Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Training Camp Can't Come Soon Enough

Since we are in the malaise where NBA talk must be manufactured, Hawk Str8talk will go ahead and say an official welcome to Joe Smith. May your veteran-ness be a boon to our front court AND to our coach's ability to get his scheme and agenda across.

Other reasons that training camp can't come soon enough:
1. There will be actual things to debate and riff on instead of faux debates and situations. Everyone's a critic in the offseason, but the truth serem comes when things are happening. Let those games begin.
2. There was a recent article that was referenced by Peachtree Hoops about the debate on whether you move your chips in now for a title vs. later. For the details, click here. Now, while this article has some merit, two points should be made from our perspective:
a) You'd have to believe that your core is actually 'your core', so we'd have to believe in Williams, Smith, Horford, Johnson, Teague, etc as your true core players. As much as I love Josh and Al, I'm not convinced that they are cornerstones to a NBA championship team. There are still major holes in their games that provide pause in saying that we ought to continue to invest major dollars in them. Of course, part of that pause is in how the coaching staff uses them, but then that also leads us into part 2 of that discussion - we'd have to also believe in ownership to spend when necessary and believe in management to make the right moves with regards to coaching and the final pieces necessary to complete the puzzle. Again, I'm not sure that I'm sure of much with regard to any of those things to believe that 3 years down the road - we're the team that others should be afraid of.
b) The other important factor is - what makes us think that 3 years from now that these other teams with cash, draft picks, and free agents are standing pat ready to crumble while we either stay at the same level or make an ascent. I am not confident that the LeBrons, Wades, Pauls, Howards, Roys, and Durants of the league are going to be languishing without pieces aroudn them to make them relevant at a championship level. The history of the Hawks is not working for us in a belief that we're going to be building a juggernaut on players and styles that rarely result in championships.

So, it's a worthy read, but with a few holes (what hypotheses doesn't have those, though) many of the things I see, I'm not sure it squares with our front office's demonstrated abilities, but it sure is a nice way to think about our chances in the next few years. Let's hope I'm wrong and it's right. Sitting on top of the East with a young core sure sounds like manna from heaven to me.

And with that, let's get this football season going, so I can have something to do while waiting for basketball season...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Random Thought For The Week

Since there hasn't been much said recently about the Hawks that I care about, I figured I'd give you some NBA related insight...

1. The person who I was supposed to have lunch with from the Hawks today pushed it back b/c he had to meet with (of all people) David Stern. You gotta hate when you get bumped for the Commish. I promise that - while it may not be a financial decision that's worth making - for social and mental health reasons - lunch with me is always a great thing. Plus, how else am I going to get the inside scoop on just how cheap the Atlanta Spirit have gotten? I can't give all the company secrets away for the employment sake of my friends at AS, but trust me people - we ain't never gonna overpay for a player while the Spirit are at the helm (or we get a LeBron like bump that causes sellouts and titles to rain down on the ATL like PacMan and strip clubs).

2. There are tons of folks who have Power Rankings and opinions about what's transpired this offseason and how that impacts the upcoming season. I've opined that teams that weren't even close to ours last year have closed the gap. Well, here's the Power Rankings which co-sign on that sentiment. In a nutshell, they have the Wizards ahead of us, the Raptors, Bulls, and Pistons almost directly behind us. So, that's your playoff teams in the East with the Sixers and Heat on the outside looking in. I never care what others say during the offseason, but there was some open mocking of the belief that other teams hadn't used the offseason to on paper make it a fight for the 4th seed with our largely (in my opinion) unchanged team (yes, I'm assuming Flip = Jamal and not much Teague or Joe Smith with Woodson at the helm). So, we'll see how it unfolds.

Finally, I do hope that we put a mute button on any extension talks with Joe Johnson. While I love JJ, I am not convinced that $16M for a 33-34 year old JJ is wisely spent. I'd like to see what he can do as a well rested player over this season. If he's going to be used up like Karrine Steffans during a video shoot for another 2 years - I don't see a Ray Allen or Reggie Miller like ending to his career. Think of all those teams who hate what they've gotten from Allen Iverson for the last 2 years at his price tag and then add in the fact that JJ isn't as good as Allen Iverson was. And with that, we bid you adieu...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Surprise, Surprise

Well, if ESPN's report is true, it looks like my prediction was untrue and Joe Smith decided to play for the Hawks at the veteran's league minimum (big up to Third Falcon for his assertion that he would play for the Hawks on the cheap).

