It seems like it was four years ago given the late summer drama that surrounded the team, so here's how we remembered the key points of last season.
Going into the offseason, it was clear to everyone there was going to be more change. Two draft picks and a recently vacated coaching position, along with some cap space, meant there were going to be things to discuss. Throw in the pending Josh Smith departure, which was clear by the end of the previous season, and there was much to watch.
5/28/13: Hawks hire Mike Budenholzer
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(Jason Walker) I remember reading over the years how a few teams would go after Pop's right hand man in San Antonio and he was next in line to take over that Mercedes of a franchise there when Pop was done, which was said by Pop himself to be 15 minutes after Tim Duncan retired.
So when it was announced that Danny Ferry had hired Bud, well, it was pretty clear what we've all said about Danny and his intentions for the Hawks were, it the Spurs-ian route or bust!
The fans were pretty stoked that somebody who was sought after chose the Hawks. Score!
(Brad Rowland) My Initial reaction was, "SPURS!!!". Obviously, we knew virtually nothing about Budenholzer aside from being a Popovich disciple, but anything from that organization was okay with me, and I was incredibly thankful that it wasn't a re-tread hire. Free-flowing offense and unselfish play are two staples of basketball that are incredibly easy to support, and with Budenholzer, optimism surrounding both was evident.
(Kris Willis) Budenholzer was a name we latched onto early in the process although there was some initial doubt as to whether or not he would actually leave the San Antonio. On a scale of 1 to 10 this was an 11 for the Hawks who have had difficulty attracting any kind of big names to Atlanta in recent years.
Hiring Budenholzer wasn't just about hiring another coach. It was about adopting a new culture, a new approach. It was about finding a winning formula on and off the court and who better to mimic than one of the most successful franchises in the NBA.
6/27/13: Hawks draft Dennis Schröder, Lucas Nogueira and Mike Muscala
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(JW) Schröder had been mocked to be drafted before the Hawks for a long time and Nogueira had been moving fast up the boards, so there wasn't a Wow! factor to the picks, especially to the fans. Well, except for Nogueria's hair, a draft night highlight forever.
What is most noteworthy about this draft, and this is important, was how Ferry worked draft night. He had the 17th and 18th picks in the first round. He then traded up to 16 with Dallas. Instead of giving up a lot to move up two spots, Ferry instead dealt only the 18th pick to do it. Oh, and he also got back the 44th pick and Jared Cunningham.
Ferry turned the 18th pick into the 16th and 44th picks, along with a terminating contract in Cunningham. The Hawks took Muscala with the 44th pick. It was another brick in the wall of realizing that the Atlanta Hawks may be moving into one of those NBA neighborhoods, where the smart franchises live.
(BR) Aside from the sheer wizardry instituted by Danny Ferry that night to maneuver his picks, the reaction was mixed on both Schroder and Nogueira. The message was clear in that Ferry was targeting upside in selecting two raw commodities from outside of the U.S., but I did like the tools for both players.
Schroder was the best point guard on the board in my estimation, and while it is easy to forget with the emerge of Shelvin Mack and the Jeff Teague contract, the Hawks desperately needed someone at the point guard spot at the time.
The Lucas pick was less enthralling, but again, it was understandable. Length, defense and athleticism are all valuable commodities in the league, and from what we all knew about Nogueira, he possessed the entire trio. Oh, and watching Lucas put the hat on his afro at the NBA Draft was one of the highlights of my year.
(KW) When we I first started to prepare to cover the draft in 2013, the first video I watched was of Schroder. I came away convinced that he'd be long gone by the time Atlanta picked so naturally I was pretty happy when I heard his name called.
We initially focused on Mason Plumlee as a big man that we thought might fit what the Hawks were looking for however, we weren't terribly surprised when the pick ended up being Nogueira.
Seeing the Hawks pick two of the highest upside players in the draft was a sure switch in philosophy and illustrated the new emphasis on player development. It wasn't without criticism as many thought Atlanta should have at least taken one player that could contribute right away. The performances of Plumlee and Gorgui Dieng have made that question even more valid.
