Friday, April 29, 2011

Hawks Win! (And Now We Wait...)

I know I said we'd lose to the Magic in 5.  I then had to come back and say - uh...the Magic really aren't that good, so we got a shot and then, it was apparent we'd defeat the Magic because they simply couldn't hit shots that we allowed them to take. 

So, I'm thrilled to say that I was wrong about this series.  I'm not sure I'm going to be happy about this win come July, but for now - we'll take it with pride and look to see if there is something from this series that can be taken into this series with Chicago.  So, I do want to say a few things before we get to our round 2 truths.
  1. Kirk Hinrich being hurt is NOT an excuse for this team to lay down.  Mike Woodson got a pass for the sweep vs. the Cavs in 2009 due to injuries (one of which was his fault for having Joe Johnson playing into the 4th quarter of a 30pt blowout), but the fact that Larry Drew took the risk of not playing his other point guard in the event that something like this could happen is HIS fault. 
  2. If we get swept, the season is NOT a success.  We can make it plausible if and only if we exceed the accomplishments of the Indiana Pacers.  If we can't play better and have better results than the Pacers, there's a problem.
 That's all - enjoy being one of the top 4 teams in the East for the 3rd straight season. See you at the Highlight Factory!!!!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Honesty Corner's 5 Truths (minus 1): Vol. 8

Time for another Postseason Edition of the Honesty Corner, so let's get to it.

Disclaimer: As always, all criticisms come after blaming the Atlanta Spirit Group first, management second, and then coaches and players last.  Those criticisms come through the prism of winning championships (or the things that result in championship team building).

Truth 1. Jamal Crawford may be playing his way out of Atlanta.

Most people forget how positive this blog used to be.  It was frequently positive about the upstart Hawks and their ascension to the upper tier of the Eastern Conference.  Then, we started managing the team's resources, assets, and games in a way that was completely unsustainable relative to winning NBA titles.  And then, I had to be fair to what my eyes told me (Enter Evil HawkStr8Talk posts).  

Well, let's be fair to what our eyes are showing us right now.  And that's that Jamal Crawford is playing very well.  That very well is a little skewed to what we've come to expect from Jamal with regards to offense and defense.  He's been lights out on offense and tolerable defensively.  Now, if we use some sort of regression to the mean of his career - we'd look for the bad Jamal to show up soon, but that's not a wish.  What is happening though is an inflation in Jamal's value to a NBA basketball team.  So much so that it may simply price him beyond what the Atlanta Hawks can afford (CBA pending).  Since it's very apparent that the Hawks need better interior defense and offense as well as elite point guard play, it's not bad for the organization if Jamal continues to play lights out.  The odds that Jamal is going to take the pay cut necessary to add the 2-3 pieces the Hawks need to get better are very low.  So, the continued brilliance of Jamal Crawford could be his audition for greener pastures, pastures that aren't located in the Highlight Factory.  Whether that is a good thing will depend on what Rick Sund can do with Jamal's cap room...(and based on track record - worry should ensue in 5,4,3...)

Truth 2. Orlando's All Star >>> Atlanta's All Stars and it doesn't matter.

We already knew that there was only one true max salary superstar in this series, but this is ridiculous.  Yes, the Hawks are winning games and we should all be proud of that fact, but should Joe Johnson and Al Horford be getting outplayed by Jamal Crawford too?  I get 1-2 hot games, but all four.  Who knew that Howard would be better than Joe and Al combined?  Now, there's a reason this shouldn't be cause for concern - wait for it... because Orlando sucks.  
 
