Thursday, December 12, 2013

Honesty Corner's 5 Truths: At The Quarter Pole

In this season of research in HawkStr8Talk-ville, I was having trouble figuring out what metric is necessary to help us understand the Hawks season and our rebuilding effort.  Our first trip through real research ended with a slightly disappointing response to our last blog.  Well, it’s only disappointing in that we failed to convince EVERY Hawks fan that our most likely path to future championship prosperity is through one or more lottery draft picks.  That said, it will not deter me from continuing to provide the best in statistical basis for my musings.   This week’s attempt: Good Win / Bad Loss Rankings and the Aldridge Leap.  So with that, it’s time for the truth to set us as free as Nelson Mandela (RIP).

Good Win / Bad Loss Rankings
Here at HawkStr8Talk HQ – I’ve long noted the lack of strength in the Hawks playoff run over the past 6 seasons.  The thought being – in the regular season, we beat teams with less talent than us, we lose to teams with more talent than us, and then come playoff time – we don’t really even compete in the face of equal or better talent.  So, I went to the lab to create some measure that shows the real strength in a team’s season.  Something that will normalize whether a team is actually punching above average or not relative to their talent to show whether they are truly a good team, improving team, or team that is a function of its schedule. 

To do so, we’ve created the Good Win / Bad Loss Rankings.  In these rankings, a + ranking means that on average - you can beat similar or better teams, a –minus ranking means you normally you don’t and a 0 says that you pretty much do what is expected all based on the talent of your and your opponent’s talent. Now, I’ll go ahead and acknowledge that the judgment of Good Win vs. Bad Loss is subjective in terms of evaluation and expectations for each team, but I'm not letting that stop this great idea from coming to fruition.  My general rules for now will be simple - I won’t penalize a team for losing on a back to back or to a mid-level team on the road. Otherwise, if you should have won and didn’t – Bad Loss.  If you shouldn’t have won or the team is a possible contender for a top 4 playoff seed - Good Win.

Let’s look at the top 3 teams in the East & West to see how well teams truly are doing according to the GW/BL Metric:

Indiana (1st in NBA):        +5 (5GW; 0BL)
Oklahoma City (3rd):        +4 (5GW; 1BL)
San Antonio (3rd):            +3 (3GW; 0BL)
Portland (2nd):                  +2 (4GW; 2BL)
Miami (5th)                       +1 (3GW; 2BL):
Atlanta (tied for 13th)        -2 (.5GW; 2.5BL) *

Based on this ranking, the season so far has been below average for our fair Atlanta Hawks. The great thing about this ranking is that it takes into account the East’s terribleness.  So, a team like the Heat can be 16-6 and show that based on their team’s talent – they aren’t playing awesome basketball.  In the Hawks case, it shows that despite a .500 record – if we were good – we’d be exploiting our weak schedule for a few more wins.  So, instead of looking at a 3 seed - we'd look harder at the .500 record in a terrible conference.

A few items should jump out at you:
  • I repeat - we’re 3rd in the East and yet are tied with 2 other teams for the 13th best record in the NBA. Our 3 seed would not be in the playoffs in the Western Conference. This can't be overstated.
  • It should debunk the theory that the Hawks are performing at a level to get excited about so far unless of course - you expected the Hawks to be around 7-15 or below. This is coupled with the note that we are more games further from the 2nd seed (5) than we are from the 14th seed (4.5).  For those who think it would be difficult to tank, we’re only 2.5 games out of the 9th seed position.  That’s one 3 to 4 game losing streak from happening. 

Note: We’ll be revisiting and likely improving upon this metric as we move along through the season, so put your tweaks to the formula in the comments. 

*The Hawks GW/BL games were defined as follows:  .5 GW vs. the Clippers  2.5 BLs vs. Knicks, Magic, and Celtics.  .5 game credit since the Clippers were on a back to back and played us at home. .5 game credit given for playing the Celtics on a back to back and that the Celtics are not as bad as advertised. 

Guard Ups & Downs
One of the narratives of the year has been how well Jeff Teague has been doing so far.  So much so that early on – he was being touted as an early candidate for Most Improved Player and Eastern Conference All Star, but…Teague hasn’t been playing so well lately.  Teague’s FG %, 3pt %, FT % and assists are all down early this season and only his scoring and assists are up from last year overall.  Now, this isn’t to say that Teague doesn’t look better this year at the quarter pole. He definitely looks improved, but the question is – did we get excited too fast? did we overstate how good he was doing?  Which Teague is the real one – the one dropping double doubles throughout the first 3 weeks of the season or this recent version?  It was no secret that John Wall was likely a better PG in the East than Teague, but is Michael Carter-Williams as the 2nd best PG in the East starting to sound about right (and yes, that would be me ignoring Kyrie Irving right now)?

While we wait to see if Teague can right his recent drop in production, we can say that Shelvin Mack has secured a firm grip on the backup PG position. While I’ve been a proponent of living through the growing pains of developing a German Rondo, I will say that Mack has shown that maybe there’s upside to be gleaned yet.  He’s 8th of the East’s PGs in PER (though that’s 26th among all NBA PGs).  As much as I’d like to see us focus on developing talents, it’s quite possible that Mack could be worth the time we’re diverting from G-Rondo.  As for G-Rondo, the D-League wasn’t what I imagined this season, but it worked for Jenkins last year, so there’s that.   