7/5/13: Paul Millsap signs with Hawks
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(JW) After draft night and getting a couple of raw teenagers in the first round, the focus was on Dwight Howard and free agency. The Hawks were always a longshots, but they were taken seriously, though a harmless comment by Marc Stein did inspire me to begin the season-long #eventhehawks campaign, which was a lot of fun.
Not getting Howard was a negative sign to fans who, right or wrong, gauge the Hawks on what stars play on the team. Howard not coming to Atlanta and, to a lesser extent, Chris Paul, was a message to them that the superstar free agent route wasn't going to happen, even with Danny Ferry, and there was some dissatisfaction there with that particular balloon popping.
However, on that first official day of free agency, Ferry pulled off a master stroke, somehow convincing Paul Millsap to take a 2 year, 19 million dollar deal. Basketball insiders immediately gasped at how Ferry pulled that off. Millsap was a young big and very productive with no off-the-court problems. It was instantly regarded as a steal, which turned out to be an understatement.
(BR) I vaguely recall running around my living room screaming about an NBA championship? Something like that. Anyway, The Millsap move came out of absolutely nowhere, and that is what made it so fantastic. Just signing Millsap would have been more than enough, but the fact that it came at a STEEP discount on a short deal in the midst of a free agency whirlwind represented the point where I shifted into "Danny Ferry for life" territory.
We had no idea what the Hawks would do in the aftermath of that move, but even in a vacuum, you won't find a better free agent acquisition when taking money into account.
(KW) Millsap wasn't a name that I was focused on heading into free agency. I like many others was halfway expecting the Hawks to look to add a center and shift Al Horford to power forward on more of a full-time basis so naturally I was a little surprised.
Atlanta got exactly what they were looking for in Millsap. A steady presence at the power forward slot who showed an efficient and well rounded game. In other words, he wasn't excellent at one end of the floor and sub par in other areas which was something that couldn't be said about the player that he was replacing.
Even better was the terms on which Millsap was acquired. Millsap signed a two-year deal with the Hawks worth $19 million and immediately ranked as the best value deal of the summer.
7/11/13: Josh Smith signs with Detroit
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(JW) Josh Smith played nine wonderful seasons in Atlanta and no Hawk, even Dominique, was picked apart more than Smith. I would also say no player had generated more a split among the fanbase that Smith, who had ardent supporters and just as passionate detractors. My opinion was that so much was focused on what he didn't do right that the larger part of his stay, the good things he did, were dismissed and marginalized. That Detroit paid him big money was satisfying in that the Hawks couldn't have kept him at any kind of discount. And while it was hard to see his time in Atlanta come to an end, almost everyone felt a relief that the nightly scrutiny to his game was now someone else's to pursue.
(BR) To be honest, I was one of the larger Josh Smith detractors in the Hawks blogging world, and thus, I was pretty happy with this move. Smith is an insanely talented player who doesn't get nearly enough credit for his basketball IQ (especially as a passer), but there is a spot in his consciousness where he simply can't comprehend that he's a bad shooter, even when presented with piles of evidence, and that was ultimately his downfall.
The change from paying Paul Millsap $9.5 million to Smith $14 million is an obvious one, but when it comes with two less seasons the fresh start of watching games without the entire crowd screaming "NO!" on every jump shot, it was a no-brainer.
By the way, I firmly believe that Josh Smith can (still) be saved, but if he flames out as a power forward (not small forward) under Stan Van Gundy, that's the end of the line.
(KW) By the end of the 2013 season it was pretty clear that both the Atlanta Hawks and Josh Smith needed to go their separate ways. Smith exhibited untapped potential almost nightly but never was able to harness that for the good of the franchise. It became a burden to him as well as the Hawks.
When I learned that Smith had agreed to a four-year deal with the Detroit Pistons worth $54 million my initial thought was relief and again surprise. Especially when we learned that Detroit planned to use him primarily as a small forward. For the Hawks it further signified the end of an era and that change was on the horizon.
7/12/13 Kyle Korver re-signs with the Atlanta Hawks
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(JW) It's funny that this may seem, as we sit before the 2014-15 season, that this was a forgone conclusion that Korver would and should be re-signed. But at the time there was some doubt. Doubt that the Hawks would invest in Korver and doubt among the fans that they should.