I know, I know. I should be heaping all the praise on the Hawks for everything they are doing to start the 'Where's Dwight Howard's new digs?' or better yet, the 'for the price of Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, and Jamal Crawford - can we show you some homes in Buckhead, Mr. Howard.com? website, but I'm sorry - I've watched the Hawks all season and for all that they are doing to be up 3-1 - I see a WHOLE lot of suck-age from the Magic that only resulted in 4 and 3 pt victories.  Sure, the Hawks haven't played very well either.  Yes, it's the playoffs. Yes, we've watched Butler/UCONN for the past 3 games (with Jamal Crawford as Kemba Walker), but we've watched this version of the Hawks before.  We haven't watched the Magic just implode on the perimeter like this before.  We haven't watched SVG end up powerless to do anything vs. any team.  The way they are missing open shots (yes, the Hawks are playing good perimeter defense, but NO - they aren't the cause of half of these missed shots) reminds me of how we miss open jump shots.  There are shots that are open, but not even Josh Smith would take them.  I mean it's THAT bad.  My rose colored Hawks eyes can't shield me from how bad this Magic team has played.  You can see them pressing to the nth degree and yet, still have had shots to win games down the stretch at home.  So, let's hold up on the platitudes until we play a team that isn't as bad as last year's Bucks or the year before's Heat.  Teams that were so bad that they should have both been swept except for the fact that - yep, the Hawks weren't that good either.  I'd be more encouraged if Game 1 had repeated itself 3 more times. We'll win this series and still have much more to prove.  Who'd a thunk?

Truth 3. Larry Drew wins no extra points.

Gotta keep it real...I already gave Drew credit for deciding to have a more stable, repeatable defensive strategy for the Magic in the regular season.  So, why would I change my mind about the coach when we're barely surviving a Magic team that has completely given up the ghost?  Same bad rotation decisions.  Same bad offensive stretches.  Same Josh boneheaded-ness sprinkled with production.  I think it's sad when you want to give the coach credit for benching a player who is obviously oblivious to the team concept of trying to win the game (which is what happened to Josh in Game 3 when he was benched down the stretch) and yet, all I kept saying is - that's what a coach should do.  Player doesn't want to follow the game plan. Player doesn't participate in the game.  Simple concept really...but never applied to the point that people think he's actually making adjustments and strong coaching moves when it happens. 

So, some have resorted to saying - hey, maybe Drew has a shot.  I say...uh, solve the Bulls before you ask me to reassess that fact.  If a sound defensive strategy can turn the Bulls into the same missing open jump shot while Derrick Rose goes wild on us outfit, then I'll be willing to concede that maybe I'm wrong about Larry Drew. If a sound offensive strategy can unlock a max salary effort from Joe Johnson, an All Star effort from Al Horford, and simply a basketball IQ-ified effort from Josh Smith, then yes - I'll do what I said last Truth session, which leads me to Truth #4...


[Note: And I haven't even mentioned that this Drew guy put Zaza in the doghouse during the season and wanted to trade him for a point guard. Yelled at him for one jump shot in a 30 pt blowout, even. How would this Howard strategy work if your second line of defense after Collins was either Horford OR Armstrong/Thomas/Powell? I'm just sayin' that the dude hasn't been feeling the only effort guy outside of Horford.  Can anyone honestly see a reason that Zaza isn't a critical part of the rotation?]

Truth 4. Motivational Ploy is working.

I said I'd stop blogging if we beat the Bulls.  I still stand by that.  I appreciate those who (like me or not) thought that was too drastic of a statement and want my blogging career to continue, but simply put - I have no material if I went all this time thinking we needed a complete overhaul and yet, we can beat the #1 and #4 seeds in the NBA playoffs.  Even at their absolute suckiest, I never thought we could be up 3-1 over the Magic.  A Game 7 upset or something - ok, but really just a bad Larry Drew decision away from a sweep?  Uh, not so much.  

So, I am going with the fact that maybe Jamal (who said he reads the blogs) posted this in the locker room as a motivating factor to get me out the blogging game. And if that's so - I'll take it.  My blogging career for an ECF appearance seems like a fair trade off to me. Besides, I have a woman to find and kids to create.  Trust me, I'd rather be wrong and watching the ECF from the Highlight Factory than arguing with the fans about how to change this team in the offseason.  Never thought it possible that I wouldn't be telling Kris that he's too much of a homer to see how bad this team is constructed for the long term, but miracles happen (and at this rate - that includes the wife and the kids).  Let's hope the Hawks are a part of one.  Let's go Hawks!!!


