and thinking that it was anti-Hawks (a campaign that has been largely unsuccessful) in nature when making a claim that was less homerish and more harsh reality. And so it went...the blame goes from ownership, mgmt, coaching, then players.

Two years ago, I wrote what ended up being my most popular blog post. It explained what I needed to return to #1 Fan Status, you can read it here (and then acknowledge my brilliant assessment of what we needed). Last year, we thought that the disclaimer was ready to be discarded for good, but Alex Meruelo's money was funny and so we slapped the disclaimer back on all blogs. Then, Danny Ferry happened...(pause for dramatic effect). On day 1 I said - I'll have to consider how to modify the disclaimer, but before I had time to determine what form it should take - the unthinkable happened...Joe Johnson gone. Marvin Williams gone. Two bold strokes. New hope and opportunity RESTORED! And so on this day - we are getting rid of the disclaimer. We will now judge the Atlanta Hawks organization by what they do on a case by case basis. No more assumptions that what they do are just by nature ridiculous and antithetical to winning a title.

In TWO WEEKS, we have a new perspective on ownership and management and will give them the opportunity to handle the coaching and players with clarity, vision, and purpose. It's with that that we give our thoughts on the last two weeks and announce today that the blog is back. Regular posts, fun, excitement, hard bold truths, and fair judgment of the truth as I see it. You may not always agree, but you trust in the fact that I'm back to analyzing Hawks basketball because I don't know the end game (but I won't be shy about saying what it should be). Now, here are five thoughts on what's transpired:

1. Ownership - I've never had a good thing to say about the management of this organization. Haven't heard anything from employees, fans, or players that said one positive word about these guys. The only thing I can give them credit for is that they do spend the money on contracts. It's just not spent wisely and isn't cascaded on to the other things that have to work to win a title. You can't give well paid players a Wal-Mart management staff and Costco coaching staff. Well, hiring Danny Ferry and giving him the keys to the operation says - maybe our previous approach and the asinine prism through which we've viewed our 'success' was misguided. It can't come with total forgiveness for wasting about 5 years of our fan-dom (and robbing the people of my sublime analysis in 2011-2012), but a reboot and recharge is fitting. That's what we plan to do. No more ASG jokes or assumptions of incompetence sight unseen.

2. Management - Everyone who reads this blog knows that the Rick Sund era couldn't end fast enough for me. Seriously, short of Ivan Johnson and Jeff Teague, you can't tell me there's a remnant of success (remember - we're talking building blocks toward a title, people) that he came up with. So, for the last time, nice guy but not a guy who was able to make a move that mattered. And now, I think it's been proven that either he was incompetent or he was unable to convince ownership that its direction was a flawed one in the way that Danny Ferry was able to. So, either way, I'm calling the Sund era a relative failure. Not so flawed that he took the Knight era's collection of talent and turned it into lottery level production, but flawed in that it didn't move the ceiling upwards. We no longer have to lament why we don't have competent scouting, full roster spot use, player development (D-League, here we come), coaching hires based on skill, not bargain. What's happening now with regards to addressing the cap for flexibility to acquire true starting and bench assets should have happened the summer of 2009 in hopes of adding pieces in the summer of 2010. The fact that the words Dwight Howard and Chris Paul are even mentioned in trade and free agent talks and that the NBA world has to include the Hawks in their discussions in ONLY TWO WEEKS should make clear how bad our previous regime was. And in a simple statement - we welcome the Danny Ferry era. It doesn't mean that we're going to rubber stamp every move (starting with Jenkins and Scott as the first draft haul), but we do believe the direction is off in the absolute correct direction. And after all these years of mediocre playoff team purgatory, that's a great start. (Complete aside - we find it funny that the kudos Danny Ferry is receiving right now is for something that Billy Knight did with as much devastating effectiveness prior to his struggles with building a title contender.)

3. Fans - Yes, the fans must be addressed because we have for so long been cynical about everything that this organization has done that it's still hard for people to conceive of things like a Big 3 (a true one - not the JJ/Al/Josh one) or a real coach or real managment or real ownership. Sure, it's too early to say the days of incompetence are over, but let's just give it time and support until clearly proven otherwise. Nitpicking is unnecessary Simply put, we have a new slate and next year is not really important toward the building of a championship. If you are complaining about 2012-2013 on court results, you don't get it. All I care about this year is the health of the players and the salary cap. The goal right now is simply - determine how to get a Big 3. The best version of that to me is Josh, Dwight, and Chris and any avenue that allows pieces to be added to it is what we need. Does that mean there will be casualties? Yes, but we have to keep our eyes on the prize. The prize is - attaining players who have championship capabilities. Dwight has been in an NBA Finals, CP3 hasn't, but I have belief that he can take a team there. Josh is the wild card, but with a real coach and teammates that demand the best from him - his talent is great enough to bank on. Most important for fans though is to recognize that our previous template and concerns all must be reconsidered. The old mantras of - no players want to come here, no coach will be signed, draft picks will be sold or squandered, team will lack identity and purpose, etc - all of that must go. Let's give this a chance to be considered a model franchise capable of the highest levels of success. We owe that to Danny Ferry and the new regime. Atlanta is a destination and be assured - with the right pitch man and the right ingredients, this place can be the home of an NBA champion. Let's believe in it and hold them accountable to that goal.

