Monday, June 28, 2010

What the Hawks Can Do To Win Me Back

I've been thinking about this all offseason and here's what I came up with since we have reached a time in my Hawk Fandom where I need to 'won' back. I said it last year and I'll stick with it - only almost 30 years of Hawks love is between me and wanting to be an Oklahoma City Thunder fan. Yep, my heart of all hearts is dangerously close to moving my allegiance to a team that was STOLEN from Seattle. That's how bad this has become...so I had to come up with some things that would make me feel the warm fuzzy that was always my feeling for my Hawks through good times and bad.

1. Hire a promising, up and coming coach OR hire a coach who has been successful with other franchises (i.e. Van Gundy or A. Johnson). (This test was failed!)

2. Set a value for Joe Johnson that is based on allowing yourself the wiggle room to bring in the pieces necessary to take the next step in your ascent to a NBA title and do NOT exceed it. (This means essentially that you will LOSE Joe Johnson because the value for Joe Johnson is about $10M to the Atlanta Hawks and their budget). Many people want to talk about whether or not we want to keep Joe Johnson, but that question is not nuanced enough. The key is to explain to the fan base that the question should be - would you rather pay the price to sustain your position in the Eastern Conference in the short term OR would you rather focus on raising your ceiling with the understanding that you may have a short term dip to do so. I strongly side on the latter instead of the former.

3. Make a significant push to be a defensive minded team with results. The Mike Woodson era was not as much of a failure for the fact that our offense was limited, but more of a failure that it was masked as a defensive first team without any results to back it up. Simply put, I'd accept a similar offense if we ever had a lockdown defense...that means players have to play better and we actually have to get BETTER defenders.

4. Move to a point guard led offense. Meaning having a point guard who is respected as the leader of the offense and dictates the pace and purpose for the offense. This includes a lashing when the forward and center tries to lead the break or any lack of starting the play from the point guard position.

5. Ownership being honest with the fan base by saying that there is a specific budget for the team and that all parties - ownership, management, and coaching must do a better job within that budget. Which really means - we can't miss. That means you actually have to spend more on scouting and hire the best scouts you possibly can to ensure that you don't miss. Signing Mike Bibby is a miss, signing Marvin Williams for more than $5M is a miss. Letting Childress leave is a miss. Paying Crawford $9M is a semi-miss. The point here is that you have to get Wesley Matthews production from your undrafted free agent, not Mario West production. You have to get DeJuan Blair production from your 2nd round pick, not Pape Sy production. You have to make those pieces count, so that your 12 man roster is full of players that you actually can use. Your D-League usage should be full of players you actually can use to replace players within 1-2 years since you will have to let people go at the point that they will make too much money.

6. Larry Drew gets 45 wins out of a Joe Johnson-less team.

7. Rick Sund is able to get rid of Marvin, Mike, or Jamal's contracts this year in exchange for a useful piece for the Hawks.

This is what would make me come back. Let's go...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Being Stupid Leads to Being Broke

So, we've already discussed why we believe that Billy Knight has gotten a bad rap in the past and that he really did yeoman work with the constraints he had to work under. Working on the cheap and trying to build a good team on the cheap is not easy.

We forget that all teams miss on moves. The critical component is whether you are able to recover when mistakes are made. And in many cases, that recovery takes money. So, no you can't forget a Shelden Williams selection (or forgive it), but I've continued to report (and wish Billy would stop being so nice about this and just confirm it) that ownership wanted Marvin Williams, not Billy Knight. So, all in all - the Knight era was a pretty good one. All of the talent and starters were brought to Atlanta by him. Now, you can debate whether he shouldn't have traded the two first round draft picks to the Phoenix Suns or not, but enough time has elapsed where we could have made up for that with shrewd decision making.

And shrewd decision making is what is necessary from GM Rick Sund, but it's hard to even get upset with his decisions because I'm not sure they are...HIS BASKETBALL FOCUSED DECISIONS. So, I like Rick Sund, but I was critical of our last offseason, but now looking back - almost everything we're doing is based on the bottom line first and basketball second. Which means Rick Sund has to be Jerry West-like to be successful (or Pritchard or Buford...hey, uh, does Pritchard work on the cheap?) and I don't think he has it in him, so now after all that - here are my draft thoughts....