And with that note, that's this week's 5 Truths....agree or disagree if you must, but if it's the Honesty Corner, then it can't be lies.  See you in the comments...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Things That Make You Go Hmmm, Postseason Edition

Channeling Arsenio Hall once again...

1. Can the Hawks defend home court?

We have had a problem defending our home court all season going 24-17.  Games 3 and 4 will provide the Hawks the opportunity to show that the season was simply a cat and mouse game where we wanted to give all comers a false sense of security, right?. It also should give some level of confidence to the Magic that the Hawks are not a juggernaut in the Highlight Factory.  What will win out? Cat & mouse vs. road confidence?

2. If Teague/Pachulia/Williams get less PT than Collins/Powell/Armstrong/Thomas, can you consider the postseason a success? 

I've talked frequently about how you can win the battle and lose the war.  Well, let's be excited about the fact that the Hawks slayed a little giant in defeating its first legitimate postseason opponent (I don't consider the Heat or Bucks - over the past two seasons - legitimate postseason opponents) and on the road to boot.  Certainly, this is a by any means necessary scenario, but is it really encouraging to see even more de-emphasis of the players you needed to make a 8 legitimate NBA player rotation viable?  Sure, the Collins defense makes sense in limited spurts, but haven't we seen what Powell, Armstrong, and Thomas can do.  And if they were so worthy of doing it - shouldn't there have been other times this season when we should have seen them do it.  Shouldn't we have invested time in giving them roles that could be used during our 44-38 campaign?  My answer is no, but I'm wondering if this is something I should be pondering right now as I watch the guys who I think actually have more to contribute sit on the bench. 

3. Will the real Larry Drew stand up?

Is Larry Drew the guy who mixed and matched his way to a Game 1 victory where he pushed all the right buttons (save for a lapse in judgment IMO during Nelson's 3rd quarter explosion) or is he the guy who effectively fouled out this 'best' player for the 2nd quarter of Game 2?  I'm all for following principles and formulas, but the talent difference should highlight to you that some things are worth the risk.  Risking a 3rd foul is worth it if your alternative is Josh Powell or Hilton Armstrong.  
 
Not only that, doesn't it seem like the Hawks are being coached as if they are trying to hang on instead of landing the knockout blow.  The players have come to play...will Larry Drew come to coach?  Are there in-game adjustments to be found?  Game 3 redemption needs to be on the menu...

4. Can Joe Johnson make his contract reasonable in one postseason?

Undoubtedly, the Joe Johnson contract will forever be debated (unless a NBA championship finds its way to Atlanta during the next 4 years), but can Joe Johnson make us forget he got all that money this offseason?  Game 1 - he almost made me think he's worth Al Horford money.  Game 2 - he made me think he's worth Marvin Williams money.  Let's hope for all of his dismissiveness of the Atlanta fans that he's worth Joe Johnson money come Game 3 and 4.  A 30PPG average over these home games could go a long way to shutting the naysayers up...or can it?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Honesty Corner's 5 Truths: Vol. 7

Time for the Postseason Edition of the Honesty Corner, so let's get to it.

Disclaimer: As always, all criticisms come after blaming the Atlanta Spirit Group first, management second, and then coaches and players last.  Those criticisms come through the prism of winning championships (or the things that result in championship team building).

Truth 1. The Matchup Shouldn't Mask The Problem.

Admittedly, I was giddy while watching the Hawks run ram shod all over the Orlando Magic. This is an emotion that was sorely missing throughout this 2010-2011 campaign, but that's mostly because the function of my posts is to focus on what makes us move toward a NBA championship.  A playoff win didn't change any of those things that I question about this team.  An unlikely series win still won't change those things is probably not going to do that either.  

On the good side, Joe Johnson played to about 80% of his contract. Kirk Hinrich played to about 75% of his trade 'value' (how depressing is it that Hilton Armstrong didn't even make the playoff active list for this team?) and we made our jump shots on the whole.  On the bad side, Joe Johnson and Kirk Hinrich have not been consistent about being at or above those percentages above and a team that relies on jump shots a) doesn't normally hit them with consistency and b) never makes any noise in the playoffs.  So, hats off to the Hawks, but we're going to need to see more from the Atlanta Hawks to convince us that the problems we've watched for the past 3 years are erased by one impressive playoff victory.