The GM Report
We won’t read much into this, but when your 3 1st round picks are in the D-League (2) and another is suspending his contract in order to get competent diagnosis / treatment for his knee – let’s just say that it’s not the best week to tout the GM’s acumen.  So far – we’ll keep giving Ferry more credit for his free agent signings than we’ll give him demerits for his draft picks, but this development merits further monitoring.  Scrunity is appropriate when none of your draft picks have scratched serious, consistent rotation work on a rebuilding team.

In This Week’s “Why We Needed Danny Ferry 2 Years Before He Got Here?” Department:
Jordan Crawford was last week’s Eastern Conference player of the week. The same Jordan Crawford who we selected and traded along with a 1st round draft pick to secure the services of Kirk Hinrich.  Take a moment and let that sink in…

Can A Hawks Make The Aldridge Leap?
There has long been a debate regarding Al Horford (given the usage) and his ability to make the leap from really good to superstar production. I’ve always thought – not gonna happen, but hope springs eternal in the name of LaMarcus Aldridge.  When comparing career trajectory  in terms of demeanor, team worth, Power Forward/Center preferences, league tenure, and fringe All Star-ness - LaMarcus Aldridge is as close a fit to Al Horford as I can find.  We will note though that for those who would make the assertion that Aldridge and Horford are equals, the stats and team records would beg to differ. 

Aldridge 23.1PPG, 10.1RPG , 2.6APG, 0.8 BPG, 1.2SPG, 2.0TO, .793 FT, .475FG, 36.9MPG, 22.71 PER 18-4
Horford 17.5PPG, 8.0RPG, 2.5APG, 1.7BPG, 1.1SPG, 2.2TO, .656FT, .545FG, 32.7MPG, 21.30 PER 11-11

Equals or not - it’s encouraging for Al’s future prospects to see that Aldridge has seemingly made the leap necessary for his team to legitimately be seen as a contender. Whether that continues remains to be seen, but the question of whether Horford can make the Aldridge Leap has renewed itself.

Ending The Fear Factor
The Hawks have had the fortune to not indulge in seller’s remorse over the past few years. When Jordan Crawford is the worst decision you’ve made with regard to letting players go – regret shouldn’t be high on the list of emotions. I raise this point to say that if we trust Danny Ferry as much as his work to date suggests we should – the fan base shouldn’t have a problem with whatever is necessary to attain the talent necessary to truly win. So, that brings me to what players are worth trading for outside of draft picks (my overwhelming preference):

Players In The Now - Deng? Waiters? Asik? Monroe? DeRozan? Turner? Afflalo? 
Players In The Future – Love? Westbrook? Other?

Get your votes in and explain how these guys can help us win a title.  Time to help build the buzz for players we want, Hawks fans. 

And with that, as always – see you in the comments.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Championship Entree – Where Can You Find It?

In what is sure to be a theme throughout this year at Peachtree Hoops and NBA message boards worldwide, the path to a title has been debated pretty vigorously.  In an earlier blog, I made the assertion that the Hawks cannot begin to honestly consider themselves working toward contender status until they have a Hall of Fame foundation to build upon. In essence, until we have a future Hall of Famer on the roster, we're spinning our wheels.  With Thanksgiving on deck, I'd never be one to tell you that the appetizers, sides, desserts, and drinks are not important, but if you don't have a turkey or a ham - you don't actually have a Thanksgiving dinner.

From that backdrop, the argument of whether the Hawks need to draft their Hall of Fame talent from the lottery to even consider ourselves a future title contender has ensued. Instead of continuing to debate opinions, it's time to pull out some facts to support what we thought was a simple and fairly irrefutable thought. So in the season of Hawks Str8Talk’s commitment to research, I thought it important to ask some legitimate questions and provide some support for this contention.

Q: Can You Win A Title Without A Hall of Famer?
A: History would suggest NO.  In 63 years, only 2 teams have won a championship without the fortune of a (future) Hall of Famer residing on the roster.  In the lottery era, there have only been 2 teams that have won a championship without at least 2 future Hall of Famers on the roster (Houston 1994 and Detroit 2004).  While anything is possible, it’s impossible to escape the fact that the NBA is the most dependent on star power to win a title and this makes sense since with best of 7 series and only 5 players on the court at a time - the best player and best team will invariably win almost every time.

Which would leave us with the question - if there is a belief that a team can win without a Hall of Famer, what have you seen from the Hawks organization, personnel, and coaching that would suggest that the Hawks would be able to buck this trend?

Q: Assuming you are siding with history, do the Hawks have a future Hall of Famer on the roster?
A: History would suggest NO.  The numbers normally necessary that must be amassed and the level of talent that makes the Hall are not evident from any current Hawk on paper or by the eye test.   That said, if we were to make the leap of faith that there is one, the obvious answer would be Al Horford and even my Hawk colored eyes would be hard to say that it’s possible to see that kind of growth in Al’s game.

Now, if you have gotten past these two questions in agreement that you can’t win a chip without a Hall of Famer and that the Hawks don’t have one, then we have to move to the key element in our championship run – which is “How Do The Hawks Acquire a Hall of Fame Talent”?