What Danny Ferry did was sign the best long range shooter in the league to a fantastic long term contract that decreases in cost every season, while Korver's value remains high to the Hawks. It was a particularly fantastic piece of GM wizardry by Ferry, rivaled maybe only by his ability to trade up in the 2013 NBA Draft and get more picks to do so.
All Korver did was take us on a fabulous streak that everybody except ESPN's Darren Rovell appreciated. Now it's hard to imagine Coach Bud without Korver on the floor, something that came into focus all to well when Kyle missed time later in the year.
(BR) I was incredibly happy when the signing was announced, and as soon as the actual layout of the deal (diminishing each season, etc.), it became even better. I've long been a believer in Korver as an overall player and not just a pure shooter, but in Budenholzer's offense, a marksman of his stature is an extremely valuable commodity, and quite obviously, that partnership worked out swimmingly in year one.
It was quite amusing to peruse some of the national outrage on Korver "being paid too much", and in evaluating the deal now, it is apparent that the Hawks got a steal while locking up a vital cog.
(KW) The most interesting thing about Korver re-signing with the Hawks was that he initially didn't want to come to Atlanta at all. Yet 12 months later he was signing a four-year extension with the team. Why? Because he was sold on what Danny Ferry and Mike Budenholzer were trying to build and he wanted to be a part of it. That isn't something that Hawks fans are used to hearing come out of players' mouths when it comes to the Hawks.
7/13/13: Hawks match Bucks' offer sheet for Jeff Teague
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(JW) I always felt like Teague was not #TopTier consistently enough to pay him the going rate on starting point guards. I assumed he would get an annual offer that exceeded 10M/year, especially as a Restricted Free Agent. At worst, I thought we'd see a Qualifying Offer Jeff Teague season or a sign and trade with someone who wanted him. But the market for point guards, even young ones, seemed to be passive and Teague only got an offer from the Milwaukee Bucks, with now LARRY DREW at the helm. Larry Drew! The man we all assumed blamed Teague for everything. Now they wanted him? There was shock there, but the truly shocking thing was the contract Milwaukee offered was begging to be matched at 4 years, 36 million. 8M per, on average, for a young, efficient point guard? Danny matching that made sense to even those who saw his inconsistency on a night by night basis. When Budenholzer specifically mentioned Teague as someone he was excited to work with, the Teague stock moved up some more.
(BR) I really struggled with the world that included Jeff Teague as the starting point guard for the Hawks. At $8 million per season during his prime, it was hard to make an argument against the deal being a massive overpayment (it wasn't), but in the midst of all things free agency, it was pretty difficult to get excited about four more years of that version of Jeff Teague.
Still, I greatly preferred Teague to some of the other options (Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, etc.), and when the deal came to fruition, it was mostly a positive reaction. Budenholzer's offense doesn't fit Teague perfectly because of his inconsistent jump shot, but aside from that, he is at least given the opportunity to grow, and that is a plus outside of the shadow of Mike Woodson and Larry Drew.
(KW) Restricted free agency can be a cruel thing for players and that was on display with Jeff Teague and the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta left him to dangle for most of the summer and then took their time matching the Bucks' four-year offer sheet. I admit I had no idea if they would match or not. The team had just spent a first round pick on Schröder and it was difficult to see what direction the team would ultimately go in with the point guard position.
Teague isn't perfect but he continues to improve and you can certainly do worse. Best of all his deal is friendly enough that he could be a valuable trade chip down the road if or when Schröder proves ready.
12/26/13: Al Horford suffers a torn pectoral muscle for the second time in three seasons
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(JW) As the season started, it was clear the Hawks were different already under Budenholzer and were starting to take advantage of the offseason smartness by getting the attention of national pundits, who noticed the Hawks 3rd place-in-the-East standing as Christmas approached. When Horford went down in a non-contact, what-the-heck fashion, all the hope of a "We Shocked The World" season was lost.
The Hawks, both nationally and regionally, fell sharply off the radar. Even the playoff were in doubt and the Let's Tank! Crowd got louder.