Truth 2. There were 2 items to get excited about.

There were a few things that should have made Hawks fans happy in Game 1.  The first is that they said they were confident and then, they went out and displayed the confidence that they said they had.  First, we've rarely done that and we've probably never done it in a game that mattered as much to the opposing team.  For most playoff teams, that is a given. For these Hawks, not so much and for that - we should hope that this is something to build upon.  While there is still a lot of skepticism in the Atlanta Hawks, the one thing that can trump a flawed philosophy is confidence in that flawed philosophy.  See Golden State 2007 as exhibit #1.  They never were going to win the title, but they did ride the wave for 10 games to shock the world.  
The second thing you should have been happy about was Larry Drew being a REAL coach.  When he saw his players trying to change his game plan, he called a time out and said - roll with what I laid out as our game plan.  Simple issue for most coaches, but for this team - there have been plenty of instances of player improvisation and very little repercussions from said coach.   To see the coach challenge the team to follow his instruction and to see the team have success by doing so could just maybe give the coach the stones to impart other instructions for the team to follow.  There's still reason to believe that the team has effectively tuned out the coach for much of the season, but this could cause the team to follow the leadership of its coach for a change. One would hope.

Truth 3. Winning Does Have Negative Consequences.

I've said it before and I'll continue to say it.  If this playoff series causes the leadership to stay the course, I don't want them to win.  Yes, that causes a complete inner turmoil for my cheering interests.  I certainly could never openly want my team to lose, but the long term interests that I shouldn't have to worry about don't seem to be the concern of our ownership and management.  With that in mind, there's great fear that any success will embolden ASG and Sund to continue to double down on a flawed roster.  So, I don't want to say it, but I can't help it - anything other than a DEEP run in the playoffs could end up with a long term epic fail written all over a first round series win.  How's that for a fan's conflict of interests?

One other consequence of winning this way just reinforces that this team doesn't need Teague and confirms my belief that Teague won't be a part of this team in 2011-2012 OR we're continuing the inexplicable use of Teague over the past 2 years.  How do you expect him to ever be a factor in your ability to win meaningful games if he's never played in one?

Truth 4. Did Marvin & Zaza catch the Teague Fever?.

So, Zaza and Marvin are now taking on much smaller roles and, of course, Jeff Teague and Damian Wilkins caught the DNP Plague.  Josh is a starting small forward. Zaza is just one of a merry quartet of Dwight Hackers.  For Marvin, that might be fine and a function of the lineup changes. For Zaza, it's a slap in the face for arguably the hardest working and most skilled of the reserve backups.  I said in last week's Truths that Zaza was playing the best of all Hawks over the last 20 games and he's rewarded with...9 minutes against the Magic.  Sorry but if 15 minutes are distributed between Etan Thomas and Josh Powell when they can be given to Zaza - that's just not good minute distribution.

To be fair, it may get them past the Magic, but does it translate to something that beats any other playoff team?

Truth 5. Here's the Greatest Motivational Ploy Ever.

I'm not looking ahead.  In fact, I am on record in my thinking that the Magic will win this series 4-1, so I'm not going to say that I believe the Hawks are going to stop being inconsistent and maddening after one game, but to be clear - if the Hawks can defeat the Bulls with this group and coaching staff, I'll stop blogging.  Yes, you heard it here first.  I've staked my claim to being ahead of the curve on much of what ails this team (i.e. I've been talking the issues that dominate the AJC and Peachtree Hoops commenters for 3 years now.) and so, if we can turn this on for 8 playoff victories this postseason, then I will freely and openly admit that I know nothing about NBA basketball and retire.
Sell the website. Head to the big retirement community called my club seat at Philips Arena.  And just shut up.  [What's that I hear - is that a standing ovation?] I've said that I don't know if there's a team that I'd be confident about us beating this first round season (East or West) and certainly don't have any expectation that we're sound enough to make a deep run with this collection of players and coaches.  So, if they can defeat the Magic, and then prove that it's not just the matchup and an utter collapse by the Magic by taking the Bulls by the horns and defeating them, I announce my retirement.  I won't even say a goodbye, no retirement circuit, nothing - just a straight vanish from blogging about this team ever again.  Hawks, you wanted motivation.  You now have motivation.  
Let's Go Hawks!!!!
And with that note, that's this week's 5 Truths....agree or disagree if you must, but if it's the Honesty Corner, then it can't be lies.  See you in the comments...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Honesty Corner's 5 Truths: Vol. 6

One last Honesty Corner before our Postseason Preview Truths, so let's get to it.

