Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Losing The War

Little did I think that so much could happen in 4 days since the last post, but yes - the Southeast Division has changed mightily. Let us recount the ways.

  1. Joe Johnson Returns and I'm Mighty Skeptical. Let's level set. Joe Johnson is a good player who when added to the Atlanta Hawks rotation makes them better.  That is not an altogether true statement when he is injured. So, it's not a comforting thought when I'm listening to the NBA.com's HangTime Podcast (kudos to Sekou Smith, Micah Hart, and Lang Whitaker - all Hawks affliates to some degree) for this week where Hawks beat writer Michael Cunningham reveals that a) Joe Johnson didn't tell anyone (by anyone we mean the organization, not just the press) about his injury until it needed surgery and b) Joe Johnson didn't ask for any opinion on when he would return. He simply said I feel good, so let's go.  If his stroke was demonstrably better upon his return, we wouldn't quibble, but since the player didn't let on that he was injured before and didn't let on that he was game ready, WHY would I believe that he's 100%.  This is important because the Hawks are winning and losing at the same clip with and without Joe Johnson.  So, why not wait until we're all certain that he's 100% instead of under the cloud that he's less than that and is working back into shape at the expense of the development of the team. As I always say, quit worrying about seeding and worry about getting ready for the playoffs...like
  2. The Orlando Magic Method. First, simply throw out last night's game and throw out any sentiment (yes, I saw some bloggers who are in violation) that we're somehow better than the Magic.  Listen, they didn't trade 25% of their team because they were afraid of being caught by the Atlanta Hawks.  They did so because they saw flaws that were not going to be addressed in time to win in the playoffs.  They didn't wait until after a tough stretch of games to pick a time to make the deals.  They said - our team won't win a title and here's what we are going to do about it.  There are legitimate questions over whether these are the right moves, but doing the same thing and expecting different results is called insanity (or what I like to call the Atlanta Hawks philosophy).  That said, I can't endorse whether this was the right move in practical terms, but in theory - a big ol' AMEN to the Orlando Magic GM for making a move to improve their lot in the East. Nothing like sending a message to the team and coach that nothing will be spared in the pursuit of the championship. It may blow up, but there's something admirable about a BOOM or BUST mentality.
  3. Jeff Teague. So, instead of working Joe Johnson back into the lineup, we decided to follow up Teague's good performance vs. the Celtics with 15, 8, & 7 minutes off the bench. 
  4. D League Anyone? Update I asked for some D League action and it looks like those prayers have been answered.  In 2011, Pape Sy will be heading to Utah.  The only remaining question is - how long must we wait before Jordan Crawford joins him?
Our Predictions' Progress:  There's actually a reason now to believe that the Magic could fight with the Hawks for the 4th seed.  Does this really matter in the grand scheme of things? No, because I don't think the Hawks can beat the Magic with the home court advantage. That said, I did make a prediction of 5th seed and a first round loss, so maybe half of that is in jeopardy while the Magic get their house in order.  It's nice to hope that these trades will spell doom for the Magic, but the likelihood of that where the Hawks are concerned is not worth betting on.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Evidence Is Mounting...

Since we last saw you, the Hawks defeated the Indiana Pacers and lost to the Pistons by 23 and the Celtics by 12.  Tonight we play the Charlotte Bobcats.  So, since last week, what have we learned about the Hawks and its organization?  Let me provide my perspective on why I have yet to find the path away from 1st round playoff series...

