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SB Nation Theme Day, Most Hyped: The Atlanta Hawks' failed playoff guarantee

The 2003 Atlanta Hawks' guaranteed a playoff berth or they'd owe their season ticket holders money which turned out not to be a safe bet.

Playoffs? We talking about Playoffs?
Playoffs? We talking about Playoffs?
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing defines "Too Hype" like the infamous 2002-03 Atlanta Hawks playoff guarantee, which was proposed by Lon Kruger as an attempt to raise the bar for the team and change the image of the recently-lotto-bound franchise.

To understand the depth of the failure of this guarantee you need only know this: Lon Kruger only lasted 27 games of his "Playoff Bound Atlanta Hawks" team and the franchise paid out ~$125 to each season ticket holder to make good on their bad bet.

There was some reason for Kruger and Hawks fans to be excited before the season, Toni Kukoc and a 1st round pick had been sent to Milwaukee for Glenn Robinson. The Hawks had Theo Ratliff coming back from a hip injury that cost him all but three games of the previous season.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim was steady as ever and entering his Age 26 season, a season after posting another solid ~20 PER effort.

Then there were the even younger guys, Hawks draft picks Jason Terry (age 25), Dion Glover (Age 24) and DerMarr Johnson (Age 22).

Terry was still being miscast as a point guard, but was productive and rising. Glover was beginning to harness his abilities and was slowly becoming more efficient and productive as a slasher.

Johnson was raw, but still exciting. A high flyer with improving skills and a large wingspan, Johnson was being touted by soon-to-be Golden State head coach but then Hawks assistant and Shaw Summer League coach Eric Musselman as a defensive beast, though the advanced stats to that point hadn't revealed that level of defensive acumen as yet.

But the good vibes for the team began to turn when Johnson wrecked his Mercedes in Atlanta and had to be pulled from the wreckage just moments before the car exploded. While Johnson was lucky to escape, he had to be in a halo for most of that season and never again played for the Hawks.

The other Hawks failed to gel as a team, and Kruger lost them in December, forcing the team to make a move to assistant Terry Stotts to finish out the season. Abdur-Rahim was solid, as was Terry, but Robinson had his worst season since his second season in the league and was traded soon after the season to Philadelphia.

The Hawks finished 12 games under .500, 11th place in the East and the ticket operators had quietly dropped their "Playoff Bound Atlanta Hawks" greeting during the season.

It was a team that had great hope and hype but ended quietly fizzling into the depths of the NBA season.

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