Disclaimer: As always, all criticisms come after blaming the Atlanta Spirit Group first, management second, and then coaches and players last.  Those criticisms come through the prism of winning championships (or the things that result in championship team building).

Truth 1. Wizards' Loss Foreshadows Certain Playoff Futility.

Let's start with this.  The losses to the Pacers and Wizards happened without Josh Smith or Jason Collins.  That matters....for about 5 points.  After that, what happened the last two games is ludicrous.  I've spent an inordinate amount of time speaking with full throated clarity that this team is weak-minded, rudderless, and lack leaders.  Does someone want to offer an argument that disputes that? Where's the leader who either says "Coach Drew, we don't want to play and rather than embarrass you and the organization - we implore you to rest us and play the reserves or says we will do our damnedest to blow these guys out, SO we can rest."  That can't be understated any more than when you lose with the ease that you lose vs. the Pacers (a team also looking for momentum going into the playoffs) and then, come back and have no pride vs. a team that has former teammates on it ready to show you why you made a mistake by trading them.  
 
How that happens...how no one gets tossed (Coach Drew), how no one absolutely obliterates their teammates (Joe, Al, Josh), and how you let the 3rd WORST team beat you by 30 points is beyond unfathomable. I used to be under the impression that we could only possibly defeat the Sixers, Knicks, and Pacers in a playoff series and the Knicks and Sixers were iffy, but now - no 7 game series is safe. For those who got excited by the prospect of the Magic as the opponent, this sets up as a sweep if I've ever seen one.

Truth 2. Game 80 I Don't Knows.

Anytime your captains say that they don't know what to do to make things better in game 80 - you are failing.  Whenever your coach is unable to pinpoint ways to get the best out of the players he has at his disposal - it's pretty much a wrap. All these 'I don't know' give me a 'I do know' and that's I do know that we're not winning a playoff game, much less a playoff series. 

Also, here's a quick note - if anyone is under the impression that this team much like what happened last year with Mike Woodson hasn't checked out - how then do you explain that the coach was very clear that he wanted to use these last 4 games to gain momentum and they instead laid down, presumably to rest and avoid injury.  I'm just waiting for the first player to say it's time for Coach Drew to go because I've yet to hear ONE Hawk make a declaration all season about their support of Coach Drew.  If the Hawks had courage and wanted to win, one of them would say so.

Truth 3. Rest Trumps Momentum.

Not that it should have happened the way it did, but the players are right - the coach is wrong.  At this stage in the season, we've played enough to know what the Hawks will do. 4 meaningless games are not going to generate enough momentum to offset the health needed to even make this Magic series competitive and guess who agreed - the players!!! The same ones who didn't put forth any effort toward the first 2 games.  Listen to these quotes and these quotes and tell me they aren't essentially saying - I have to say something about momentum because that's what coach said, but really - sit my ass until Game 1 of the NBA playoffs. 

And I felt this way (and posted about it) before finding out that Marvin hurt his ankle.  How hard was this decision Larry Drew? Didn't you realize that if they haven't bought in by game 78, then they weren't bought in and so, going for rest was really your last gasp at salvaging a mediocre first campaign. Seriously, how hard was this decision? Forget these last 2 games as well and protect Jason, Josh, Joe, Al, and Marvin above any desire to win 2 meaningless games.

Truth 4. Optimism lies in unlikely places.