1. I actually thought that Jordan Crawford was the best talent available at our part of the draft, BUT not so great that I thought his talent trumped our NEED. So, unless Jordan Crawford has some unknown Bruce Bowen like defensive abilities, he wasn't what we needed ESPECIALLY if you seriously want to bring Joe Johnson back (and we're unconvinced that bringing Joe back at a max contract is a good idea, so maybe that's a good thing...in that we're going to either not bring him back or are bringing him back at a reduced rate).
2. Like I said yesterday, why have faith that it's not about money? Now, I know why Mario West was brought back, why we got Joe Smith and Jason Collins. So, we sell a 1st round pick and we pick another 2nd round player that will never see the light of day in the NBA for our team. So, forget undrafted free agents...forget doing anything that helps us fill the need of toughness, rebounding, perimeter defense, sound basketball IQ, and LEADERSHIP!!!!
3. I am continually dismayed that we are paying veterans money they don't deserve, but won't pay rookies who can be productive the relative pittance to get better as a team. Meaning we could be paying $6M / yr for a player commiserate to that salary in a position of need AND have Teague starting CHEAPER than that vs. paying like $8M for 1 position and STILL needing a player (even at bargain basement prices) that will cost you more in the long run. For a team that is bleeding loot, what don't you get about this? So, you are stupid AND you are broke. I guess these two things could go hand in hand - being stupid usually leads to being broke.

If you gonna be cheap, be smart and cheap, not dumb and dumber. And that's what this is - dumb and cheap! Like Herm Edwards said, you play to win the game...too bad, the Atlanta Spirit Group missed that memo. Sell the team..seriously!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Most Unconventional Draft Preview

Last year around this time, we were running around with glee making post after post about how the Hawks could improve their lot in life toward the goal of winning a championship.

Well, this year, I really have been racking my brain with a few draft/offseason suggestions and here's what I came up with:

1. Call a mulligan on Larry Drew. Seriously, no serious player is coming to the Hawks this year or any following year outside of possibly Joe Johnson to play for Larry Drew.
2. Create trade rumors with OUR TEAM IN THEM...I mean I know they won't be true, but give the illusion that we're actually interested when someone says - hey, for the right price, you can have Chris Paul. I mean - I would like to see the crawl say...Al Horford and the #24 pick for Chris Paul and a 2nd round pick or SOMETHING to let me know that we're swinging for the fences in a bizarro world.
3. No, I'm not going to tell you who I think we should pick because it won't happen. My picks for the last few years - D. Williams, B. Roy, D. Blair, etc aren't ever being picked so why should I spend time saying - go get X player when I know they won't get on the squad. So, no picks from me - what I will say is...can we try not to mail in the 2nd pick or decline to consider signing undrafted free agents? Baby steps, people, baby steps...

If you really want to know how I feel about the draft and the offseason, basically - I'm unconvinced that we aren't going to continue to run this franchise as cheaply as possible, so therefore, there's no reason to make the basketball related decisions. Keeping Mike Woodson wasn't basketball related, hiring our GMs, our scouting...the only time we overspend is on players who aren't worth overspending on, so no I'm not trying to not post blogs, but I just don't have anything to say that's focused on what it takes to win a championship. We aren't doing ANY of those things, so why post. That said, we'll say something about our picks tonight, then go back to radio silence until this Joe Johnson thing shakes out.

Who thought that picking Larry Drew could kick the wind out of me? Oh well, back to cheering for USA to win the World Cup....

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Eloquent Magazine Article Way of Saying What I Said

So, since I didn't get the comments that the AJC and Peachtree Hoops blogs got about this hire, and they clearly don't seem to agree wholeheartedly with my assessment - we present more thoughts that simply say ... the Hawks ownership cut Sund's power and are doing whatever they can to save money vs. trying to win a championship.

Read SI's version of my last blog...click here

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Time Really Is Up

I start this blog with 2 disclaimers and a note that yes, I intentionally did not write this blog for 3 days. Notes first:

1. We wish Larry Drew the best in his endeavor as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. This blog is no reflection on Larry Drew the person.
2. We wish to apologize for making the determination that Rick Sund was on the clock. We completely forgot that it is ownership that is the Atlanta Hawks problem.

So, we've let the cat out of the bag a bit...yes, the decision to hire Larry Drew as the coach of the Atlanta Hawks is a big deal to me. I've been very vocal over the past 2 years regarding what ails the Hawks organization most. I've characterized the decisions that the best teams make as 'championship moves.' Well, over the past 15 years, I can count the championship moves on one hand. They are - dumping salary and gathering picks to break up the Smith/Blaylock team, drafting Josh Smith, signing Joe Johnson, and drafting Al Horford. That's it and so it's the lack of championship moves that ail this team. Now, not every 'championship move will result in a championship, but the point is - for various reasons, these things could with a succession of OTHER championship moves resulted in a championship (or some realistic expectation that we'd contend for one). Yet, over the years, I've become accustomed to watching the team be a step too slow or too afraid or too broke to make the bold moves necessary to win the NBA.

