Wednesday, June 6, 2012

End of Season Truths

Party People,

Yep, it's been 2 months since my last post and well, you're better off for it.  I had a end of regular season review, then I had a playoff update and then well - I just lost interest.  I've lost interest in this iteration of the Hawks.  It's apparent by the number of games I attend, the blogs I've written (from game recaps, any news, etc to barely monthly contributions and commenting on other blogs), and my general malaise about the team I love.  I no longer can claim #1 Hawks Fan status because I just don't care enough (or maybe I care so much that I'm showing my love by highlighting my disdain for the current regime).

Which brings us to this season and the many things that have been swirling in my head for the last 2 months, so let's start with the disclaimer of I blame ASG, then Rick Sund, then Larry Drew, then the rest of the team. Just keep that in mind as we  go through this season finale of the HawkStr8Talk Truths.


  • Ownership (Grade: D): So, it goes without saying that ASG is no friend to the Atlanta Hawks basketball product if the measurement is winning titles.  Let us count the ways:
    • It could be described as firing up the playoff team you're playing (which KG is STILL talking about with a glare into the camera, Mr. Gearon)
    • The lack of front office stability where you have a head coach and GM who both are free agents and you decide to re-hire the coach without the assurance that he's the GM's guy (because you don't HAVE a GM yet).
    • Speaking of which, if you have a coach that you actually TRULY believe in (and the press release speaks glowingly of the coach's tenure), then is an one-year extension really a sign of confidence that he's the answer.  That certainly doesn't give any player the respect or confidence that the ownership believes in the coach's future and a stamp of approval for his philosophy.  For all the hand wringing we want to do about Joe Johnson's $100M contract , that contract more than anything that the organization can say reveals what the organization thinks about Joe Johnson.  Rightly or wrongly, they believe Joe Johnson is an elite talent and capable of winning a title.  [I settled on wrongly 2 years before Joe Johnson signed that contract, by the way.] 
  • GM (Grade: C+): Unlike the ownership, as a person - I love Rick Sund. He's always shown me the utmost respect and answered my questions or invited me to events to discuss basketball items.  For this reason, it is never with glee that I say - Rick Sund is doing the Hawks no favors (and makes me long for Billy Knight).  Here's why:
    • First, I will fully acknowledge that I believe that ASG is definitely tying one hand behind Rick Sund's back, so I'm only going to blame him for what he does with the other hand.  So, let's start with last year's issue.  Not trading your trade chips....last year, it was Jamal Crawford who was a trade chip and yet, played out the string and walked away for nothing.  For a team that is clearly 2-3 rotation players away from contending - Jamal Crawford was a luxury piece on a team that can't afford them.  And that was borne out emphatically during this season.  Insert this year's version of Jamal Crawford - Kirk Hinrich.  I said at the beginning of the season that if Kirk Hinrich finishes the season with the team and we don't make the ECF, then his inclusion on the team beyond the trade deadline is a failure.  So, one hand tied behind your back, Mr. Sund - you failed.  When we're debating whether Jannero Pargo can provide similar production - you are not necessary and esp. not at that rate.  
    • The Rent A Bench - yep, this too is partially the fault of ASG, but you put your name on those contracts (JJ, Al, Josh, Zaza, Mike Bibby, Marvin) and so you gotta pay for those too and that results in a rent a bench.  Rent A Bench can work in the NBA....for teams that people are pining to play for.  Miami, LA, Chicago, New York....and now maybe Oklahoma City.  Atlanta has the locale, but if you don' t have a respected star or organization - uh...you can't rent a bench.  You have to build a bench and rotation that can grow together and learn to work together.  Our entire bench could leave this offseason and we have to start the chemistry process all over again.  We'll discuss the moves in a minute, but the Hawks will never get good hoping that draft picks and minimum wage players will turn out a championship effort.
    • The actual bench - I made the point all season that this group could be a coup for Rick Sund and mask the ills of the past 2-3 Rent A Bench flavors of yesteryear (read: Josh Powell, Hilton Armstrong, Pape Sy, Etan Thomas, etc).  So, we go into this season with a signing of Tracy McGrady (meh), Jerry Stackhouse (huh?), Jannero Pargo (decent for the price), Willie Green (decent for the price), Jason Collins (horrible), Erick Dampier (puzzling if the coach isn't going to play him), Ivan Johnson (the revelation of the season which brings us to why an extension wasn't offered DURING the season), and V-Rad (meh).  It was better than last year's, but not consistent enough to consider ready for a championship run.
    • Pape Sy - Still trying to figure out why we bought out a player no one else even thought to draft, then a year later cut.  Wasting money and resources on a team that can't waste money and resources. 
    • Also, if you haven't convinced your best player that he should stay with you - that's a GM problem.
  • Coach (Grade: C-): Let's start with the fact that the Hawks played to their talent even with Al's injury.  That's going to give Larry Drew the only positives I can muster.  Again, like Sund - nice guy, wrong coach...
    • Let's start with the obvious - this team still has no identity to hang its hat on.  They still can beat the best teams and lose to the worst teams under certain circumstances. 
    • The referees don't respect our team and the coach doesn't fight to ensure that they respect us or send the signal to his team that he will fight for them as much as he requests from them on the court.  That matters.
    • Player relations don't inspire me - the grudges that seemed to be apparent with Jeff Teague and Zaza Pachulia (who had to have injuries FORCE Drew to recognize the critical roles these guys perform for this team) seem to have come up again with Ivan Johnson.  Random benchings and his total disappearance from the playoffs continues to baffle me. As much as I said there was a back story for Jeff and Zaza, there's one here and I don't know if he'll even be signed back to the team as a result. 
    • Finally, this team was not prepared during the season for the playoffs.  The inability to recognize the mismatch, to not rely on the bench too much, and to execute in the clutch all fall on the coach.  If you can't prepare your star to be a star (JJ), convince your star PF to eliminate the mental breakdowns all season (JS), and motivate your PG to actually RUN the team and make decisions based on what's happening (vs. what you wish would be the case), then the team can't get better.  
  • Players (Grade: B-):  Listen, I can't knock the team for hanging in there for the regular season and staring injuries in the face without blinking. It's not lost on me that we were hobbled in the playoffs.  That said, we STILL were better than the Celtics.  Yep, I said it.  Still better.  Talent wise...but mentally - not so much and for that, we blame:
    • Joe Johnson - yes, you get the lion's share because you make the most money.  You've done no recruiting, no leading, no performing.  Just complaining about what you don't know about our team.  Do this Joe, read my blog.  It'll tell you what's wrong with our team.  Things like - you don't allow Jeff or Al or Josh be the star in the clutch if you don't have it.  You're not a leader.  Your contract is the only reason people are paying attention to you.  It's not your makeup, but you need to bark at a ref to get their attention.    You may not have people hating you like Paul Pierce, but you also don't get those calls nor do you have that RING.  
    • Josh Smith - Yes, you had a great year. It was awesome to see you get even better. Be more of a leader, etc.  To much is given, much is required.  Which means I'm going to say Josh has elevated to the best player on the team, but that doesn't mean that we're going to forget that his flaws are the type that LOSE playoff games.  Turnovers because you don't like giving the PG the ball or bad possessions because you have more confidence in your jump shot that is reasonable based on the lack of results. Those things can't continue.  You can't get technical fouls while on the sideline.  Those are still the areas of improvement that are necessary.  Without that, you're just a star with no galaxy. 
    • Marvin Williams - If he ever embraces the 6th man role, maybe he can find a consistent role to justify his contract.  Not likely, but that's the only way I see his return as a positive.
    • Jeff Teague and Zaza Pachulia - I put these guys together because I love them the most. They have yet to be fully embraced by their coach and yet, they still work hard to make the effort necessary to take this team to the next level.  Josh played the best, but Zaza (considering) was my MVP.  We basically hinged our inside toughness on Zaza and he showed up to keep us on task.  I certainly believe we'd be in the ECF if we had him healthy.  Damn shame what happened there.  As for Teague, he's not perfect, but let's just remember this - it's his first year playing basketball for the Hawks.  Not many 'rookie' PGs are making a major impact, so I'm not going to take him to task. Year 2 - yes. Year 1 - inconsistency is understandable.  
    • Al Horford - Incomplete
    • Jason Collins - I still can't fathom why he made the roster and why he played over Zaza at ANY juncture of the season.  If he comes back next season and plays anything other than the Erick Dampier role, it's a colossal failure.
    • The rest - T Mc, V Rad, Kirk, etc are all just guys - didn't really do much when it mattered most and so, meh..