I've been accused of being the most pessimistic fan in the Hawks blogosphere.  I'm not sure if that's true or not, but I would say that it's interesting that 3 years after I started blogging that the interest in blogging about the Hawks is at an all-time low. I'm not sure how you stay positive when your organization is like that guy who buys a new car, then tricks it out with garish logos, rims, stereo systems, etc and wonder why the car doesn't produce at the same value and why it can't be resold for anything close to what was paid for it while our counterparts are buying prime real estate and a few foreclosures that can be flipped for twice their value.  I don't even know of a commenter who has positive things to say about this team these days, so that's a preamble to say - it's not just me.  
 
With that as the backdrop, I will say this - and I hope this is something that Larry Drew can hang his hat on - the best players of the past month are....Zaza Pachulia and Jeff Teague. Yes, it surprises me too.  Of course, you'd wish those names were Joe Johnson, Al Horford, our basketball Tupac (Josh Smith) or even Kirk Hinrich, but we have to give credit where its due.

Jeff Teague has every reason to put a big middle finger in the air to 2010-2011 and the coaching staff of the Atlanta Hawks.  The hook has been unkind and unfair to Mr. Teague and yet, he still is coming into games saying - I'm going to show you how good I can be despite the fact that you've had me playing my whole career with ball hogs, without an offensive game plan that requires a point guard to initiate play, watching a shooting guard who wasn't been shooting well and doesn't defend worth a damn taking his backup point guard minutes, or some of the worst reserves in the NBA.  Despite that, I still try to shine. Then, we find ourselves watching a game Zaza Pachulia.  He too has shined in the face of a coach who publicly humiliated him during a blowout for taking a bad shot on a team that has been taking terrible shots for 3 years without any repercussions and also in the ignominy of having to watch our 3rd string center occasionally start over me despite the lack of productivity from the 3rd string center for the last 2 years.  Despite these things, these guys are playing well and deserve rotation minutes. Zaza probably will get them. Teague not so much, and yet optimism reigns.  And it better since there's no other place where growth can come from this roster as it's presently constituted. Take a bow, fellas, take a bow.
Note: I still stand by the fact that if Larry Drew continues to be head coach. Jeff Teague and probably Zaza Pachulia are no longer Hawks in 2011-2012 and this makes sense because we don't keep appreciable assets in this organization. 

Truth 5. Fans fearful of change are killing this franchise.

Before you take this too far, READ THE DISCLAIMER ABOVE first.  So, of course, the fans are LAST on the list of problems for this organization, but with that said - if I have to read another fan who brings up Mike Woodson, Billy Knight, or how bad the old days were as a reason to accept or delight in how far we've come...I'm gonna break something.  Listen, this is about titles.  If you are happy with first round playoff exits and content with mediocre output on an annual basis, then keep your mouth shut.  Don't get in the way of us who realize that you have to have leaders, develop talent, have judicious use of limited resources, and demand excellence from the GM, the coach, and the players.  It's tiresome to have to debate what we all know to be true.  This team is doomed to be a 6th - 8th seed for the next 3 years with NO hope of winning a series at this rate.  You're watching the Sixers, Knicks, Pacers, Wizards, and Nets all prepare themselves to leapfrog the Hawks with only two teams (the Celtics (age) or Magic (losing Howard), though you know they will spend or do whatever possible to stay contenders) who could conceivably drop to our level or below it.  
 
So, you can debate how the change happens, but you can't debate that change MUST occur and must occur now.  There's no in between.  No more if we get rid of Larry Drew - we could end up with oh, Terry Stotts.  No more if we get rid of Joe Johnson - we could end up with Michael Redd. Those things are true statements, but guess what's also true....you could get next year's Thibodeau (Lawrence Frank, anyone?), you could move Joe Johnson and get draft picks and some cap space and some prospect who can lead this team.  Bottom line, being the 13th or 14th best team in the NBA is nothing to be excited about.  The difference between 13th and 25th is not really all that large.  Those teams get up for the Lakers too.  They make it competitive vs. the Bulls too, but just lose about 10-20 more games they shouldn't lose. Ya know like when they play the Hornets at home or when they lose to Wizards on the road after already being embarrassed. 
 