Now, while I find it surprising, I don't want that to be confused with any lack of happiness that we have another big man in the fold and one that is a veteran who can play basketball. Finally, we are happy with an offseason move made by the Hawks that addresses an area of weakness we carried into the postseason.

What Joe Smith brings is rebounding, spot up jump shooting, and most importantly (in my eyes), a veteran presence to mentor and teach Horford and Smoove how to play the game. Hopefully, his presence will provide a voice in the locker room who can augment what the coach is trying to impart to the team. That can never be underestimated.

While we're not ready to say that the Hawks are on their way to 50 wins and a challenging 2nd round playoff fight, we are ready to say that if Woodson can find himself employing a 10 man rotation of JJ, Bibby, Horford, Josh, Williams, Evans, Crawford, Teague, Joe Smith, and Pachulia - I can certainly say to you that I'd be happy to say - let's see what Woodson and these Hawks are made of. Let's hope that comes to fruition.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

It's Economics or Is It?

I've been in plenty of debates over the offseason regarding the Hawks offseason, which pleases me greatly. Normally, no one would give a rat's ass about the Hawks, so having some folks who really have an opinion makes me smile.

In those debates, there have been varying degrees of glee and consternation about the Hawks offseason. Our position has always been about championship moves (ones that pay off this year and in the future). I've included a link regarding the offseason moves made this year. I'll focus less on the ranking and more on what I look at and say - why not us? I've been very vocal about the fact that I think we've mishandled a few situations this offseason that I feel are critical to our progression toward title contenders.

In order to make sure we're all together on that thought process, our position was that the following things needed to be addressed this offseason IF our goal was to progress further than last season:

  • Perimeter Defense - Whether that's with a defensive stopper at point guard off the bench OR by replacing Bibby with a better defender
  • Rebounding - The Hawks were one of the worst rebounding teams in the league last year. Enough said.
  • Leadership - Whether that's with a true point guard who directs the offense and distributes the basketball (penetration would be nice as well) OR with a veteran who has won at least a conference title who is willing to help guide our young players on the ways of winning critical basketball games.
  • Toughness - If anyone watched us in the playoffs, it wasn't just a lack of talent, but it was a lack of fortitude and toughness that caused the blowouts. You cannot have your will taken if you want to be successful in the NBA.
  • Interior Depth - It should be obvious that we can't expect that no injuries will occur all season when our frontcourt is undersized already (with lean and under 7 foot centers and power forwards). You need serviceable help in general and ESPECIALLY when someone gets hurt.
  • Coaching - If you aren't going to fire the coach (our preference), then you certainly can't leave him with no contract extension. The ability to discipline and be patient with our young players is significantly diminished when a coach is not guaranteed that he's coming back next year.

So, check out this list of offseason moves -

With that in mind, here's the head scratching that we're doing this offseason:

  1. No contract extension for Mike Woodson. We've blogged about this before. While we detest Mike Woodson's coaching style in almost every measurable way, we don't want our coach to be neutered either. We'll see how the team and staff perform under the circumstances, but we won't be surprised if it's a disaster.
  2. Joe Smith - What are we waiting for? The last thing we need is for him to be on another team as their 4th big man. A one year deal keeps him from tying up your cap, so let's get it done.
  3. Lack of inquiry on Leon Powe, Fabricio Oberto, Drew Gooden, Chris Wilcox, Chris Andersen, Hakim Warrick, Brandon Bass at any point this offseason (not saying that all of these guys are the answer - I am saying that at the pricesthat some of these guys signed - we should be involved in some way.
  4. Trading David Anderson when we STILL have no 4th big man
  5. Lack of attempt to sign a younger point guard like Ramon Sessions, Jarrett Jack, etc at a cheaper price (or a trade for Sergio Rodriguez and Channing Frye for Law, Claxton). Just anything to keep us from being held hostage by a no defense playing Bibby.