  1. If the Hawks don't win a 2nd round playoff series, the Joe Johnson contract is a failure. How do I come to that conclusion?  Well, in the games without Joe Johnson, I think I'm convinced that this is still a playoff team.  The worse that could happen would be that we end up as the 6th seed (it's possible that the Bulls and Knicks would be ahead of us with or without Joe Johnson), but every team below them is not going to pass us in the standings (unless the Bucks find their inner 2010 Playoffs mojo).  I did say that before we signed Joe Johnson, but then it was conjecture..now, there's tape that says that the Hawks can continue to defeat mediocre and bad basketball teams while competing and mostly losing against good to elite teams.  So, to me, the answer for whether there is ANY redeeming value in Joe Johnson is him catching fire in the playoffs.  Period. Anything other than that and he's only served to severely compromise our finances for the next 5-6 years.  Note: Joe Johnson earned every cent of contract 1, but probably is going to be stealing money (and possibly starting in season 1 of contract 2).  Let's hope that this sounds the alarm that our fair GM should be on the hot seat to the extent that you can blame a GM that is probably neutered by his ownership group.
  2. Our Player Development Process is why I refuse to give Mike Woodson Larry Drew any credit. As I watched the Celtics game, I was faced with the fresh, virgin feeling of wanting to be a Celtics fan.  Not because I care about the team per se, but because there's something very refreshing about seeing a team being expected to win despite any injury or issue and that the players are played with the belief that their development matters to their short term and long term improvement and that it is reflected in playing time.  Look, I've spent an inordinate amount of time communicating that developing a player in this era's NBA requires consistent playing time (see my rants about Acie Law and Jeff Teague).  Outside of Al Horford (the rare polished product), no young player for this organization gets playing time unless forced.  Josh Smith, Josh Childress, and Marvin Williams were played because the Hawks were forced to do so. There has been no consistent effort since to develop the future of this franchise.  It's clear that acquiring or developing a point guard and defensive talents are needed to move this team forward.  Developing players in the past have resulted in useful pieces for this organization...Here's an example of how ridiculous this episode has been. Jeff 'Hawks Proclaimed PG of the Future' Teague has played 13.5 MPG. Most of those minutes have been in garbage time. This has occurred on a team that has only 5 guards (I reject any notion that Damien Wilkins or Maurice Evans are considered guards). Only 2 of those guards are point guards.  The two top shooting guards have dealt with injuries.  The other is a rookie.  With this as the backdrop and a complete NEED for the Hawks to have a better point guard and defensive presence, Teague has played fewer minutes than Semih Erden who is averaging a minute more and the same amount of points on a team that has 7 Big Men (2 of which have been injured more often than not). So, I need someone to explain why you need 2 of your 5 guards to be OUT in order to get 25 minutes of playing time you should be getting EVERY SINGLE NIGHT!!! You can find minutes for Damien Wilkins, but you can't find minutes for your future point guard.  Again, I say - Teague will not be a part of the Atlanta Hawks in 2011-12.
  3. Jeff Teague, Part 2.Ok, here's one last point. People often use Teague's inconsistent play as the reason not to play Jeff Teague.  Here's what I say to that. Why would you expect consistency from a player who doesn't get played consistency?  It was predictable to watch Teague make mistakes down the stretch vs. the Celtics.  Here's what was foreign to him - extended playing time, playing with the starters (some new ones at that), being expected to score, being expected to initiate the offense without Crawford or Johnson to take the ball as soon as he crossed midcourt, being asked to run the break vs. Josh or Al since they weren't in the game, being in the game with the game on the line, being in the game vs. a good defensive team.  With ALL of that, Jeff Teague was your 2nd best player last night. That's why I hate the way they are treating Teague. He may not be the answer at starting point guard, but nobody knows that until you give him the ball and say...PLAY!  Mike Bibby's days as a starting point guard ...get this...for an elite team are over.  If you want to be elite, he must be an off the bench shooter for your team.  A veteran presence when Jeff Teague isn't able to bring what you need to steady the team.  That's it.  Asking for anything more just proves the point that we do not have a clue on how to build a championship team. 
  4. Our Leadership Vacuum Continues. I think Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce's post-game comments were instructive and they were in a nutshell. Yeah, we have injuries and so what...we expect to win. Josh Smith's post game comments were that we can't judge this team until our team is complete.  If that isn't a microcosm of the difference in these teams, I don't know what is. 
  5. D League Anyone? The Pape Sy and Jordan Crawford to the D League watch continues. Can there be any useful purpose of having a developmental player who probably needed seasoning overseas would sit for an entire season? Again, how is it possible that a team with financial woes BOUGHT OUT Pape Sy and isn't seeing him develop on a basketball court somewhere other than practice?
Our Predictions' Progress:  Feeling more and more confident that there's no way this team wins a 1st round playoff series vs. the Bulls, Celtics, Heat, or Magic.  Our hope is that the Knicks can continue this run and sneak into a position that allows us to play them.  Otherwise,  I can't wait to see the spin on the season and the value of Joe Johnson to this team. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