Before we start down this path, let’s preface this discussion first. It is incredibly difficult to win a NBA Title. You have to get lucky (ping pong balls, desperate teams, stupid GM-ship, draftee motivation/will/work ethic).  It requires great locker room, great coaching, great role players, great… (fill in the blank).  So simply that to even start to consider winning a title – you have to have the talent.  You can change the coach, change the system, change the mix, but you can’t go without the talent.  So, let’s get to how this happens:

Via Lottery Draft Picks –In the lottery era, there have been 8 franchises out of 32 that have won titles.  Those franchises collectively had 16 current or future Hall of Famers that were on the teams that won titles.  (Note: I’ll also note the Hall of Famers that were selected prior to the lottery era).  They are: 
  • BOS (’86, ’08) – Pierce, Garnett, Allen [Bird, Parish, McHale, D. Johnson, and B. Walton were all selected prior to ’85.]
  • LAL (’87-88, ’00-02, ’09-10) – O’Neal, Bryant, P. Gasol* [Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, and Worthy were all selected prior to ‘85]
  • DET (’89-90, ’04) – None [Note: Dantley, Thomas, and Laimbeer were all selected prior to ’85.]
  • CHI (’91-93, ’96-98) – Pippen, Rodman (Detroit pick) [Jordan was selected in ‘84]
  • HOU (’94-’95) – None [Drexler & Olajuwon were both selected prior to ‘85}
  • SAS (’99, 03, 05, 07) – Robinson, Duncan
  • MIA (’06, ’12-13) – O’Neal, Mourning, Payton, Wade, James, Bosh
  • DAL (11) – Nowitski, Kidd
Additionally, the 2004 Detroit team was led by 3 players (R. Wallace, Billups, Hamilton) who were all lottery picks. Despite the discontentment some have with a reliance on ping pong balls to acquire a talent, the numbers suggest there’s no better way to acquire a Hall of Fame talent. As much as some people detest tanking, this is the reason teams consider doing it. 

Via Trade – There have been 6 current or future Hall of Famers who have been traded to a team that won a title.  They are: 
  • Clyde Drexler
  • Dennis Rodman
  • Shaquille O’Neal
  • Jason Kidd
  • Kevin Garnett
  • Ray Allen
An interesting footnote to this avenue for getting Hall of Fame talent is that in each instance – you already knew that these were potential Hall of Famers (save Rodman) and therefore, that’s why it’s much more unlikely to pull these trades off – GMs know that these are the kinds of talents that your franchise can win a title with.

Via Non-Lottery Draft Pick – There have been 4 current or future Hall of Famers who have been selected outside of the lottery and went on to win a title. They are:
  • Joe Dumars
  • Dennis Rodman
  • Manu Ginobili
  • Tony Parker
The interesting footnote here is that it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that for each of these 4 players – none of them would be Hall of Famers if it was simply about their own abilities. 

Via Free Agency – There are 3 current or future Hall of Famers who have signed with another team through free agency and went on to win a title. 
  • Shaquille O’Neal
  • LeBron James
  • Chris Bosh
This is the hardest way to get a Hall of Famer to join your team.  You have to compete with cap space, other teams and cities, tax-free states, and timing.  Those are the kinds of elements that are hard to bet on, particularly if you are a small to medium market teams. 

And there you have it – the numbers are in and if it’s the odds that you want to play (and we know many don’t), then it’s time to get a lottery pick and let the luck be our guide.  As always, see you in the comments…

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Honestly Corner: The Truths, Season 3 Vol. 1

Welcome to the first in-season Honesty Corner for 2013-14  As noted in the preseason review, this will be the season of research.  There was some digging in the crates to find some information I thought might be pertinent to giving some context and perspective to the start of the 2013-2014.  Let’s get to it – straight no chaser.

What We Should Be Excited About?

There are 3 things that have delighted me greatly to start this year.  They are:
  •  Jeff Teague – First, an admission – I’m WRONG. Yep, I said it. Did some research and found that while there were wayyyy more people saying I was crazy to suggest starting Teague his rookie season over Mike Bibby – I did have some backers in the comments. For proof, see this (and what started it all - this. Now, that said - I think the proof is in the pudding. Teague is averaging double doubles, assists, and consistently attacking. It’s as if they just said go be Tony Parker. Something I suggested about oh 4 years ago…
  • Paul Millsap – Another admission – this research thing is awesome when it reveals things that make you look as smart as Kris Willis.  So, if you read this or feel free to search for Milsap (incorrect spelling is key) at to see the 6 blogs about my mini-crush on Paul Millsap.  While I haven’t made a determination on whether I’d like to keep him or move him in an attempt to find a better star talent, I can say – he is as advertised.  Not missing Josh Smith a lick.
  • On Court Development – It’s awesome to watch our new talents (Dennis Schroeder, Mike Scott, Pero Antic) playing in all situations (early, 4th quarter, late game).  You don’t prepare people for all game scenarios by never playing them in ALL game scenarios. Regardless of whether it loses you some games due on misplaced trust, it’s a necessary building block. 

What We Shouldn’t be Excited About?