Now, the theme in all of these five areas in my mind is money. There's no way that some of these guys could be available at those prices and we not make a strong push to improve our interior. So, I'm just gonna say it - I don't think the Spirit have the money. I don't see us spending up to the cap limit this year and maybe not even next. I think they were happy to simply say - let's sign last year's team (save Flip Murray - who I think we still might want to sign) and hope the team's collective improvement will be enough to keep us in the top half of the Eastern Conference. While it's certainly possible, it won't be without 5 or more teams fighting us with the very players we should have been in the mix for.

Of course, Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague could present some measure of improvement, but when we consider Mike Woodson's aversion to playing more than 8 players AND grooming point guards (and lack of contract) and the fact that these guys are backups - it doesn't give a lot of confidence that the organization is interested in actually improving the depth and talent base of this team. We applaud them for bringing back Zaza and Marvin, but to sustain our ascent - we think more was necessary. Too bad, we probably don't have the money to do so.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Same Old, Same Old

It's time for an offseason update on our beloved Atlanta Hawks...

When we first made an update about the Hawks' offseason, there were two new Hawks acquisitions of note - Jamal Crawford & Jeff Teague. At that time, we noted that the ability for the Hawks to prevent a fall from the 4th seed would reside in improving our talent base on both sides of the ball (most notably on the defensive side). We said we'd reserve judgement until August 1st. Well, it's August 5th and we still are relying on last year's team to fix the holes that were exposed down the stretch and in the playoffs last year.

Honestly, we can't find a reason to be optimistic about much so far. The coach (who Hawk Str8talk doesn't have a lot of confidence in) has not been extended a new contract. On one level, that's great - it means that the coach has as much to prove as anyone. Unfortunately, in the NBA world, that also comes with two downsides - the potential for a player to simply trying to get said coach fired and little motivation to groom Jeff Teague (our point guard of the future) with your future compensation on the line (and we've noted here that while we think that's best for the Hawks future - we realize that unless Teague plays lights out - it's not in Woodson's interest to play through Teague's mistakes and learning curve). We've noted many times that the Hawks need depth to keep this team fresh for the playoffs.

We signed an aging, no defense playing point guard in Bibby when there is seemingly a younger, defensive minded PG that could be had on the cheap who was more productive last season still available. We also signed Zaza Pachulia and we look like we will sign Marvin Williams (let's get that done already). To date, we have yet to sign anyone who would ever play in our 3 man C/PF rotation of Zaza, Al, and Josh and, if Acie Law is any indication, we aren't sure if Teague will see enough playing time to matter with regards to our PG/SG guard rotation of JJ, Bibby, and Crawford.

So, where does that leave us? With hoping that a backup shooting guard and backup rookie combo guard trumps the moves made by 8 of the 15 teams (we believe that we can beat the Pacers, Bucks, Nets, Knicks, and Bobcats). Nothing we've done should scare the Big 3 in the East, so that stands to leave a potential of 6 teams vying for home court advantage next year. In a year where a drafting of a big man like Blair, signing a Sessions for anything over $4M/yr could have brought him to Atlanta (even as a backup if we're convinced he was not ready to run the team) and a trade of Claxton / Law for a big man of some consequence, we stood essentially pat. No matter how folks have tried to slice it - I still haven't seen how offseason improvement of our current players (which is what I think all teams are counting on from their players) and two backup guards are going to improve this team. The only viable argument I can buy would be that the gap btw us and the rest of the East was so vast that even if they get better - we're still going to be in the 4th seed.

It seems like the front office's hope was that the gap we believed was between us and other teams will stay that way or that our young frontcourt got demonstrably better this offseason (and that we stay injury free and that Woodson learns how to sit Joe Johnson for about 5 more minutes a game and...oh, let's just stop here). Let it be said that we are still waiting for the move that makes us take a step forward in the areas we were lacking - like rebounding, perimeter defense, interior depth, toughness, and leadership. The first sign of that and maybe we'll turn our offseason frown upside down.