Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Leadership Vacuum

Since all of the other bloggers do previews and all, I figured it was time to do a few links and try to communicate something which Coco at The Vent decided to try to usurp me on regarding leadership.

So, let's just start by saying that one missing element of yesterday's rant was that the Atlanta Hawks are missing a leader. We've said it repeatedly, but if you're going to do a 3K word Bill Simmons-length rant - you ought to make sure it includes all of the things that bother you. A few people are still questioning whether I should just be content with the Hawks reaching their 'goals' this year - well, let's just be clear about how I love my teams. I want them to always to reach for the brass ring. Winning battles with no path to win the war means nothing to me. That's just how I'm built, so I look to the examples that have been time-worn. And having a leader is on the must have list for championship building. First thing I wanted to see was someone from the Atlanta Hawks org (owner, GM, coach, player, staff)) to say - this is UN-FRIGGIN'-ACCEPTABLE and dammit, we'll fix it for Game 2. That's it.

That said, the Hawks do not have a leader. There is no one that will speak up HONESTLY about what the Hawks need to do, lack, possess, etc (read: the post-game answers we've received from the coaches and players normally are read from the coach/player handbook). For anyone who would question that, here's a playoff example for why I'm concerned about Coach Woodson as the future leader of this team. Yesterday, he noted that (rightly) he ripped the team for its play. The next day, his comment was that the players probably don't want to see him and that he needs to mend some fences with them. MEND FENCES!!!!?!!! Huh, you can't tell them the truth and yell after a bad performance without hurting feelings. [Note: This could happen if you admit afterwards that you probably didn't coach that well either - in that instance, I'd probably be mad that you're yelling at me too.]

Now, this isn't a Coach Woodson problem in the macro sense - it's the players' problem in the macro sense that they don't have the constitution to accept a coach's wrath in the face of an absymal performance in the second half. There should be a leader (before, during, and after) who says COACH is right - we sucked. What do we need to do to get better, Coach?

This issue is something that has been discussed throughout the season. How the leadership has helped Acie Law IV, how it handles Josh Smith's immaturity with the referees and his belief in his jump shot, how it handles getting hit in the mouth, how it handles trusting each other with fouls, and with having each other's backs (our starkest example being when Josh Smith received a flagrant foul during the season for a bad foul and Coach Woodson and his teammates said nothing other than - it's up to the league on how it's dealt with) has been a missing element over the past 4-5 years.

Contrast that to how the Lakers dealt with Derek Fisher's egregious, yet 'I got your back' flagrant foul vs. Luis Scola last night. They could have to a man said - we'll see what the league does to Derek and moved on, but they all said - that's my man, D-Fish, doing what this team needs and we'll be glad to have him back in whatever game he comes back. Everyone in Laker land saw that play for what it was - an attempt to get their teammate's back. And that's key - too often, our team has not been too simple minded in its analysis of itself. If we win, we played well and together. If we lose, we didn't trust each other and we need to get it together. Well, the NBA is more nuanced than that and a good leader can tell you that. If you lose to the Celtics in the 7th game of the season, you played your ass off and while there are no moral victories - it's a loss you can build from. If you win by 1 against the Sacramento Kings at home, then you ought to talk about how you need to circle the wagons and find out why a team you should blow out is even in the game, not say - 'a win's a win'.

That's what a leader would do. A leader would say - yes, we won vs. the Heat, but we are still not playing well. A coach who leads would not tell us that Joe Johnson is struggling when every eyeball I have says that save 3 quarters of basketball - he's having a woeful postseason. How do you motivate someone who you are saying is playing well? And so it goes, this is what we need to address...

We screamed this year for Robert Horry or a PJ Brown or Lindsay Hunter - one of these veterans who can come into a game for 5 minutes and produce, but more importantly, who can be leaders for your team where you lack one in the locker room, on the bench, etc. So, Coach Woodson doesn't always have to be the bad guy. It's very important that we address this b/c for everything that Flip and Maurice (and we applaud Mo's attempt at this vs. the Heat) bring to the table - vocal leadership is not it. As much as we respect Coco's opinion on this, it's not Joe Johnson either. The only natural leader you have on the team is Al Horford, but unfortunately he's too young and isn't playing at a high enough level to command the respect necessary to be that leader. So, where does that leave us?

I don't know...but it just needed to be added to the rant list. Sorry for the length again, but I'm stressed about this's tearing me in half. Half that says - to get better, we need to be embarrassed to no end (no Game 7s, just a straight sweep by 20+ pts) to make the need to improve so starkly apparent vs. the half that wants the best for the Hawks in every game. Which half wins tonight?

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