Thursday, July 19, 2012

Honesty Corner's 5 Truths: Vol. 18

No filibustering today. No using Dwight Howard rumors to drive ratings.  Leave your thoughts in the comments.  Let’s get it..

1. Ownership > Rental: PG Edition – There are some thoughts out there that Devin Harris could possibly be the starting point guard and that Lou Williams or Anthony Morrow could be your starting shooting guard next year.  Let me log my vote right now – if the team has any sense, your starting guard duo will be Jeff Teague and John Jenkins.  This season should be about player evaluation and development.  There should be more worry about health and development and less on winning at all cost. Let’s not stunt Jeff Teague’s growth and let’s allow John Jenkins to get used to not being a part of the primary rotation for this team.  That shortsighted vision for the growth of our team is why Jeff Teague is not yet a consistent force (and why we are short the cheap labor of Jordan Crawford and a first round draft pick).

2. Jim Mora, Sr Would Be Proud – PLAYOFFS!?! Folks are screaming about playoffs… Well, STOP IT! There have been rumblings about how good this team can be next year.  My opinion aside (that we probably are a 6 seed in all probability) – there’s one thing we should all be able to agree upon and that’s that this team is not a contender and there’s no way to make it one this upcoming season.  So, I’m not asking for the team to tank, but I’m also saying – we don’t need to play the rotations as if it’s an all out move to get the best seed and attempt something stupid like messing up a chance in the lottery to get a top 3 pick (and a shot at small forward on the cheap like UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad).  This is tough to say, but Operation Hawks Championship is not worth jeopardizing with foolish attempts to meet our 1st round playoff loss fate once again. Play the players who will be here potentially for the new Hawks era (of Paul/Howard/Smith).   Of course, there is one monkey wrench in this plan – Larry Drew’s expiring contract.  No way Larry Drew isn’t playing every player who can win every game in an attempt to make a play for a job in 2013-2014, SOOOO…Danny Ferry make a decision – is he our coach or not? If so, extend him (and throw away a large measure of goodwill you’ve engendered with me) or fire this cat, so we can move forward  with a coach that knows the greater good is to develop the players and let the cards fall where they may.

3. John Jenkins Looks Legit – I said I’d say when I was wrong and while the jury is out on Perry Jones and Tony Wroten as higher upside guys – if the goal was to find a drop dead shooter on the rookie contract who could complement Horford/Smith (or Paul/Howard), then yes this is a savvy move.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how easily we have amassed 3pt shooters (and probably could do so again), but hey – let’s just say that right now, it’s looking like John Jenkins is a rotation player for this team now and would have been one last year with good, competent coaching.

4. Summer 2012 is Danny Ferry’s Masterpiece, Maybe? – This may end up being amended later or it could be a weekly Truth, but for now – we’re so unaccustomed to seeing these things called purposeful moves that it’s hard to know what to do or how to accurate judge what’s happening these days. Is it that Rick Sund was so bad that Danny Ferry looks like a genius in comparison or is this genius we’re watching?  I’ve largely stayed away from trying to evaluate the talent and fit since it’s apparent that no matter what the roster looks like this season – it’s probably not going to look that way the following season, so as the disclaimer says ‘Summer 2013 is all that matters’.  That said, for the hardcore - Summer 2012 may be one to remember for Hawks fans. It may not give us the players that we will fall in love with (sans Lou Williams), but it certainly has restored hope that mid-level exceptions, trade exceptions, and overall cap management will be used for what they were intended to…to swing for the fences.

5. Outscore ‘Em – I know I said I’m not going to pay attention to the roster, but I will say that at this rate – we’re definitely not going to be a defensive juggernaut any longer.  There’s not a roster spot (Deshawn Stevenson doesn’t count or should he?) that inspires confidence that this is team is going to try to stop teams, so welcome Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow, and John Jenkins.  Team Bombs Away should be exciting and I’m ready to see what the coaching guru that is Larry Drew can do with our newly acquired spot up shooters (the Vlad Rad experiment notwithstanding).