So, this brings me to my matching predictions to end results.  I avoided a lot of tooting of my horn this season because I don't say what I say to be right - I say it, so that we don't allow our fan base and Hawks organization lie to ourselves about what's happening despite our love. The truth is - we can't win with this core. That's been true for 3 years.  We certainly can't get closer with these owners, this GM, and that coach.  Even with stellar versions of all of that - this CORE is not going to make it.  So, let's dispense with the argument and just come to grips with the point made a while ago - we must trade Al or Josh to find a Center and possibly a SF.  We need draft picks, we need salary flexibility, so yes - Joe and Marvin trades should be in play (not that anyone wants them).  I know that scares people when we start doing the BLOW IT UP strategy, but it should be scary to recognize that the Cavs, Pacers, Sixers, Heat, and arguably the Knicks (Melo) and Magic (Howard if he stays), shoot even Boston (Rondo) all have building blocks that trump our team's ability to get to the top of the Eastern Conference heap.  That doesn't mean we can't have better regular seasons or that those teams are better than us, but we are hamstrung right now to the 4-6 seed with no shot to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the next 2-3 years.  To think otherwise is foolhardy.

That's how you can make a prediction like the Hawks will be 38-28, 5th seed, and lose in the first round and they end up 40-26 and exactly what you said they'd do.  I'll make that same prediction right now and I'm sure we'll be within 3 games of it.  I'm thinking about 47-35 and again 5th seed with a first round playoff exit sounds about right.  Big offseason, but I don't expect one change of significance to occur.  Cue the draft pick that we can't use, the sold 2nd rounder (oh, wait we did that during the season)...and my continued malaise and infrequent postings. Le Sigh!!!

Note: If I never hear about Jamal Crawford or Mike Woodson as useful to this franchise, it won't be soon enough.  Oh and big tap on the back for saying that the Pacers were my darkhorse this season (and ignoring the fact I said the same about the Knicks).