(BR) So. Many. Expletives. While I am not the type of writer that would use these freely (or really, ever), it took everything in my power to mute reaction to the best player on a potential home-court team going down with yet another fluke injury. Al Horford and Paul Millsap were entering "scary good" territory when playing together in Budenholzer's offense, the Nets and Wizards were struggling to the point where we thought they'd both miss the playoffs, and aside from the big two, the Hawks looked to be firmly in the mix for Eastern Conference positioning.
In 2 seconds, that optimism vanished. We went from playoff discussions to "can we survive and grab the 8th seed?" conundrums in a matter of hours, and even with frontcourt "depth", there was nothing to replace Al Horford. Tanking was in play, all of the sudden, and the Ferry/Budenholzer momentum was halted entirely.
(KW) If there was one player the Hawks couldn't afford to lose for any significant amount of time it was Al Horford. Yet that was the exact scenario they were faced with just 29 games into the season when Horford came up lame while battling for a loose ball some 25 feet from the basket.
To Budenholzer and the rest of the team's credit, it took nearly a month before the Hawks started to fall off. They were third in the East when he went down and were able to sustain that for a period before the wheels came off under the weight of more injuries to the frontcourt.
Whenever I think about last season I think of what might have been. Horford was on his way to another All-Star season and the team really hadn't started to gel when he went down. I don't know where the Hawks would have ended up if Horford hadn't been injured but I feel it's pretty safe to say that they wouldn't have been a below .500 team and certainly not the eight seed.
1/24/14: Pero Antic declared out for 2-4 weeks with ankle injury, would miss a month
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(JW) Antic's ability to stretch the floor and open things up for the penetration of Teague and Lou Williams was felt when he wasn't available to take some of Horford's minutes and that stretch role. It also denied us of more Classic Pero Moments, like the slowest ball fake and go in the NBA and his magnificent beard.
(BR) Losing Pero Antic, in a vacuum, isn't a big deal, but when he goes down AFTER Al Horford is gone, things are ugly. Elton Brand would strap his cape on and unleash a string of 30-35 minute efforts in his advanced age to make up for Antic's absence, but the floor spacing suffered greatly, and the depth just wasn't there to make up for Pero's extended time on the shelf.
This is also the moment when a majority of the fan base began to appreciate Antic's unique contributions to the team.
(KW) When the Hawks signed Pero Antic in the summer of 2013 the response was more often than not "Who?" Who would have thought that it would be an injury to him that would ultimately send the team on its downward spiral? The Hawks never intended Antic to play as important a role as he had to in his first season in the NBA. Injuries sometimes can alter plans significantly.
It took the Hawks a bit of time to adjust without Horford in the lineup but Antic proved to be a critical piece to their spread the floor attack. His injury left the Hawks to rely on Elton Brand for 30+ minutes and forced them to go really small when he was off the floor.
1/30/14: Millsap named to All-Star Team
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(JW) Millsap stepped way up in Horford's absence and I was personally surprised, happily, when Millsap made the team. His hard work, no nonsense approach to the game, along with his vicious efficiency and surprisingly diverse game, was obviously recognized by those who are in position to reward such things. That they went out of the box to recognize a Hawk was more evidence of a change to the team's national image.
Of course, so was Sir Foster's turn in New Orleans, too. The ATL has it all!
(BR) Paul was incredibly deserving, and I was quite glad to see him get the nod. From the time he left Louisiana Tech (and really, while he was there), Millsap has been criminally underrated, and even with the ground swell of efficiency statistics that provide context to his contributions, he doesn't get the love he deserves.
I don't think the majority of the fan base realizes just how good Millsap was in his first season in Atlanta, but at least they can look back and say, "Hey! Paul Millsap was an All-Star!"
(KW) At the time All-Star selections were made the Hawks were still in the Top 4 of the East standings. That certainly helped Millsap's cause but that shouldn't damper his All-Star selection. Millsap came to Atlanta as an underrated player but he flourished in the Hawks system and expanded his game. He may not be flashy but he is a perfect symbol of what Budenholzer was trying to mold the Hawks on court product to be.
3/6/14: Kyle Korver's three-point streak ends at 127
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(JW) Korver re-signing with the Hawks was another off-season stroke of front office genius. Korver's team friendly, annually declining deal secured the best long range shooter in the game and a classic Spursian piece to the rotation.