Friday, July 13, 2012

New Days & New Truths

The blog left off last week in dire need of a new slogan to replace its long-held disclaimer that the blame for the lack of championship pedigree in Hawks land rested with poor ownership, poor management, and mediocre coaching , and unfocused players (in that order).  Well, it's a new day for Operation Hawks Championship.  I'm still looking for the catchy phrase to represent that new day, but until I find it - the phrase "Summer 2013 is all that matters" will be synonymous with this blog's thoughts until Dwight Howard finds a home .  With that in mind, it's time to resume the ever popular 5 Truths. Enjoy a weekly dose of Truths that represent what I think regarding Hawks basketball and our pursuit of a NBA title. Let's go...

  • Allow Me To Reintroduce Myself - Before we get to the nitty and the gritty, it's time to remind everyone that this is Str8Talk. Not to be confused with Homer Talk. I leave fun, hopeful fan stuff for my time within the friendly confines of the Highlight Factory, the Hawks road trips, Facebook, and so on.  On this blog and on Twitter (@hawkstr8talk), I'm all about championship building and nothing else. Unapologetic, nuanced, and definitive. If what I say turns out to be wrong, I'll say it.  If what I say turns out to be right, I'll say that too.  So, if that's not your cup of tea (or if you can't disagree respectfully), read another blog. That said - to the b-ball thoughts, we go...
  • Danny Ferry so far is .... Billy Knight - Let's start with what I'm sure will be the most controversial Truth with all these In Ferry We Trust vibes going on these days. Controversial to many, but not any less true.  Before you blanch at the thought, let's review the Billy Knight transactions from 2003 thru 2005. He got rid of an albatross of a contract of a player that was good, but not good enough (Shareef Abdur-Rahim along with Theo Ratliff and Dan Dickau). He got rid of Nazr Muhammed, Terrell Brandon, Alan Henderson, and Travis Hansen.  Obtained Rasheed Wallace, only to quickly turn him into a first round draft pick once it was determined that Wallace was not going to re-sign with the Hawks.  The Dark Knight played this flipping of players game to the effect of 2 additional first round picks and enough cap space to eventually select Josh Smith, Josh Childress, Marvin Williams, and sign Joe Johnson.  Now, this exercise is not to lionize Billy Knight, but more to highlight the fact that Danny Ferry has started out by clearing cap space and adding an additional first round pick. He's already well on his way to picking players (I don't really like) and signing free agents and he's certainly trying to acquire the game changer in Dwight Howard who is - much like Rasheed Wallace (mercurial and talented) - slated to become a free agent at the end of next season.  As much as I've been pleased at what Ferry has done so far, it just goes to show you that the teardown is one task, but the build up is much harder. Let's hope that the build up has greater results than Knight's attempt. (Refraining from taking another shot at how bad Rick Sund was during his GM run)
  • Slow and steady wins the race - I started with this note last week and I will continue to maintain that Dwight Howard and Chris Paul for 2013-2014 is IN PLAY.  I know Hawks fans are conditioned to think the worst, but I repeat - let this plan all play out, Hawks Fans.  Yes, it may end up in disappointment.  Yes, Plan B might not be desirable. Yes, Houston is trying to trade their entire team, draft picks for the next 10 years, and give him an oil rig to boot.  We might lose out on Al Horford and Jeff Teague's future Hall of Fame careers or whatever needs to be sacrificed, but the reward is worth the risk.  The reward is two once-a-generation talents and an arguably All Star PF (I ignore all thoughts that Josh Smith can play small forward),  which will result in at least 3-4 years of championship contending days in Atlanta. The downside is us being gutted to the point that we're back in the lottery looking for the kind of talent to thrust as back to a run to a title later than sooner.  Either way, the attempt is a win-win.  If you want to be taken seriously in this league - you do serious things.  Making this attempt sends a signal and that signal is - we want to win the whole thing. If you want even more fuel as to why all the thoughts about what Dwight Howard's desire to be in Brooklyn or Chris Paul staying in Los Angeles should be tempered, I give you Deron Williams (and Blake Griffin's new knee problem).  Who the heck thought when he was traded to the New Jersey Nets that he was ever going to stay there.  NO ONE! It's the Nets for goodness sake.  Who thought that Dwight Howard would openly say that he would want to go there even last year?  VERY FEW!  So, circumstances change - organizations change (like the Nets), players change their minds, and the path to a title can be shuffled.  That's what the Rockets, Lakers, and yes - the Hawks should be banking on.  That a player rarely leaves money on the table (see Johnson, Joe) and that if you can show them a path to a title - they will make it work.  Josh, Dwight, and Chris can happen - believe!!!
  • Hawks Fans owe Dwight Howard - You may not realize this, but the dumb, inexplicable decision by Dwight Howard to opt-in to his last season of his contract actually is the reason this is all possible.  The Nets realizing that without Dwight Howard to go after - there was a real chance that without a splash in the offseason that Deron Williams was leaving town.  That splash wasn't gonna be Gerald Wallace. So, let's remember who paved the way for The Contract to find its way to Brooklyn (and possibly Marvin Williams to Utah). You don't see the symmetry in this, which leads us to....
  • What Really Matters - Welcome Lou Williams and all these people who are on our roster.  I'm intentionally not falling in love with anyone, not paying attention to how many guards we have, or our lack of a small forward, etc.  None of this matters until a) we find out if we're the chosen trade partner for Dwight Howard and b) if a works out, then whether we have the space for Chris Paul.  Anything else that happens is fine as long as it doesn't compromise draft picks or cap space.  The ability to participate in trades and free agent discussions are all that matter at this juncture.  There's no reason to worry about Plan B's and the 2012-2013 regular season until the Plan A is no longer.  I repeat Summer 2013 is all that matters (until Dwight Howard signs a long term contract).