Like I said, enough with the fear of change - let's ALL support the fact that major change is necessary. No one on this roster is untouchable (yes, I'm talking to you, Al, Josh, or Joe).  Doesn't mean I wouldn't miss some guys, but at this point - no player is so stellar that they can't kick rocks for the right price.

And with that note, that's this week's 5 Truths....agree or disagree if you must, but if it's the Honesty Corner, then it can't be lies.  See you in the comments...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Honesty Corner's 5 Truths: Vol. 5

As we get closer to the playoffs, it's time to get serious about our postseason prospects and that means the 5th edition of the Honesty Corner is ready for takeoff. 

Disclaimer: As always, all criticisms come after blaming the Atlanta Spirit Group first, management second, and then coaches and players last.  Those criticisms come through the prism of winning championships (or the things that result in championship team building).

Truth 1. This postseason is a referendum on me, not the Hawks.

Listen, I think everyone knows where I stand with regards to the Hawks. Long time fan, fiercely loyal to the logo, but not much of a fan of the current regime. In Philips Arena, I'm all cheers. On the blog, I'm 100% ruthless about saying what I'm watching without an ounce of homer-dom, which leads me to say this. It's eerie how right I was about the Hawks this season.  Check out my season preview.  Here's what I missed on:
  • That the Bucks would ever be a factor in the East
  • That we'd get the 6th seed, not the 5th (though a tenth of a point for saying that 5th seed was the best we could hope for)
  • The regular season record is still up for grabs (a 2-2 finish will seal the 46-36 that was predicted.
Now, recently, I've encountered some consternation from Hawks fans regarding being right about what ails this organization and there's probably something to be said for being as diplomatic as Hoopinion about it, but that's not the HawkStr8Talk way.  We will continue to just highlight the issues as clearly as we see them and that means that our reputation for calling our shot is on the line.  Since the offseason yielded no appreciable help toward the goal of winning a title, we took on the persona of a team that is regressing. By almost every measure, offense, defense, player development across the board, and coaching - the Hawks are worse than last year, which pushed us to say we'd likely lose in the first round.  I still feel strongly that that will be the result (a 4-1 loss rings as a good prediction). If the Hawks can win a round, color me a fool for trying to predict these Hawks.

Truth 2. Larry Drew and Rick Sund's ineptness = Jordan Crawford as a Wizard.

Here's what I said when we traded Mike Bibby. So, you already know that I was NEVER a fan of this trade when a simple Jeff Teague start would suffice, but you give these things a chance (and yes, the playoffs will be the ultimate referendum) and see where they shake out. So far, it's shaking out snake eyes.  The Hawks are .500 with Hinrich. The Wizards are 6-15 with Jordan Crawford (though 4 of the last 5 games have been wins 5-8 as the starter).  If the trade was ONLY Hinrich for Crawford, this would still be a bad trade for the Hawks, but the fact that a first round draft pick was involved and we took on MORE salary - it just can't be overstated how bad this trade was for this organization. Now, so we don't get accused of ignoring that Jordan Crawford is getting minutes and shots that he wouldn't get for the Hawks - we acknowledge that (though if you look at what is causing Jordan's bad FG% - check his 3 pt shooting. If he stops shooting from 3, he's better than Joe and Jamal in almost every category).  That said, it's arguable that Jordan's output over the past 15 games has been at minimum Jamal Crawford-esque and borderline Joe Johnson-esque.  40 vs. the Heat!?! Triple Double vs. the Cavs (which isn't all that impressive until you wonder when the last time Joe Johnson or Jamal Crawford had a triple double). Wait - I'm gonna say it - he's playing better than Joe and Jamal, dammit. 

The question all offseason was whether Jordan Crawford could be a cheaper version of Jamal Crawford or an emergency version of Joe Johnson and it looks like he could at least be that, but even if it doesn't - it STILL doesn't account for why he's had 41 DNPs in a season where Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague and Mike Bibby all have underperformed during the season on MULTIPLE occasions.  I don't need him to be the 6th man, but are you telling me that arguably the 5th best rookie I've seen all year couldn't get off the Atlanta Hawks Thin Mint bench?  Couldn't replace Damien Wilkins or Mo Evans or slumping guards at one time or another to the point that we thought he was disposable?  Our offense has been so stellar that a shot in the arm was NEVER needed. It's simply maddening on Sund's and Drew's behalf. You can't convince this makes sense in any sphere anyone else lives in.