There are a few things that have bothered me so far this year. They are:
  • Our Record – Well, it’s not really our record. It’s more about the fans who seem to be impressed by what’s happened so far this season.  We were 3pts away from a winless preseason.  We have won 4 games vs. teams were better than and lost 4 games to teams who are all equal or worst than us save the Knicks (and the Knicks aren’t that good).  Not sure I’ve seen much on a team level that makes me optimistic about this team’s prospects. 
  • Kyle Korver – I don’t care that Lou Williams should change this when he returns. We are relying on Korver too much.  There’s no reason that your 4th best player should be leading the team in minutes.  This may sound like a dig, but it isn’t – Kyle Korver shouldn’t start for a team that wants to win a championship. Our team isn’t at that level, so I’m fine with him as a temporary starter, but if Danny Ferry thinks he's a fixture with Lou at the shooting guard, then we are treating him as a critical cog that must punch well above his weight.  Worked for Evander Holyfield, but Kyle is no Evander Holyfield.
  •  Jump Shooting – I’ll admit that the Knicks game is fresh, but this has been true in other games so far and that’s that – we still are relying too much on making jumpers.  The motion offense, like many other offenses, are good at creating jump shots.  Teams want you to shoot them. You don’t win much that way, though.  Jury's out on the offense until I see how it benefits the inside post game.
  • Subs – Simply put, seeing Pero Antic in crunch time replacing Al Horford is unacceptable. We did fire Larry Drew. Coach Bud, learn the lesson.

Why John Jenkins Playing Matters?

Similar to my crusade for Jeff Teague’s increased playing time in 2009-2010, I also was pretty adamant that we play John Jenkins more last year.  In both cases, I was swimming upstream in my opinion here.  And the dissent to that opinion is that you trust that the coach knows best who should and shouldn’t play for their teams and this idea that minutes are won in practice (Newsflash!! There's not much competitive practice once the season starts).  Unfortunately, it doesn’t correctly assess some very critical factors that are baked into my push for John Jenkins to start for the Atlanta Hawks at best and to have significant minutes off the bench at worst. Mainly, that we need to KNOW who John Jenkins is.  Knowing requires game play. 

The Hawks have a habit of being unable to assess whether our draft picks are hits or misses through play on the court.  For young players in this salary cap era, you almost have to ‘give’ them an opportunity.  Rarely will those young players be better than the veterans in front of them, so the assessment is - will that always be the case?  Will Jenkins be worst than Korver or Williams 2-3 years from now when I'm hoping ready to contend?  If not, do I need to replace him with someone who can? There are instances where forethought helps you determine how best to make the best use of your future trade/draft/free agent options.  This plays out in both scenarios.  If Jenkins is good, you don’t need Korver and you can spend that cap space on something you do need (small forward, center, backup small forward, a star).  If Jenkins isn’t good, then you know that you have a shooting hole that you still may or may not need to fill. 

So, if it comes to pass that John Jenkins has fallen out of favor, the downside of that happening without on court evidence is meaningful.  It either a) means that Danny Ferry made a mistake in drafting him (and for those – there was no one else to draft folks, I would argue that the other possible options – Draymond Green, Tony Wroten (of recent triple double fame), or Jeff Taylor could be part of our rotation) OR b) means that it’s possible Coach Bud isn’t as good at reaching all players. It’s too early to be definitive there, but it’s worth watching for more clues. 

The Lottery Debate Continues

I keep hearing reasons we shouldn’t care about the lottery at the expense of this season and all I’ll say is – I was more entertained watching Jabari Parker vs. Andrew Wiggins than I have been during any Hawks game this season. The possibility of Jabari Parker balanced against 2014-2015 Demarre Carroll - worth the gamble? Unrelated Note: I’ve been very entertained watching the Hawks this season.

Blind Trust – Too Soon?

Final note – I’ll start with this disclaimer. I’m very happy about many elements of what we’re doing in Atlanta from a management and coaching standpoint.  That said, I refuse to go so far as to give full trust to Danny Ferry and Coach Bud.  The reason is simple – I’ve seen this before.  For everyone who is excited about Coach Bud’s offense, I think it’s important to remind them that Larry Drew’s offense looked very similar out the gate. In fact, many people were saying exactly the same thing when we came out of the game well each of his seasons as coach - hey, we like that motion. Down with the iso-Joe, yada, yada, yada.   Nothing radical has changed scheme wise and so, while there are still bad jump shots, it's just refreshing that Josh Smith isn't shooting them for some.  Watching Cartier Martin or Mike Scott shoot them seems to make some people feel better about it - I'm not one of them.  Same for Ferry - he's still on the clock for as long as a star doesn't walk through those doors.

I don’t say any of that to say I’m not optimistic, but I just caution the fan base against going all in just yet. The moves made and work done hasn’t risen to the level of blind trust and total faith. Let’s continue to make the accountable for all the moves made.  Coach Bud unlocking Teague’s potential doesn’t absolve him of developing John Jenkins or developing a post presence or putting together an above average defense.  Danny Ferry’s clearing of cap space doesn’t absolve him of finding star talent to use it on.

And if you aren’t sure about that – do some research to make the case! See you in the comments…

Friday, October 25, 2013

HawkStr8Talk's Season Preview: Looking for a new love

It’s exciting to get back to tackling new reporting angles of our beloved Hawks organization.  Exciting enough that I’m adding a wrinkle into my blog pattern called research.  My failed attempts to write more consistently always resided in ‘what storylines are not being written about?’  The fire to write about the same topics had waned (Will Josh reach his potential? Is Drew going to blame something other than energy? What is our identity?), which is why it’s awesome to be a part of the Peachtree Hoops collective.  I get to be fed by the diverse viewpoints presented about our fair team and that food has served to shape and reshape many of my notions about the Hawks organization with one notable exception – and that’s I’m all about the chip.

The rebuild we’ve so desperately needed will now be met with the renewed fire in my writing philosophy of “speaking truth to power”.  That philosophy has no regard for popularity, so if you detect a laser focus on how we rebuild this franchise that has little regard for Ws and Ls this season – well, that’s what research does.  And so – let’s get to the Truths.