His streak was incredible and the anticipation was such that it rivaled a baseball player reaching the heights of a long hitting streak. Did Kyle get one? What's his number now? That he obliterated a nearly 20 year old record and kept it going for another half season was incredible.
I do say, though, that the end of Korver's streak came during a particularly heinous west coast trip, one that saw the Hawks reach the nadir of the 2013-14 campaign. It was an ugly losing run for the Hawks and it was fitting that the streak ended in the midst of it.
(BR) It was actually quite weird when Kyle's streak ended. It became a routine in preparation for every game to reconcile where he was with the streak, get ready to talk about his excellence and simply count down the minutes (or seconds) until he knocked one down.
The streak was always going to end, and from a national perspective, I'm sure we received some light shade for propping up Kyle's greatness, but that level of consistency is frightening and anyone who has seen him go through a warm-up routine would support his work ethic. Kyle Korver making a three in 127 consecutive games isn't going to be something we all tell our grandchildren about, but it was insanely impressive.
(KW) Watching Kyle Kover night in and night out you had to wonder if the streak would ever end. In many ways he found the perfect system for his talents and a shooter as good as Korver simply isn't going to miss too many wide open looks.
Some looked to dismiss the streak and I really don't know where it belongs in the basketball annals but I do know that it was amazing to watch.
4/12/14: Hawks clinch 8th seed, extend Playoff streak
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(JW) Luring the Knicks and their fans into a playoff rally only to play better and knock them out was some pretty shiny silver lining to the losing that got them into that mess in the first place. Now healthy and playoff bound, anything was possible.
(BR) I'll be the first to say that there were times where I rooted for the Hawks to miss the playoffs. Still, there is something about clinching a playoff spot that is fun, even if it simply ensures that Atlanta hosts two home games. Little did we know that the Hawks would be more than competitive in the playoffs, but at least there was a chance.
(KW) If you had told me going into the season the Hawks would end up as the eighth seed I would have told you that was about the worst case scenario that could happen. I don't know if tanking was ever an option given how bad teams like the Knicks and Cavaliers performed down the stretch. With Budenholzer as coach, I don't think tanking was ever a real option.
4/13/14: Steve Koonin named CEO of the Hawks
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(JW) Well known in the ATL for his Turner work, his local vibe and knowledge of the team's history instantly separated Koonin from the long-since gone Bernie Mullins, who never quite connected with the city in a similar role. Koonin's influence was felt immediately as the Pac Came BACK thanks to the CEO's knack for knowing which fan itch to scratch. An underrated addition to the team that we didn't know was needed. And man would we find out how much just a few months later.
(BR) To be honest, I was not familiar with Steve Koonin individually, but the hire of a "front man" for the organization was an encouraging choice. Because of the ownership mess (and that puts it kindly) over the past several seasons, Koonin's hire offered optimism in that the team would have a more image-conscious persona in the future. Obviously, we had no idea what was coming, but without Koonin on board for some version of "spin control", things may have flown completely off the rails.
(KW) At the time, we had no idea how important an addition to the franchise Steve Koonin would be. Just a few months later and he along with Mike Budenholzer seem to be the only people holding the franchise together. Koonin is well respected from his time at Turner and gave the Hawks a much needed face in the business world. He went to work quickly by reviving the Pac Man logo and now faces an even bigger challenge of rebuilding the team's reputation after this summer's controversy.
4/19/14: Hawks steal Game 1 from the Pacers
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(JW) We're here! Guess #eventhehawks can win a playoff game against a top seed on the road, eh?
(BR) Because Indiana had struggled so mightily leading into the playoffs, this wasn't the "shock" that it probably should have been. Still, there was suddenly real chatter about the Hawks upsetting the Pacers for a berth in the Eastern Semis, and it all happened in about two and a half hours. Momentum is fun.
(KW) While the Hawks probably didn't want to be the eighth seed they at least drew a matchup against a team they had performed well against and presented many matchup problems. The Game 1 victory was a great win and it signified that this wasn't going to be your typical one versus eight matchup.
