"It's been a long time. I shouldn't have left you." - Rakim (I Know You Got Soul).
Those classic words are 26 years old, so when you contrast those years against my 3 month hiatus (read: gotta new job, y'all) from a blog post - it's like it was yesterday. Plus, with all the new writers at Peachtree Hoops, who needs the truth? With that in mind, it's time for me to needlessly clue my Hawks family in on a few Hawk Str8Talk thoughts on seller's remorse, our 2012-2013 finish, free agency, the draft, summer league, and the job Danny Ferry has done to date. Bill Simmons-esque post coming in 3, 2, 1...
I've been meaning to make one note about those who constantly look backwards to find the ways in which we have made mistakes in our past and wax nostalgic about what could have been. There's really only been one time in Hawks history that Hawks fans have a true right to say "What could have been?" and that's in 1994 when the Hawks traded Dominique Wilkins for Danny Manning. The #1 seed at the time...after the fact, uh...still not out of the second round [Not to mention - the heartbreak of a young Hawks fan...namely me]. Now, as a more knowledgeable NBA fan, I STILL DON'T KNOW WHAT PETE BABCOCK AND LENNY WILKENS WERE THINKING!!!!
But for everyone waxing poetic for Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Jamal Crawford, Mike Woodson, Larry Drew, Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia, so on and so forth - love 'em or not - none of them did or were going to lead us in the pursuit of a title. I'll miss Zaza, Ivan Johnson, Josh Smith's potential, and much more, but spare the comment section of debates of the usefulness of these guys. Time has, or in some cases will, prove that these guys weren't bringing titles inside of I-285. Thanks for your contributions old Hawks and on to the next.
2012-2013 Season Recap
It was fun to watch a season with no expectations. Not that I agreed with everything (more Jenkins starting, more Ivan, more Zaza (pre-injury) for me), but overall - it's about what I expected. Drew pushed the team in an effort to win regular season and playoff games despite the fact that no amount of pushing was going to get that squad out of the second round. I just hope that the jobs done all around didn't really depend on it. If Danny Ferry is as smart as I think he is, he always was going to get rid of Josh Smith and Larry Drew. Their time was up. I won't spend time here trying to defend or denigrate their efforts. They are who they are and I appreciate their service to the organization, but as I always say - if you're not part of the championship push, we can't use you. This is my nice way of saying - your contributions over the past 6 playoff seasons sucked. Time had spoken and so we move on..Coach Bud, you are on the clock.
Danny Ferry isn't better than Billy Knight (yet)
Now before you get your pitchforks and comments formulated with anti-Knight venom, let me say two things: 1) that statement is made based on their time at similar junctures in their time as GM and 2) that yes, as I always have, I am going to semi-defend Billy Knight's tenure in Atlanta. So, with nuance and context, I've spent a lot of time over the years trying to understand the hate of Billy Knight's rebuild effort. Let me preface my thoughts first - he didn't get us to the promised land and for that, I say KICK ROCKS! The end result needed to at some point be a lost job (my firing point - 1 minute after the Shelden Williams draft pick), but for those who prefer this incremental building effort around non-star talent to rebuilding in search of star talent - I just want to remind everyone that the strategy taken by Billy Knight was only one Chris Paul/Deron Williams pick away from being very special. You can hate him for not making the pick (a pick that I have sources who said Marvin wasn't BK's #1 choice - Deron was), but you can't hate the strategy that got us to the point of even being in that position. The strategy was damn near perfect. The execution was damn near awful.
That is the case for almost all of the cases brought up regarding why tanking is bad when the team is staring Hall of Fame talent in the face and don't select it and it's just a bad answer. The right answer is - your management made a big mistake in selecting (insert Kevin Durant, take out Greg Oden or Michael Jordan, take out Sam Bowie).
The right answer is - we selected the right player and then in poorly managed fashion we squandered said talent (you hear me, Donald Sterling!) The metrics that say tanking doesn't work are working too hard to craft a lie out of truth - tanking has worked spectacularly for many franchises. Tie almost every rise of championship caliber teams and I'll show you a team that was a 20-30 win team before they got their lottery prize (and to be clear, that doesn't mean it was a #1 pick). Not all of them tanked, but a good number sure didn't spend their time putting the best possible lineup on the court every game.
The fact that there's likely 6-10 teams trying hard to get those coveted players ensures that MOST won't, but until you show me that those teams who tried, lost out on coveted lottery talent, and then went about getting it SOME OTHER WAY - it's still the best plan around. Only the Celtics and Lakers of old have ever been able to steal, hoodwink, and cajole their way into high draft picks without the rebuild pain. No middling playoff team is rebuilding on the fly with mediocre, non-superstar driven talent into a championship.
The Hawks are a middling team with mediocre, non-superstar driven talent. That said, the fact that the Hawks didn't draft its Hall of Fame talent is on the execution, not the strategy. And for those who believe that we should build around what we got - then, that means we need to build around Al Horford and last I checked - guess who drafted Al Horford (I'll wait). And guess where Al was selected (I'll wait again).
Either way, you can't get away from Billy having a net positive impact on the franchise and you can't get away from the fact that lottery picks are critical to winning titles. Save the statistical analyses and the obligatory Detroit Piston reference and simply show me a pattern of NBA Finals participants that have done it any other way.