HS8T Weekly Musings

I think I've finally found my lane as it relates to how to stay regular with the Hawks blogs without going back to Game Recaps. My friends over at Peachtree Hoops and Hoopinion do such a good job with that and honestly, I don't look at games for their individual outcomes. I look at games as a predictor for future success, championship success, so we'll discuss what's happening toward that goal each week.  So, with that backdrop, let's go...

First, let's revisit a few things from last week's post along with a thought based on this season's prediction of record and seed.
  1. Joe Johnson should take as MUCH time as possible to get healthy. We still believe that comment to be true.  Honestly, not much has happened on the court that made me say - wow, if we had Joe Johnson, this outcome would be quite different. This would include the Spurs game where the introduction of Joe Johnson would likely only have meant that the Spurs TWO best players would have reentered the game to ensure that a Spurs victory was completed.  There is one amendment that I'll add for this week - Joe Johnson AND Josh Smith should take as much time as possible to get healthy.  After seeing Josh injured, all I could think was - don't you dare come back into the game.  Get better. Don't compromise the long term health of the team for the sake of a few meaningless victories or losses.
  2. Jeff Teague's time in Atlanta should come to an end. And nothing has changed my mind about this.  I feel pretty comfortable with the fact that this issue will not improve.  One of Coach Drew's stated benefits (similar to Coach Woodson's stated benefits of defensive guruism) was his ability to groom point guards (despite the fact that Acie Law IV, Pape Sy (understandably) and Jeff Teague have done nothing to bolster that claim).  That said, Jeff Teague has fallen out of the rotation. It is a pretty sad state of affairs when you watch the player you begged the Hawks to select (DeJuan Blair) puts the finishing blows to a loss in which your point guard of the future records a DNP-CD.  For everyone who was concerned about the signing of Ramon Sessions, all I can say is - at least he's a rotation player on an NBA team.  Teague isn't playing for a team that only has 3 other viable guard options (one of which is injured). Put another way - Teague isn't playing for a team that just signed the greatest player in its frachise's history's nephew and ends up getting time within..oh 1 game. As I said last week, Teague's time is done in Atlanta.
  3. Al & Josh should use this time to seize complete control of this team. Nothing has really changed here.  I will use this space to say again - Josh get healthy first, then return healthy enough to continue the experiment of Josh Smith as our starting small forward and lights out jump shooter (ok, that's an exaggeration, but he has made enough to make Joe Johnson envious). Yes, it has problems associated with it, but none that are any worse than having no perimeter defense.  Plus, anything that makes Horford feel more comfortable (i.e. playing the 4) is something I think we should contemplate. 
  4. GM Rick Sund, it's time to make your money. I asked for him to make his money and he makes a signing of Damien Wilkins. So far, that signing has had some positive benefits.  Now, we want to see the next evolution of that money being made.  Starting with Jeff Teague, Pape Sy, and/or Jordan Crawford's demotion to the D-League.  If they can't play when Joe Johnson is gone, then they aren't ever going to play, so develop them elsewhere.  Then, Sund's work should end around trade deadline time with a trade of Jamal Crawford.  Simply put, the team needs an infusion of defensive talent and the only way that's happening is if he leaves.
Our Predictions' Progress:  So, the standings now say that we are tied for 5th in the Eastern Conference with the New York Knicks (certainly didn't see that coming), but the four ahead of us make perfect sense.  Now, let's hope that our current pace to 51 wins doesn't fall victim to my prediction of 46.  Injuries or not, we're still better than 60% of the teams in the league which means that we should win 45 games on talent alone.  With Indiana, Boston, Detroit, Charlotte, and New Jersey on the docket this week - we expect to see at least 4 more victories, so until next week...Go Hawks!!!!