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Discarding The Disclaimer

(Channeling my inner Bill Simmons)

In August 2008, I started HawkStr8Talk.  The purpose of the blog was to give voice to an honest appraisal of the Atlanta Hawks while also being very much the Hawks #1 Fan.  Over the past 3+ years, this blog went from regular game recaps, funny features, previews, reviews, predictions, and the like to sparse commentary and barely monthly postings.  How did this happen?  Well, watching the Atlanta Spirit Group, Rick Sund, Larry Drew, Mike Woodson, and a maddeningly inconsistent team will do that to you. Why blog regularly when you know the end results before the season even gets started? Why waste precious time doing a movie review when you've seen the movie many times over?

When I started the blog it was done to give a different blog voice that focused on what I consider championship moves. (Note: A championship move is drafting Josh Smith at 17. A non-championship move is trading for Jamal Crawford and  tying up over $25M in the shooting guard position and never getting further in the playoffs as a result or never getting any asset back for him. Insert Kirk Hinrich's tenure as a bonus example.)  Under that view, to read the blog correctly, we'd need to create a disclaimer to keep people from taking the tough love and thinking that it was anti-Hawks (a campaign that has been largely unsuccessful) in nature when making a claim that was less homerish and more harsh reality. And so it went...the blame goes from ownership, mgmt, coaching, then players.  

Two years ago, I wrote what ended up being my most popular blog and the reason I stopped blogging regularly.  You can read it here. Last year, we thought that the disclaimer was ready to be discarded for good, but Alex Meruelo's money was funny and so we slapped the disclaimer back on all blogs.  Then, Danny Ferry happened...(pause for dramatic effect).  On day 1 I said - I'll have to consider how to modify the disclaimer, but before I had time to determine what form it should take - the unthinkable happened...Joe Johnson gone. Marvin Williams gone.  Two bold strokes.  New hope and opportunity RESTORED!  And so on this day - we are getting rid of the disclaimer.  We will now judge the Atlanta Hawks organization by what they do on a case by case basis. No more assumptions that what they do are just by nature ridiculous and antithetical to winning a title.  