Firing Mike Woodson was a necessary step to move the Hawks past its current 2nd round (maybe 1st round depending on what happens this offseason) ceiling and gave hope that the organization realized that it needed to do better to be better. Well, I kept saying over the past month that this coaching search process was troubling for several reasons. And the hiring of Larry Drew is the end result of said trouble. I've read the blogs, the comments, the articles, etc and I'd like to set the record straight on a few things:

1. I think I've mentioned the fact that Billy Knight caught a lot more flak than he should have during his tenure (i.e. he wasn't able to fire the coach he hired, he was not in favor of selecting Marvin Williams over Deron Williams). Now, I won't ever forgive him for selecting Sheldon Williams, but honestly the guy who put together every significant piece on the roster save Jamal Crawford needs more credit than demerits. And now, it looks like Rick Sund is about to get the same pass from me. (details below)
2. Do not let hope be confused with confidence.

I'm hopeful that Larry Drew turns out to be the next Phil Jackson, but that shouldn't be confused with confidence and unfortunately, this is a Barack Obama move...Hope You Can Believe In. You see - Larry Drew would have been a great choice at the time that Mike Woodson was hired, but there's no way that you're going to convince me that this is a great hire..or better yet, a championship move. This was simply a hopeful move done to a) placate a fan base and team that was tired of Mike Woodson and b) save money. And a) probably was done with the hope that b) could be accomplished.

So, Rick Sund, you are off the hook for not only the coaching issues this team has faced, but also for the moves that have been made. I was critical for why your only midseason move was Mario West, but that probably all you were allowed to do. You probably weren't allowed to fire Mike Woodson either. You probably were told to interview coaches that you knew on day one you wouldn't be able to afford to give the illusion of some coaching search.

You see, I don't believe that you are that incompetent that you would let a contract expire only to hire the guy sitting next to him. And let's not be confused here - the people who are endorsing Larry Drew are mostly people who were happy with an empty 50 win season OR are part of the NBA family. Those people in the NBA family aren't going to preemptively knock a coach that is part of their fraternity, so the players, ex-players, and coaches saying that Larry Drew is a great NBA mind means very little to me. I'm going to continue to go with what I see and if he was so great with the players, then why were they sniping at each other repeatedly down the stretch, why were bad habits never really leaving the team, why was motivation of effort such a major problem, why did the offense or defense not get better, and why (if he's so great with the point guards) were Acie Law or Jeff Teague never able to get good enough to get on the court. Yes, Mike Woodson's hands are all over that, but for assistants that you REALLY want to go after - you can see their talents on display in the area that they have their hands on.

Every area I've heard that was a strong suit of Larry Drew's is one that doesn't convince me in any way that it's of championship quality. A 50 win team is not one to be turned over to a first time coach on hope. You invest in the best coach possible to get your team over the hump. You pick a coach that players (read: free agents not named Joe Johnson) would actually jump at the chance to play under. On no level does that fit Larry Drew except for one area that means the most to the Atlanta Spirit and that's money. So, it's no shock that the contract is for 2 years guaranteed at the rock bottom of coaching salary for the NBA.

It has made me question why I cheer for this organization seriously. It can't be that difficult to make championship decisions. It can't be that difficult to draw a line between championships and profitability. For the first time, I actually side with those who laugh at the Hawks, who laugh at our city and our ownership's lack of commitment to excellence. That's what's at stake when you select Larry Drew. He could be Scott Brooks or he could be Terry Stotts. Either way, the fact that I have NO confidence in our ownership's ability to move us forward is what makes me say - why would THIS decision when packaged together with all the other bad basketball decisions (in scouting, drafting, coaching decisions, player moves, etc) is going to be the one that is different and brilliant is just being too hopeful. I didn't want the hire to be 90% more hopeful than excellent for the franchise. But that's where this is - it's time and time is up. Atlanta Spirit, your time is up with me. It's beyond apparent that you have reached Rankin Smith-like ownership levels and they are the reason I'm not a Falcons fan to this day.

Before you wonder whether that's the end of my fan-dom...no, that's not ever in doubt, but I am now retiring my #1 fan-ship and I'm seriously considering retiring from blogging. I never wanted to be that blogger who always complained about things and never gave praise mixed to serious critical thought and that's what I see in the future. And a future where I'm simply upset and not feeling like a true fan is not what I envisioned when I started this blog. I need to do some serious soul searching and see something truly visionary out of this draft and offseason, but to be very clear - I'm not optimistic at all. Not in the draft, not in the offseason, and not in this coach. Sorry, but it's a big epic fail.