Truth 3. Joe Johnson isn't clutch.

This probably isn't news to most objective observers, but Joe Johnson's 4th quarter output lately has been pretty 6yr, 60M-ish. 3pt shooting has been below average and so, while you can forgive some parts, we simply need Joe to show up when it's clutch time and lately - it hasn't happened. Its his lack of clutchness that makes it difficult to swallow that he's owed $100M over the next 5 years.  The reason you pay anyone that kind of money is either because they fill the building (no check), they sell product (no check), they win championships (no check), or they are pillars in the community (no check).  So, right now, it's can you be clutch. We can't expect you to produce like a $123M basketball player because you were never worth $123M, but we can expect you to hit every big shot for your team and unfortunately, not even that's happening.  And if I look back at his career - honestly, I remember as many clutch Jamal Crawford, Josh Smith, and Al Horford plays as I do Joe Johnson.  Something is wrong with that.

Truth 4. Denver is proving why you can let your star go.

It was bandied about by many that the fact that you couldn't replace Joe Johnson with a star of his caliber would send the franchise backward.  This was part and parcel for why we bid against ourselves to pay Joe Johnson the most money of 2010's offseason. The fear of going backward. Now, that we're going backward anyway, it should be noted for future fears that the Denver Nuggets looked at the fear of going backward and simply got other pieces, changed their game, and kept moving forward.  The team that had the #1 offense prior to the Melo trade now has the #1 defense after it.  Not only that, they have picks, financial flexibility, a great coach, teamwork, and are...wait for it - 15 of 19 since the trade and arguably in a position to build toward a title in a way that they never could with Carmelo.  This is why you can't panic in the face of tough bold decisions.  This is why you don't re-sign Bibby, Marvin, and Joe at prices that are outside of reasonable expectations of their value.  It's because the 'core' doesn't have to stay the same if the 'core' has never done anything of note that requires rewarding. Sure, Melo forced Denver's hand, but they got what they desired from it and moved forward. Joe forced our hand by not signing an extension - we should have taken that and decided that new parts at better prices were better than old parts at inflated prices.

Truth 5. Post-Game Press Conferences tell me everything.

This week, I had about 10 post-game press conferences on Sports South recorded that I never had listened to and so, I finally got around to watching them and guess what I learned...effort and urgency are Larry Drew's favorite catch phrases. When we win, we brought the energy. When we lose, we didn't feel the urgency and it's with that kind of astute analysis that I say - if it's about energy and effort, then you sir are firing yourself.  It needs to be because Josh doesn't execute the offense or Jamal is not rotating on defense.  You know things that they can do, but don't and even then, that's a coaching problem.  Particularly, when the team and coach happen to see the game differently.  That means...they haven't bought in and you can't change their output when you need to. At Game 78, if the team hasn't bought into your program, either your program sucks or you suck.  Plain and simple.  It didn't take the Bulls more than 20 games to buy into Thibs' program (or to have some tell it - Rose bought in this offseason and the rest of the team followed).  Too bad, no one bothered to tell the team that they might want to lock into the program by game 25, so that Rick Sund could weed out and get rid of those who didn't buy in.  Yep, the post game conference reveals all. 

Bonus Truth. If a Jason Collins injury causes concern for your team, you are doomed.

I saw how well Jason Collins played Dwight Howard. I also saw a guy who has had about 50 DNPs go down with an ankle injury and all I have to say is - if that's a problem, then I change my 4-1 playoff loss to a sweep.  Worry about Josh Smith's knee, not Jason Collins' ankle. I have zero confidence that Jason Collins is the difference in the Hawks' season.  If Dwight Howard can't solve Collins in a 7 game series, he doesn't deserve to be paid $25M in 2012 by anyone.  That's my word.

And with that note, that's this week's 5 Truths....agree or disagree if you must, but if it's the Honesty Corner, then it can't be lies.  See you in the comments...