Survey Says “We Need A Hall of Famer”

There’s been heated debate all summer about what the new normal is for the Atlanta Hawks.  Should we be patient or tank? What does patience entail? What is tanking?  Many questions, few unanimously agreed upon answers.  So, I spent some time trying to cut through much of the unscientific rhetoric to see if there were some undisputed truths around what wins NBA championships (read: actually winning it, not almost, not getting to the conference finals – actually raising the trophy).  So, I reviewed the coaches and players of every NBA champion from 1950 until 2013. While the eras and team building exercises have changed dramatically, one thing stood out: YOU GOTTA HAVE A HALL OF FAMER!!!!

Since 1950, there have only been 2 championship teams that did not include a Hall of Fame talent.  The 1956 Philadelphia Warriors and the 2004 Detroit Pistons.  That’s it.  64 championships – 2 without current or future Hall of Fame talent.  Now, you can argue a lot of different reasons why this is so, but you can’t ignore that this ingredient is the ONE constant that stirs the drink.  Yes, you want to have great coaching, great ownership, and great luck.  In whatever ways that leads you to a Hall of Fame talent to build upon, it should be a universally agreed upon idea that this is necessary to win a championship. 

This brings me to the point – the Hawks don’t have one Hall of Fame talent.  We barely have an All Star and yes, I do have favorable feelings about Al Horford, but he’s still a fringe All Star. Hall of Famers are bookable for the All Star Game every year barring injury.  Let the season begin and all debates center around this one fact.  Anything proposed or done to acquire a Hall of Fame talent should be in play, Hawks fans.  Until then, we’re building the house on a sand lot. 

Delusions of Grandeur

With the Hall of Fame talent point firmly established, I scoured the internet to figure out – how exactly will the Hawks fan base begin to coalesce around a core set of goals and it appeared to me that we have to know where we are. And then this blog slapped me upside the head.  The premise being that the Hawks are stuck in a rut.  After reading about our Hawks all offseason, the one thing that people don’t believe is that the Hawks are stuck.  There is a common feeling that our team is moving in the right direction.  I even shared that feeling.  I loved the decision to change the head coach and to move on from the Josh Smith experiment. 

Then, there was the reality of what’s our path to the Hall of Fame talent. 
1.       Do we have assets to acquire one via trade?  Well, maybe if Al Horford is traded to do so.  What under 25 future Hall of Famer is likely to be traded? 
2.       Do we have the cap space and the organizational acumen to lure a future Hall of Famer to come here via free agency?  This summer certainly calls that into question, but the summer of 2014 will give us another chance to change that narrative. 
3.       Finally, do we have the draft picks that will potentially yield that player?  Well, it’s possible, but when reviewing the Finals MVPs in the lottery era and there’s only one who was not selected in the lottery and his name is Tony Parker (who was backed by two other Hall of Fame talents in Duncan and Ginobili). Why is this important – well, it means it’s EXTREMELY rare to find a Hall of Fame talent outside of the lottery.

When weighing all of these factors, the thought of being stuck is still applicable.  Is there reason to believe we’ve improved on the edges? Yes. Is there reason to believe that the foreseeable future is still the same as it has been for the past 20 years?  Sadly Yes.  After hearing about an offseason speculative optimism, the question still remains – when will we demand better than what we’ve gotten?

Tanking vs. Rebuilding

No topic has been more contentious this summer than the ‘why we should or shouldn’t tank’ debate.  Again, it’s probably instructive that we all ensure we’re talking about the same thing here and what camps the debates come from.  First, my definition of tanking is to not play the players you need most in order to develop into a contending team.  So, the real world example of that is if Nerlens Noel gets to 100% health and is still sitting on the bench in March – the Sixers are tanking.

The way the system is designed and what history has taught us – being mediocre begets being mediocre.  It rarely propels you to a Finals push and never results in a NBA title, so being in the lottery is a goal that any non-contending team should strive for.  Most teams play their way there, but some find bad organizations who for strange reasons give their picks away.  Much of the anti-‘tank’ crowd’s reasoning was centered around two things – that you don’t want to go through the early 2000s again or that being the lottery doesn’t guarantee anything.

Well, I’ll answer both without regard to whether we should tank or not.  First, we shouldn’t tank, but if that’s the only way we’re getting a lottery pick, then so be it.  The fallacy that many fans are still under is that the late  90s/early 00s were infinitely worse than the where we’ve been the last 6 years.  Trust me, it’s not much different.  There were only 2 seasons where we realistically had a very small shot at making the Eastern Conference Finals.  Letting yourself think we were better than the bad teams in the NBA because we made the playoffs with absolutely NO chance of advancing is why we are going through yet another rebuilding effort.  And since we are – if there’s ever a time when you want to sell out completely for 2014, it’s now.

For those who have ESPN Insider access, these two articles should explain why this season has become either a push for a title (for the 8 or so contenders) or a push toward a future title (for the 10 or so really bad teams) by way of potentially the greatest draft haul ever.  Here’s the quick synopsis from several GMs and scouts:

“There are potentially 5 to 8 All Stars, an elite freshman class, a solid sophomore class, and a strong international cast.”

So, let’s get the easy naysaying out of the way first. Yes, drafts sometimes don’t pan out as projected and there is absolutely a luck factor involved in moving up in the lottery.  That said – the question must be asked - can we afford to operate as if that the people who do this for a living are wrong or is the opportunity to get a cost controlled Hall of Fame talent one that you do everything to acquire?