In TWO WEEKS, we have a new perspective on ownership and management and will give them the opportunity to handle the coaching and players with clarity, vision, and purpose.  It's with that that we give our thoughts on the last two weeks and announce today that the blog is back.  Regular posts, fun, excitement, hard bold truths, and fair judgment of the truth as I see it.  You may not always agree, but you trust in the fact that I'm back to analyzing Hawks basketball because I don't know the end game (but I won't be shy about saying what it should be).  Now, here are five thoughts on what's transpired:

  1. Ownership - I've never had a good thing to say about the management of this organization.  Haven't heard anything from employees, fans, or players that said one positive word about these guys.  The only thing I can give them credit for is that they do spend the money on contracts.  It's just not spent wisely and isn't cascaded on to the other things that have to work to win a title.  You can't give well paid players a Wal-Mart management staff and Costco coaching staff.  Well, hiring Danny Ferry and giving him the keys to the operation says - maybe our previous approach and the asinine prism through which we've viewed our 'success' was misguided. It can't come with total forgiveness for wasting about 5 years of our fan-dom (and robbing the people of my sublime analysis in 2011-2012), but a reboot and recharge is fitting.  That's what we plan to do. No more ASG jokes or assumptions of incompetence sight unseen.
  2. Management - Everyone who reads this blog knows that the Rick Sund era couldn't end fast enough for me. Seriously, short of Ivan Johnson and Jeff Teague, you can't tell me there's a remnant of success (remember - we're talking building blocks toward a title, people) that he came up with. So, for the last time, nice guy but not a guy who was able to make a move that mattered.  And now, I think it's been proven that either he was incompetent or he was unable to convince ownership that its direction was a flawed one in the way that Danny Ferry was able to.  So, either way, I'm calling the Sund era a relative failure.  Not so flawed that he took the Knight era's collection of talent and turned it into lottery level production, but flawed in that it didn't move the ceiling upwards.  We no longer have to lament why we don't have competent scouting, full roster spot use, player development (D-League, here we come), coaching hires based on skill, not bargain. What's happening now with regards to addressing the cap for flexibility to acquire true starting and bench assets should have happened the summer of 2009 in hopes of adding pieces in the summer of 2010.  The fact that the words Dwight Howard and Chris Paul are even mentioned in trade and free agent talks and that the NBA world has to include the Hawks in their discussions in ONLY TWO WEEKS should make clear how bad our previous regime was.  And in a simple statement - we welcome the Danny Ferry era.  It doesn't mean that we're going to rubber stamp every move (starting with Jenkins and Scott as the first draft haul), but we do believe the direction is off in the absolute correct direction. And after all these years of mediocre playoff team purgatory, that's a great start.  (Complete aside - we find it funny that the kudos Danny Ferry is receiving right now is for something that Billy Knight did with as much devastating effectiveness prior to his struggles with building a title contender.)
  3. Fans - Yes, the fans must be addressed because we have for so long been cynical about everything that this organization has done that it's still hard for people to conceive of things like a Big 3 (a true one - not the JJ/Al/Josh one) or a real coach or real managment or real ownership.  Sure, it's too early to say the days of incompetence are over, but let's just give it time and support until clearly proven otherwise.  Nitpicking is unnecessary  Simply put, we have a new slate and next year is not really important toward the building of a championship.  If you are complaining about 2012-2013 on court results, you don't get it.  All I care about this year is the health of the players and the salary cap.  The goal right now is simply - determine how to get a Big 3.  The best version of that to me is Josh, Dwight, and Chris and any avenue that allows pieces to be added to it is what we need.  Does that mean there will be casualties? Yes, but we have to keep our eyes on the prize.  The prize is - attaining players who have championship capabilities.  Dwight has been in an NBA Finals, CP3 hasn't, but I have belief that he can take a team there.  Josh is the wild card, but with a real coach and teammates that demand the best from him - his talent is great enough to bank on.  Most important for fans though is to recognize that our previous template and concerns all must be reconsidered.  The old mantras of - no players want to come here, no coach will be signed, draft picks will be sold or squandered, team will lack identity and purpose, etc - all of that must go.  Let's give this a chance to be considered a model franchise capable of the highest levels of success.  We owe that to Danny Ferry and the new regime.  Atlanta is a destination and be assured - with the right pitch man and the right ingredients, this place can be the home of an NBA champion.  Let's believe in it and hold them accountable to that goal.