4. Coaching - Larry Drew - you are on the clock. Suddenly, I don't care that Drew is coaching next year because next year is a throwaway year anyway. A time to evaluate a few players to see if they fit in our 2013-2014 plans, but otherwise - it's meaningless. In fact, if I'm Danny Ferry - I tell him, you have two objectives - show me that you know how to handle Josh Smith and Al Horford, can develop Teague, Jenkins, and Scott AND keep these guys healthy. Forget our record. You won't be judged on wins and losses. You will be judged on how well I think you can handle Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Josh Smith plus a supporting cast. Odds are - if a Big 3 can be attained - Larry Drew is getting fired, but this year is the playground for proving Danny Ferry (and me) wrong about that. This is the best scenario for all parties involved - it could even motivate Drew to see the writing on the wall and have him coach the year of his life. To see him prove that he's more than he's shown to date. That's possible, but unlikely. Either way, it's a win win.

5. Players - I must is extremely telling when the best player in your organization since Dominique is traded and the feedback is almost universal that it's an awesome thing. I'll always respect Joe Johnson for his production for our team. I'll never respect Joe Johnson as the face of this organization making the money he made. You cannot sign $200M worth of contracts for a team and not commit yourself to all parts of it. I haven't said this often, but I truly feel that Joe Johnson was a relative cancer for this organization. Not in the JR Rider sense, but in the sense that he was never a pillar in the community, never tried to market himself or this franchise to anyone (including other NBA players), never made any sacrifice that I saw in being a leader that he knows this team sorely needs, never took the blame or heat that any real leader must when you are scheduled to make on average $20M a season. If LeBron James can put up triple doubles and carry his team for most of his career and yet, can say - yep, I didn't do enough, then dammit - Joe, it wouldn't hurt to say ... uh, yeah, we lost to the Bulls or to the Celtics because I couldn't get it done and I plan to do more to make that happen. That's what the max contract requires. So, it's not lost on me that very few people are heartbroken over his departure. No we'll miss you Joe newspaper ads, no airplane flyovers, no emails, nothing. I checked and nope - no calls to the organization bitching about it. Just a clear hooray - he's gone. (Despite people thinking that Hawks fans don't care, I hope I don't need to remind you how this town treated Nique's trade from this organization. If I do, please ask any Atlantan how they feel TODAY much less then about Stan Kasten, Pete Babcock, and Lenny Wilkens). Sure, it's mostly the contract, but it's also the man. We'll respect your service, but it's not without some clear disconnect that you didn't even try to connect with us or your teammates or your coach. Period. Not in the way that your money and talent require you to if you TRULY want to win a title. So, goodbye Joe Johnson. I wish I could say we knew you and loved you, but I don't. As for Marvin, I have nothing bad to say. You just weren't Deron or CP3 and you did very little to even be Aaron Afflalo, so just like Joe, Jamal, Kirk and Bibby - you were stealing money and I'm glad to see you stealing it from some other team and not ours.

Bonus Note - The Big 3 - I feel the need to say one more thing about a Big 3. The idea being that Josh recruits Howard and then, they both go to CP3 and say - dude, it's a new day in Atlanta and our 2 plus supporting cast is better than any other 2 you can find. This is plausible (especially if you tell him - he can pick the coach too). Not going to put high odds on it, but it's doable. Now, with that said, understand that CP3 is the MOST important piece to this puzzle (well, unless you hire Phil Jackson). Both Josh and Howard are, in many ways, head cases. CP3 manages all that. We need him to be the guy to handle the egos and bridge the gap between them and the coach (not named Drew). I don't trust either of those big men to be managed by a coach by itself. Now, I expect that Ferry would hire a coach with the kind of profile that they would gain the respect of either Josh or Howard, but as Van Gundy and Woodson can probably attest - these guys aren't above challenging or even backstabbing either of them. So, I'm saying it here first - CP3 is the most important target for us in summer 2013 and we need to lay the ground work (meaning cap room, draft picks, and a new coach) for that to happen or all bets are off. And I say that with a tear because it would mean - no more Jeff Teague or Horford (I'll enjoy watching your final seasons for the Hawks).

And that's my Bill Simmons-esque thoughts. Lots to say and we'll try to bring it back in the form of weekly offseason morsels, Truths, and general musings that are coming your way because my blogging mojo is BACK and it feels so good. Say it with me now: Summer of 2013 is all that matters (hey, I think I found a new disclaimer).