I say it’s the latter. This is why it’s critical that we do everything possible to land in that lottery without tanking.  Every asset should be in play with regard to on having as many picks in that draft as possible.  And if it’s determined that we can’t do it any other way than to tank – well….I’m willing to watch sucky basketball for a full season in order to do so.  The opportunity is too great not to.  Remember – it’s not putting all of our eggs in a basket for Wiggins or Randle, but it’s putting our eggs into a basket that has more potential stars in it than in recent memory.  If you trust Danny Ferry, then you should trust him most where the talent is the greatest. 

Who Should We Watch

While the season unfolds, there are definitely people we should be watching in judgment of how well the rebuild is going.  Most will watch the players.  I’ll be watching Danny Ferry & Coach Bud.

I know people are going to say – what about Teague? Millsap? Schro? And well – I definitely am going to  enjoy watching them play (or not), but more than anything – this is the year where our true direction from a leadership perspective is set.  As I said before, Danny Ferry hasn’t won my undying devotion yet.  He’s done the easy part and that’s the teardown.  Like Ferry, Billy Knight did a fantastic job of the same thing.  Now, we’re into the hard part.  I want to see how Coach Bud’s system plays and his ability to operate with a superstar. That’s hard to figure out when you don’t have one, but part of attracting talent to Atlanta will hinge on just that.  And let’s be clear – everything that Danny and Bud should be doing should focus less on 2013-2014’s win-loss record and more on their ability to make Atlanta attractive to the kind of talent that wins championships.  Systems don’t win championships.  Systems with Hall of Fame talent do.

So, how we focus on acquiring talent and how we develop the talent we hope will take us to the promised land is much more important than what peripheral talent does this year.  It’s why you won’t see me spending much time on Kyle Korver or Demarre Carroll in Hawk uniforms.  Our players are still just pieces on a chessboard until the foundation is in place. To think otherwise, takes our eyes off the prize.

2013-14 Prospects and Prediction

If you hadn’t figured it out by now, you may be under the impression that I don’t think highly of this year’s team and you’d be right.  But any team without championship upside is going to fall into that category with me.  So, with that said, this team has the talent to be a 6th or 7th seed.   Problem is - I don’t see much upside in actually attaining that seed, particularly if the team ends the season led by a healthy starting 5 of Teague/Korver/Carroll/Horford/Millsap.  The 17th pick in the draft and more cap room is not what this team needs to have come out of the end of the season. 

I’ll be much more excited about a Schro/Jenkins/enter SF name here/Horford/enter C here lineup and its development that just happens to miss the playoffs in the name of development (and lottery luck).  I don’t see that happening, but I can dream, so mark me down for 42-40 and the 7th seed and another first round exit.   And now we comment…

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Offseason Truths

"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...

Seller's Remorse

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 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...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Honesty Corner's Truths: Season Ending & Game 1 Thoughts

Hawks Fans,

Let's start with the obvious. It's been 4 LONG months and for reasons that don't matter at all to you guys - I had to take a hiatus, but it doesn't mean that I haven't watched every game and been cheering for progress from our beloved Atlanta Hawks and it didn't mean I didn't miss you all.  So, let me pick up where I last left off by sharing some truths (Spoiler Alert - your boy was wrong about a few things! Haters, listen up!)  And with that delicious piece of information, let's start with some season ending items and then, my playoff thoughts...

