Here's the big conundrum associated with producing this blog:
Are you abdicating your fan-dom by cheering for what you think are the long term, championship interests of the team vs. the on court wish for a victorious outcome no matter the circumstances. So, to be more plain about it...if you are a Cavs fan, are you less of a fan if you openly hope to tank a season if it nets you LeBron James and a clear path to a future NBA title.
That's what last night's game has placed on this fan's weakened, weary heart. As I watch people talk about the particulars of this playoff series, I'm conflicted between a desire to see this particular team reach its potential (a potential that I think maxes out at tough 2nd round playoff loss) and a desire to paint a picture so clear that the ownership & GM determine that they will do what's necessary to move us to the next level. Further complicating this is having to acquire a belief that the ownership and GM are aware of and would commit the resources necessary to reach the next level of success for this team. Hearing the questions about Joe Johnson's heart, Josh Smith's head, Mike Woodson's everything, and so on...just make this a mess!
None of those things are clear and thus, complicates this issue. In a vacuum, I would start with hiring a disciple of the GM tree from the San Antonio Spurs. All those accolades that were heaped upon Rick Sund are starting to sour as we see that having a 6th man of the year and re-signing all components of the 'core' is not the same as having perimeter defenders, rebounders, true veteran leadership, and coach to mix it all into a great tasting gumbo. While acknowledging early on that I was wrong to lampoon Jamal Crawford's acquisition as simply Flip Murray Plus, but the belief that we could have used this past offseason to make championship moves is still in contention. An argument can be made that Mike Bibby, Marvin Williams, and Zaza Pachulia's money could be spent on Jarrett Jack or Ramon Sessions, Michael Finley, Jerry Stackhouse, and/or Kurt Thomas along with the contracts of Acie Law & Speedy Claxton as a stop gap toward a move to sign Dwayne Wade.
But that's in a vacuum...we don't live in a vacuum. An argument can be made that we should have been on the trail of the next Scott Brooks. These are all arguments balanced against the fear that many have about making steps backwards in terms of wins and losses. Is it really a backwards step if you are making no progress toward the championship? Yes, it's tough to get rid of an average coach when you could end up with one worse, but doesn't that just mean that like many other organizations - you simply have to continue firing and hiring until you find the right leader. Which is the best method? Do you keep trotting out Dirk Nowitzki year after year because he's splendid or do you try to get other players who may not be as splendid, but give you an undefined shot at a NBA title? Again, vacuum...
I offer all of these items up for debate because as a Hawks fan - I literally felt kicked in the stomach last night, but was never able to shake the thought that maybe the owners and GM felt as sick as I did to the point that they decided that changes would be made to push for another outcome. Without doing yet another assessment regarding why Woodson isn't the coach for a championship team, it's simply clear that what we should be able to settle on is that Woodson is comfortable with setting a rotation and a philosophy and riding it out - win, lose, or draw. Unfortunately, that is not a championship make. Sometimes, a team needs to bench a star (a la Tony Parker or Lamar Odom) for balance and the value of that coaching is in managing the ego for the greater good. Sometimes, a coach has to employ a new strategy just to determine if the element of surprise works for you vs. against you. Sometimes, a coach has to play players who aren't in the short term interests of the team for the long term benefit (i.e. George Hill or Brandon Jennings - lest we forget that Jennings sucked after the first month of the season and still started every game despite having Ridnour playing most of the crunch time minutes).
You see - we've watched players chirping and disagreeing all season. We have had a great player exhibit bad habits all season and at the same time call out his teammates, but never criticize himself. We've heard excuses for simply being outplayed or outhustled all season from our coach, yet rarely question himself or have specific answers when legitimate questions are asked. It's instructive when we see the greatest coach of our time call out one of the best players ever for his shot selection (and to see Kobe respond). After 87 games, we can't still say - 'I don't know', 'we need to figure it out', 'our effort isn't there', etc. A follower of the blog said this last night "He @hawkstr8talk said it best http://www.hawkstr8talk.com/2010/04/hawksraptors-floor-experience.html supports EVERYTHING Barkley said". I don't quote that to pat myself on the back, but to say - I actually forgot what I saw when I sat in the very seats I was in last night. I forgot how I didn't get a sense that we were a team in sync then vs. the Raptors.
But when I read what I said then, I recalled just how nothing gleaned from sitting behind the bench on two occasions speaks that this team is ready for the next level. There was still no togetherness, still no coaching of Teague on the bench, still no paying attention to the coach during the timeouts, plenty of sniping amongst of the players, lots of yelling by the coach without much sense that the players were paying attention (or respected the position), and so in that context - is there anything left to do but to make changes?
Nothing that happened yesterday said that Joe Johnson shouldn't be anymore than a sign-and-trade bait partner for a player like D Wade or C. Paul or someone who we can build around. In fact, I'm fine with every player on the roster being on the trade block this offseason - I've seen enough to know that we need a coach with strategies to maximize our player's talents and I'd want to see that before we move any player, but whatever we have to do to get players that will perform what the coach wants I'm for.
And all that drivel I just spat out doesn't answer my question for me....I'm as big a fan as you can conceptualize of this team (I mean I was THISCLOSE to just staying in Milwaukee and risking my job to see Game 3) and yet, my disgust with how we play, how we account for ourselves, and the overall lack of faith in the organization's plan for success is making me question my fan-dom. Should I blindly follow and support or should I openly continue to question and critique at the risk of not feeling really fan-like. It takes a lot of energy to be upset with the direction of your hometown organization. It's important to note that the last time I changed my allegiance for a team was when in junior high, the Atlanta Falcons just lost my faith and I've been a Miami Dolphins fan ever since. Is it time to flee? Seriously, what's a fan to do? Hoover - where are you when I need you?
The best images from the Dominique Wilkins statue unveiling - View this gallery here.
7 hours ago