Comment away...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Time's Up?

Soooooo, it seems like everyone is shoring up their coaching needs...

  • Bulls got my desired candidate - Thibodeau.
  • Hornets selected Monty Williams (who?)
  • Sixers got Doug Collins
  • Bobcats will probably have Larry Brown back.
  • Nets & Cavs are still looking just like the Hawks...only their owners are sure to not put any parameters on getting the best person to lure LeBron James to their town
Which leaves us with the Hawks and their interviewing process. Now, I will start by saying that it's possible that people have said they do not want to interview with the Hawks. With their shaky ownership situation, lack of funds, poor scouting staff, apathetic fanbase, and uncertain roster, this is not a recipe for certain NBA success, BUT it is a NBA job with a few fantastic talents in a warm weather city that was seeded 3rd and 4th the last two seasons. That should account for something...

And that accounting should be more than this roster of interviewees:
  • Avery Johnson
  • Dwane Casey
  • Dean Demopoulos
  • Mark Jackson
  • Larry Drew
While I have my skepticism around Avery Johnson - his record of success can't be questioned regarding why you'd interview him. The same can be said for Casey, but Demopoulos & Drew had to be a 'hey, get me on the coaching interview radar, my good friend Rick' situation. I can't for the life of me understand why you'd seriously consider either. Now, Mark Jackson intrigues me, but again - there's just too much risk in him if your ownership group is not willing to fire him at the point at which failure has been established. Without deep pockets, I can't endorse this move. Which is why I still wonder why we aren't interviewing more candidates...why not Van Gundy, why not about 6 people to give you a wide spectrum to choose from?

Sounds like a decision will be made by Thursday from the above 5 candidates and I can't say that any really make me smile. Oh well...as I keep saying - Rick Sund, you're on the clock...and the clock is ticking louder and louder. Don't crumble under the pressure.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hawks Check In: End of Season Review

{We dedicate this blog to the brilliant Hawk lovin' service of the big homie, Drew, on his blog retirement. Congrats on your new endeavors and best wishes to you and our friend, Mike Bibby. :) }

Unlike my friends at Hoopinion & Peachtree Hoops, I really lost all desire to do a end of year review because it really would be a futile attempt to come up with ways to say what was good about the year and all my readers should know by now that the regular season is just a practice for the proving grounds of the postseason.

Of course, we all know that I believed that we never addressed the main issues from 2008-09's postseason and so it was no surprise that we essentially performed the same (or worse if you consider that it was status quo for the team) in this year's postseason, so I'm going to do a quick recap of the season and then move on to a repeat of my concern for this offseason. If you want real recaps and deep analysis, see our friends linked above.

Here we go...
The Team - A better version of last season's play. Hot start...teams caught up...players began to regress. Team fell apart by postseason. Summing it up - we are (even without Joe) talented enough to get a playoff spot. Doing anything championship worthy is what we have yet to prove we can do.

The Players - Josh Smith, Al Horford improved...Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford, Zaza Pachulia, Maurice Evans all did the same things they normally did....Marvin Williams, Mike Bibby regressed...Jeff Teague, Randolph Morris didn't play enough to know if improvement is possible...Mario West, Joe Smith, and Jason Collins hopefully provided some locker room benefit because they were completely useless on the court.

The Coaching - Been saying this for years...despite all the respect we have for Hoopinion, there's no belief that we actually were doing any coaching that leads to a title. Putting together a game plan is only useful if the other team doesn't counter it and if there's variation to said game plan. At the end of the day, this team and its players haven't really been coached with regard to strengths and weaknesses since Mike Woodson came to town. And therefore, the coach was fired. Sounds like the Hawks were more than fair to keep him and to fire him...which leads me to

THE THING I'M WORRIED ABOUT THIS OFFSEASON...

Last season it was the fact that we didn't have good player leadership, toughness, rebounding, or a commitment to defense to go with all that bad coaching. Now, I'm just concerned that we aren't focused on finding a coach. The fact that we've interviewed one prospect with no experience, 2 that used to work for you (including one that I've NEVER heard of before), and a legitimate enigma (seemingly great prospect with the best coaching record around, but yet unemployed through 2 NBA seasons where turnover has occurred...calls things into question). I interview more people for business analyst roles and internships than GM Sund has for maybe the most important hire of his tenure.

So, I just say again - GM Sund, you are on the clock. Last offseason was not a success. This offseason will hinge on your decision making on the coach and how you deal with Joe Johnson. In fact, the clock is ticking louder...