2012-2013 told us that:
  • Al Horford is the Hawks Best Player (and that sucks) – For those who have read my blogs over the years, I've said that Al Horford was anything from a rich man's Chuck Hayes to an All Star Center by default.  While I stand by much of that, the post All Star break Al Horford has finally landed at Studsville.  All the calls for increased usage for Horford have yielded a truth I didn't think was possible and that's that - Al Horford can produce consistent 20-10s.  20-10s in this NBA means you're a stud.  The lack of consistency from Jeff Teague and the inconsistent use of Josh Smith's best basketball skills have finally catapulted me to the new belief that Al Horford is the best player for the Atlanta Hawks. And why does this suck?  Well, because a big man who can't rely on his low post moves and who struggles to get the usage necessary to make 20-10s into 30-15s vs. elite talent means if he's your best player - you will never make an Eastern Conference Finals. I'll stop there because any comment after this will lead to a dilution of the gravity of this truth and the acknowledgement that Al Horford has completely elevated his game this season.
  • My Desired Starting Rotation was wrong (and yet, so right) – In my season preview, I noted that I wanted to see a starting 5 of Horford, Smith, Stevenson, Jenkins, and Teague and I was wrong to ask for that.  I'm sure you all are saying - Hawks Str8Talk - you finally admit that John Jenkins should have been coming off the bench and I say - ABSOLUTELY NOT!  No, Mr. Stevenson, he of the 'can't play back to back game' Stevensons should have never sniffed the starting lineup for this team.  You cater your team to the whims of star players whose health is critical to your playoff chances.  Deshawn Stevenson does NOT fall into that category.  I'm still at a loss as to why he's not the last of a rotation that includes Korver, Jenkins, Harris, and Tolliver for wing minutes.  Listen, he's ok and has moments, but on a rebuilding team - Deshawn Stevenson doesn't deserve ANY minutes.  Every minute this season that Deshawn Stevenson has played should have been given to John Jenkins.  Period. Plus, it deprived us of the full bliss of Kyle Korver and John Jenkins on the court at the same time further shaming Josh Smith into taking NO outside shots.  Which leads me to the next truth...
  • Larry Drew calls as a midseason Coach of Year candidate were laughable - Starting with the rotating starting lineup (and yes, I acknowledge that injuries had a role here) and ending with a season where Ivan Johnson and John Jenkins at several points took back seats to Johan Petro and Anthony Tolliver (take a moment to think about that for a second), this team has not been setup for success come the postseason and into future seasons.  The season's record was respectable.  The team beat who it was supposed to.  For that, I give a certain amount of credit to Larry Drew, but if the goal is to prepare the team for the playoffs - the Hawks are walking into this postseason ill prepared.  The issues referenced in the preseason - lack of rebounding, elite defense, questions regarding in-game adjustments, the 2 foul rule (see Playoff Thoughts), and a lack of development in our youngest players - never changed.  All you can say about the Hawks is that they run more this season.  Otherwise, there is nothing that I can say has been demonstrated to show that he needs to continue to be the coach of this team.  Much like Mike Woodson, Larry Drew has served his purpose as a bridge to a new era and better preparation for playoff success.  
  • Zaza & Lou wouldn't change anything this postseason – Now, that doesn't mean there might not be some changes in seeding, but the problems that the Hawks face against elite talent aren't solved by either party.  Yes, Zaza would provide some toughness and offensive rebounding, but he doesn't change the makeup of the entire team.  So, for those who are sitting around saying - what if. Don't!  The best thing we could have done was fall to the 6th seed (outside of falling out of the playoffs altogether), so we could avoid an outside chance at the 2nd round sweep by the Miami Heat.  We can beat the Pacers without these guys if Josh, Jeff, and Al play at an elite level at the same time.  So, if it's going to happen, it will.  The only thing that changed was the margin for error and my thought is - well, head down the bullets to find out how possible it is for us to move to round 2, but before that...
  • Danny shouldn't care about these playoffs anyway. – I won't pontificate long on this one, but here's all that our GM should be focused on right now. 1) Is Phil Jackson interested in working for us?  2) If Phil is in, we can use him on an all out offensive for CP3 and DH12? 3) if I can't get any of these 3 guys - how can I move my draft picks from outside the lottery in 2013 and into the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes of 2014? and 4) no matter what happens - Josh Smith isn't worth than about $10M-$12M a year. Much more can be said about this, but honestly, if those pieces fall in place - then all of your other 1 year free agent gems are easy to make happen (hello, Matt Barnes at the wing on the cheap. Hello, servicable 7ft rim protector, at the league minimum, and hello - sold out Highlight Factory!). Danny, your work is before you.  
Playoff Thoughts:

  • Prediction – I said Pacers in 6. As I said on Twitter, all of our playoff season weaknesses were on display on Sunday.  Poor shot selection, poor rebounding, lack of chemistry, lack of in-game adjustments, lack of leadership, no stud to take over the game when other factors fail you, and ...
  • Larry Drew is an average head coach. – I'll keep saying this over and over and over and over (repeat 10x) again to every person who thinks otherwise - Larry is not a coach you can build a title contender with. Average head coaches don't win titles.  He's a great tactician of offensive plays off timeouts and after that, I fail to come up with something he does with excellence.  His talents are best used as an assistant coach where you focus on the offensive plays and situations and as the sounding board for players when they are frustrated with the head coach. I know everyone is up in arms over his benching of Al Horford for about 15 minutes less than he should have, but I'm not. Why? Because he hasn't spent any part of this season preparing this team for the playoffs.  Where was the outcry when he was jerking around Ivan's minutes (and yes, I'm aware that Ivan isn't the easiest guy to coach, but that's what we're paying Larry Drew for - to handle difficult situations)? Where was the outcry when your BEST shooting guard, John Jenkins, takes half the season to get up to 10-15 minutes a game?  Where's the outcry when Josh Smith 2 years into your regime still doesn't know what shot selection is his strong suit?  These things may not matter vs. the Sacramento Kings, but they will matter when you are playing the Pacers or the Heat or the Bulls. So, you mask the problem all season long with consistent messages that inconsistent effort is the Hawks' problem, but I see more tactical problems than I do effort problems.  Yes, the effort is inconsistent, but so is the coaching and when that's the case - there's only one way for that to end. I'll let you smart readers figure that one out. 

And with that, another Honesty Corner is in the books. See you in the comments...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Honesty Corner's 5 Truths - Season 2, Vol. 4

Hawks Fans,

Back again with more Truths as we move toward the 2nd half of the season, the All Star Break, and yes…the anticipated trade deadline.  In two weeks time, a lot of things have changed (or have they?), which means it’s time to drop the hammer of knowledge.  The Anti-FIF! (Chappelle Show watchers, stand up) starts now…