Friday, December 3, 2010

December's Hawks/Thrashers Deals


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Addition By Subtraction?

Since we last posted here, there have been a lot of things that have occurred.

  • We signed Damien Wilkens.
  • Jeff Teague had, for a moment, fallen out of the rotation.
  • Al Horford and Josh Smith have made the case for All Star berths.
  • Oh, and this last little thing, Joe Johnson is out for 4-6 weeks.
Now, you know that we've been very critical about the Hawks' front office and their ability (or inability) to provide the coaching staff with personnel to execute game plans at an elite level.  With that backdrop, there are a few things that struck me over the past few games.
  1. Joe Johnson should take as MUCH time as possible to get healthy.  For the short term (this year) and long term (those other 5 years on your contract), the Hawks are served best by not rushing Joe Johnson back into service.  Coach Drew should use this as his opportunity to explore lineups that develop the depth we seek for a deep postseason run.  This injury provides enough cover should you not make the playoffs (highly unlikely) or high seeding to prevent an offseason firing, so coach as if a championship level team is what you are molding.
  2. Jeff Teague's time in Atlanta should come to an end.  I've always had a way of being ahead of the curve on these things, so just go with me.  Yes, I've advocated that Jeff be the starter and I stand by that, but, as painful as it is to see another 1st round pick leave this organization as a failure, it's obvious that the coaching staff has no faith in Jeff Teague's ability to run this team.  The benchings after every mistake are exactly what happened with Acie Law IV. That coaching style didn't work for Law and it's not going to work with Jeff.  The coaching staff has made it apparent that they are only comfortable with veterans and therefore, it's time to move on and find a point guard that the staff can trust to lead the team.  The signing of Damien Wilkens and the lack of a 'next man up' philosophy should highlight that point. Our ceiling is limited until that happens. [Note: See my Rick Sund note regarding this.]
  3. Al & Josh should use this time to seize complete control of this team. Al should assume the leadership mantle and Josh should assume the talent mantle.  I rarely admit complete ineptitude on evaluation of things Hawk related, but I must say that my post two years ago about Al Horford not being special was probably foolhardy (ok, let's remove the probably).  He's definitely a special talent. What I probably should have said was - Mike Woodson (and now, Larry Drew), why don't you structure the team's offense and defense as if he's a special talent.  We let Josh demonstrate his talents, but why not Al? Hopefully, these two men will take this month to display how much more we can and should rely upon the talents of Horford and Smith.  I would say that for other players, but I don't think they really matter. Williams, Bibby, and Crawford aren't going to show us anything as a result of Joe's injury.
  4. GM Rick Sund, it's time to make your money.  First, let me say - I really like Rick Sund. Very nice guy. Bumped into him last night at a downtown restaurant and he mentioned a few things off the record (where they will stay), but he didn't seem willing to acknowledge a silver lining in Joe's injury, which was strange since he mentioned very quickly how the 33 assists vs. the Grizzlies were a season high and that that bodes well for us.  Of course, I was more interested in hearing that he wanted Jeff Teague stepping up, Josh and Al putting the team on their backs, and getting more players to grow into roles necessary in the playoffs. It gave me the impression that they really do think that Joe's the franchise player despite the evidence that this season provides in that he's really our 3rd best player.  That said, I'm wrong and we're not witnessing the second coming of Michael 'pay me before I get hurt again' Redd.
So, we're currently at 12-7, a half game ahead of the 12-8 Heat. Let's see if the Hawks can start to put together more home wins and better competition vs. playoff bound teams despite some injury woes.  Will this be used as an excuse or an opportunity? We shall see, but that 46 win and 5th seed is looking more and more real everyday.