Which leads me to why Billy Knight was doing a better job at this juncture of his GM tenure - when Billy Knight took over for Pete Babcock - the Hawks had just given away 2 first round draft picks for Dan Dickau and Glenn Robinson and were over the salary cap (a much softer cap at that time). The first things he did were to draft Boris Diaw (a guy who is STILL in the league playing for the (in my whisper voice) Spurs) and to acquire 3 1st round picks (in addition to our own) and 2 2nd round picks while ridding us of the big contracts given Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Alan Henderson. Sound familiar? With those picks, he selected Josh Smith and Josh Childress. Call those what you will, but the averages say that it will be hard for John Jenkins, Bebe, and Schro to match or exceed the career contributions of Diaw, Smith, and Childress.
Now, I give Danny Ferry a ton of credit for the work he's done to date, but none of it matches what Billy Knight did to rebuild this franchise in those first 2 years. We can debate the sound nature of every transaction, but I'd venture a bet that Danny Ferry is going to have some clunker transactions as well. The key is to not have ones that you can't fix. The one move that Knight couldn't fix were the back to back Williams draft selections. And for that he should have been fired, but if you look at the moves made by Pete Babcock and Rick Sund - Knight is Jerry West by comparison. So before we fall so deeply in love with Danny Ferry - let's just remember that the teardown is not the completion of the job - the job is to get elite level assets to win the title. We don't know how good Ferry can be at that task and we should keep putting a critical eye on the ELITE talent acquisition as much as we pay attention to cap flexibility. Until that happens, the task is incomplete.
Free Agency / Draft / Summer League Outlook
I will keep this part short. Signed folks to good, cheap contracts. If this was done to flip them, then I'll reserve judgment until they are flipped. If we signed Korver and Millsap for their playing ability, I'll simply say - until we have elite level talent in Atlanta, these types of deals are meaningless to our ability to win a title. I'd rather have guys on 1 year contracts and play our young guns while amassing ping pong balls than to sign guys who would be role players if our roster was championship ready.
As for the draft picks, I like them. There's a lot to like about Dennis and BeBe. If BeBe can move Horford to the 4, great. If Schro can allow Teague to be flipped for another asset OR be a valuable trade chip the likes of Eric Bledsoe that gives us a lottery level draft pick, fantastic. But we still are some pieces away from being able to legitimately say we can compete with the top 8 to 10 teams in the league, which leads me to the point I'll be making all season...
Repeat after me: 2013-2014 should be ALL about lottery picks (Andrew Wiggins or any of the loaded draft class of 2014) and cap flexibility to woo a free agent.
I've predicted the Hawks end of season playoff round for the past 6 seasons save one at the onset of the season. This wasn't difficult to do. I don't believe myself to be some basketball savant to have said we'd be a first or second round loser each year. So, let me do this again...no matter what the Hawks do, no matter what happens to the other teams this season, the Hawks will lose in the first round of the playoffs if they play their best players all season. As a ride or die Hawks fan of 30 years, guess who cares about going to the first round of the playoffs. NOT THIS GUY!!! If we don't have a core that can get appreciably better together, keep blowing it up until it does.
With that said, here's my plea that we don't play our best players this year. Play the players who eventually will be our best players with the projected upside to play well enough to bring a title to town in a 3-5 year window. This team is 3 years away from sniffing at a title. I'm sorry to have to relay that fact to Hawks fans, but a team led by Al Horford as its best player is not a team that is ready to win a title.
For those who think we are 1-2 players away, I'm here to tell you that our supporting cast along with LeBron James is not close to what the Heat have now and would have had trouble last year defeating the Pacers, Spurs, Grizzlies, and so on. We are still missing a small forward who can defend anyone, missing consistency at the point guard position, we have two backup shooting guards, and we are missing true post defense (all respect to Al). That's not found by 1-2 players. So, what does Andrew Wiggins have to do with this? Well, everything and nothing...everything because he represents the cheap labor the Hawks need to a) potentially elevate the talent level of this franchise and b) bring the star power necessary to get fan base energized and players to see Atlanta as the destination of choice to win titles (and on the cheap). Nothing because it's actually very unlikely that we get him.
But I like the odds of the ping pong balls over the odds of trying to depend on a desperate GM or a truly relevant free agent signing onto a squad that is still quite a few pieces away from winning a title. Match that with the free agency competition over the next 2 years coming from the potential $50M that the Lakers and Heat will have open next year - and it could be 2-3 years before we're close to being the most attractive option for free agents. This is why the draft is so important. No team has won a title in the past 20 years without being led by a superstar that was chosen in the lottery. NONE (and yes, I'm including the Pistons of '04 since they were led to a title by the implosion of the Kobe/Shaq Lakers squad).
Last thought - and for those who believe we aren't a market that can attract an elite free agent - 1) you can't just throw in the towel on that as an organization and 2) if you do, then that's even MORE reason why we have to put ourselves in position to get the highest draft pick possible. Stars don't get traded to places like Atlanta hardly ever (Commenters - go ahead and pick someone other than James Harden as your counter to this point). Ok, I've surpassed every word count limit possible - time for comment defense to take hold like it's Space Invaders. Let's get it...
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- NBA Free Agency Rumors: Greg Oden includes Atlanta Hawks among destinations
- 2013 NBA Free Agency: Atlanta Hawks Roster/Cap Status
- Grantland: Atlanta Hawks a winner this off-season
- NBC Sports: Dennis Schröder may be steal of draft for Atlanta Hawks
- Atlanta Hawks must weigh options with Lucas Nogueira