  • Lou Williams’ Injury Means… – Nothing for the Atlanta Hawks outlook on this season.  We knew that these Hawks were going to make the playoffs.  We knew these Hawks were not going to make a sustained run in the playoffs.  We knew that Lou was as locked into a role (6th man) now and in the future for this team as anyone, SOOOO – yes, it sucks that he’s injured and you never know what an injury can do to a career, but as I said when Al went down last year – this really changes our trajectory very little.  In fact, I’m almost at a point of saying – blessing in disguise might be a more apt response for this organization if it results in more minutes for John Jenkins.  Any investment in his development this season that results in a starting position for Jenkins OR some revelation that a better long term solution at the shooting guard position should be found, then Lou’s time with the rehab team will not be in vain.   So, for those people looking for a scapegoat for why the Hawks aren’t (fill in the blank), look elsewhere.  The Hawks are a better team with Lou Williams, but the ceiling for this season (and the floor for that matter) didn’t change as a result. 
  • The Hawks Didn’t Deserve An All Star – This probably isn’t a popular opinion, but the Hawks have always been fortunate to even be able to call Al Horford an All-Star.  He was never one of the best 12 players in our conference (certainly not more so than Josh Smith) and I’ve been on record that only in 2009 was it really that close that Josh Smith was one of the 12 best players in the conference.  Those points lead me to this - the Hawks have gotten proper All Star consideration over the past 6 years.  I know we want more respect, but when those players aren’t SNIFFING All-NBA consideration (a much truer expression of quality of the year a player has since it's more apt to be devoid of coaching and fan biases) – do we really need to debate whether Hawks are getting robbed of trips to the All Star exhibition?  I don’t think so and this year, the timing of our worst stretch coupled with the fact that our two best players are having OK years on an OK team means you get OK consideration.  So, we didn’t deserve an All Star and we all should be OK with that.  What we shouldn’t be OK with is NOT seeing Kyle Korver in the 3pt contest.  Now, that’s worthy of some rabble rousing. 
  • The Hometown Discount Don’t Lie - Obviously, Josh Smith has and will be a topic of trade discussion for the next 3 weeks.  I will weigh in on this in more detail in a future column, but it’s probably important to say what I said in the last Truths – everyone is tradeable.  I love Kyle Korver, but if he’s worth a future #1 – adios! I love Ivan Johnson, but if he must be packaged for a building block for future Hawks titles, then c’est la vie!  I know we all like to pontificate about who is and isn’t untradeable, but for all of the love I have for this team – there’s still not one player that has established themselves for this team as indispensable to the goal of winning a title.  Which brings me to Josh Smith.  It took me 4 years, but I’m now firmly in the Josh can be traded camp.  Hate to say it, but I’m not one for mincing words. Josh Smith, for all of his talents, is just a Joe Johnson clone if you fete him with a max contract.  Which means you can’t give him a max contract. Which means if we want to keep him in Atlanta and still harbor championship dreams - he’s gotta give a hometown discount. Spare me the ‘someone will give him a max contract’ spiel.  I know some desperate team will be willing to give him more than hie’s worth.  We’ve been down this road before and failed the test.  Until I learn that the Atlanta Spirit is willing to pay into the luxury tax to acquire players, it’s impossible for the Hawks to pay the max to Josh Smith and field a contender, so let Josh prove that he wants to win here and that means – give up the hometown discount.  Period.  Not only that – Josh Smith, robbery or not, is barely an All Star, not a good captain, and makes questionable decisions on and off the court. If anyone else in the NBA had those credentials, you’d laugh at the notion that we never need to consider anything over $15M a hometown discount.  In fact, we’ve already BEEN that organization (see Johnson, Joe).  Al Horford is a wondrous player for any contender….if you consider him your third best player. Jeff Teague is a wonderfully talented young guard IF he gets a coach to motivate him AND allow him to actually run the team (and even then, he still needs to be your 4th best player or worst).  The point I’m making here is we have a bunch of almosts, potentials, and solids – we need a player a step above that and should be willing to pay top freight for it.  Josh Smith isn’t that.  When we’re talking about family (and I consider Josh family) – sometimes, you have to speak truth to it.   The hard truth is that if you are paying Josh Smith max money – you aren't and won’t be a contender.   With this CBA and our collection of talent and coaching, some truths are self-evident and painful, but it’s time…if we want to win a title.  We either get Josh for the hometown discount ($13-$15M) or we should usher him out the door. 
  • Larry Drew’s Everchanging Starting 5 & Rotation Must StopI presume that Larry Drew wants to win as many games in the regular season and postseason as possible to bolster his bid to be the coach of the Hawks in 2013-2014.  If so, the lineups and rotations have to begin to firm up, so that players can begin to completely buy into their roles.  Is John Jenkins capable of logging starter minutes?  Is Ivan in or out of the doghouse?  Is Kyle going to remain our small forward?  Will Anthony Morrow enter the rotation?  All Star Weekend seems like the appropriate time to start locking this stuff down.  (And yes, I realize we've had injuries that have impacted this, but the herky jerk nature of the rotation far precedes any of those issues.

  • We Need To Re-Hire Mark Price – And it’s not for 3pt shooting help.  I’m not sure why this isn’t discussed more, but the Hawks as a team are shooting 70% from the charity stripe, which is 28th in the league.  Do I need to express how horrendous this is?  Here's how bad it is - I can make 6 out of 10 FT every day of the week and I don't play basketball regularly any longer.  I’ve yet to hear this as a point of emphasis during the Larry ‘We need more energy’ Drew post game comments and yet, it’s easy to point to the lost points we have EVERY game.  It’s great that we are 3rd in 3pt %, but one of these things is sustainable during the playoffs (free throw shooting) and one of these things isn't (3pt shooting).  So, I’m not sure what is in the water, but our inability to get to the line and then CONVERT at an NBA quality level (the best teams are shooting 10 points better) can be the difference between first and second round of the playoffs.

With that, that’s my time and there goes the truth, Ruth.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section.