4/28/14: Hawks go into Indy tied 2-2, blow out Pacers in Game 5
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(JW) The Mike Scott game. Tell your kids and their kids about it. I was watching in Las Vegas and even those who have seen the incredible couldn't believe what they were seeing. To win Game 5 and give the good guys a chance to knock out the Pacers in Atlanta was beyond anything folks could have expected from this team coming into it.
(BR) This was always be "The Mike Scott game", and for someone who shilled for Scott back to his days at Virginia, it made me incredibly happy to watch him explode on the national stage. Honestly, it was a comical display from Mike throughout, as he simply couldn't miss, but he wasn't the only one cooking on that night, and it was a dominant effort from Atlanta that lent credence to the Mike Budenholzer offense for all to see.
(KW) This was the point where you had to wonder if the Hawks could really pull off the upset. The final margin of victory was just 10 points but the reality was it was never that close and Atlanta was up by as many as 30 on the road. This game had me thinking back to 1988 when the Hawks went into Boston and stole Game 5 from the Celtics, unfortunately the situation played out nearly identically.
5/1/14: Hawks see chance for series win slip away in final minutes of Game 6
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(JW) They brought back the Pac-Man, the people packed the house. The Hawks had it in their hands and then, poof. #NTTH (Never Trust the Hawks) was the only long-time meme to survive the series.
It was heartache to let this momentum, the civic support and passion for the team rekindled, flicker out in the most Hawksian way possible.
(BR) This one should not have hurt as much as it did. The perfect storm of Indiana incompetence and the Hawks playing above their heads led to expectations being raised, and this shattered them all. It didn't help that it was a disastrous chain of events down the stretch, but to lose this one at home in front of a crowd that could have been captured made it worse. Sigh.
(KW) Just like 88, the Hawks weren't able to capitalize on a big road win in Game 5 with a series clinching win in Game 6. It was painful as the Hawks remained within striking distance but fumbled the game away in the final moments. One takeaway I have from this game is that it should be used as an example for what is possible when people talk about fan support and the Hawks. The crowd at Philips Arena in Game 6 was unbelievable but once again they went away disappointed.
5/3/14: Hawks eliminated from Playoffs with loss in Game 7
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(JW) Expected, but still disappointing. The one big thing you could say about this was that there was something different about this team, this franchise. The players, the coaching and the franchise management themselves were different, in a good way. The playoff run put all of it out there on display for folks to take note heading into next year.
And a final note on what comes next
The draft is coming and then free agency. The team is financially cap-sound but there's no way the Hawks suddenly become the Knicks, Nets or Lakers and sell out to be the headline grabber in the offseason or max out trying to all or nothing 2014-15. They are going to be the smart franchise, keeping the finances in line, acquiring quality players for cheap prices like their DeMarre Carroll steal of a deal in 2013.
The Hawks are one of those franchises, America. The Hawks do the savvy things now. They make the awesomest trades. They do the smart marketing things. Players are telling agents who are telling the press, Atlanta is a place my guy would want to go and would definitely consider.
It's different. It's positive. It's a new ATL. Watch out, #NTTH, you're next.
(BR) The end of any season brings an empty feeling, and this one certainly did. The Hawks took the number one seed to the brink without the services of the best player on the roster, and honestly, it felt like the better team lost. That is a testament to the work of Mike Budenholzer and the overarching team concept, and with that, my emotions were largely positive after taking a day or two to regroup.
It is never a pleasure to watch the playoffs continue without your team, although we're all too familiar with that in Atlanta, but after the 2013-2014 season, feelings of despair about the direction of the squad were replaced with optimism and "safety."
(KW) Can't reflect on this season without constantly thinking about what might have been. Injuries, missed opportunities or a couple of breaks could have had the Hawks in the second round of the playoffs. I came away thinking this was one of the Top 4 teams in the East had they been healthy and I still feel that way. However, they didn't and they weren't. Still the outcome was positive even with the regression in the record as it finally appeared that the team had a plan both on and off the court.
The upcoming season will be constantly noted within the paradigm of all the offseason activity, but this was a good team that shored up some key areas and have been building their identity over the last two seasons and appear ready to move forward again this coming year.