  4. Coaching - Larry Drew - you are on the clock. Suddenly, I don't care that Drew is coaching next year because next year is a throwaway year anyway.  A time to evaluate a few players to see if they fit in our 2013-2014 plans, but otherwise - it's meaningless. In fact, if I'm Danny Ferry - I tell him, you have two objectives - show me that you know how to handle Josh Smith and Al Horford, can develop Teague, Jenkins, and Scott AND keep these guys healthy.  Forget our record.  You won't be judged on wins and losses. You will be judged on how well I think you can handle Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Josh Smith plus a supporting cast.  Odds are - if a Big 3 can be attained - Larry Drew is getting fired, but this year is the playground for proving Danny Ferry (and me) wrong about that.  This is the best scenario for all parties involved - it could even motivate Drew to see the writing on the wall and have him coach the year of his life.  To see him prove that he's more than he's shown to date. That's possible, but unlikely.  Either way, it's a win win. 
  5. Players - I must is extremely telling when the best player in your organization since Dominique is traded and the feedback is almost universal that it's an awesome thing.  I'll always respect Joe Johnson for his production for our team.  I'll never respect Joe Johnson as the face of this organization making the money he made. You cannot sign $200M worth of contracts for a team and not commit yourself to all parts of it.  I haven't said this often, but I truly feel that Joe Johnson was a relative cancer for this organization.  Not in the JR Rider sense, but in the sense that he was never a pillar in the community, never tried to market himself or this franchise to anyone (including other NBA players), never made any sacrifice that I saw in being a leader that he knows this team sorely needs, never took the blame or heat that any real leader must when you are scheduled to make on average $20M a season.  If LeBron James can put up triple doubles and carry his team for most of his career and yet, can say - yep, I didn't do enough, then dammit - Joe, it wouldn't hurt to say ... uh, yeah, we lost to the Bulls or to the Celtics because I couldn't get it done and I plan to do more to make that happen.  That's what the max contract requires. So, it's not lost on me that very few people are heartbroken over his departure.  No we'll miss you Joe newspaper ads, no airplane flyovers, no emails, nothing.  I checked and nope - no calls to the organization bitching about it.  Just a clear hooray - he's gone.  (Despite people thinking that Hawks fans don't care, I hope I don't need to remind you how this town treated Nique's trade from this organization. If I do, please ask any Atlantan how they feel TODAY much less then about Stan Kasten, Pete Babcock, and Lenny Wilkens).  Sure, it's mostly the contract, but it's also the man.  We'll respect your service, but it's not without some clear disconnect that you didn't even try to connect with us or your teammates or your coach.  Period.  Not in the way that your money and talent require you to if you TRULY want to win a title.  So, goodbye Joe Johnson. I wish I could say we knew you and loved you, but I don't.  As for Marvin,  I have nothing bad to say. You just weren't Deron or CP3 and you did very little to even be Aaron Afflalo, so just like Joe, Jamal, Kirk and Bibby - you were stealing money and I'm glad to see you stealing it from some other team and not ours.   
Bonus Note - The Big 3 - I feel the need to say one more thing about a Big 3.  The idea being that Josh recruits Howard and then, they both go to CP3 and say - dude, it's a new day in Atlanta and our 2 plus supporting cast is better than any other 2 you can find. This is plausible (especially if you tell him - he can pick the coach too).  Not going to put high odds on it, but it's doable.  Now, with that said, understand that CP3 is the MOST important piece to this puzzle (well, unless you hire Phil Jackson).  Both Josh and Howard are, in many ways, head cases. CP3 manages all that.  We need him to be the guy to handle the egos and bridge the gap between them and the coach (not named Drew).  I don't trust either of those big men to be managed by a coach by itself.  Now, I expect that Ferry would hire a coach with the kind of profile that they would gain the respect of either Josh or Howard, but as Van Gundy and Woodson can probably attest - these guys aren't above challenging or even backstabbing either of them.  So, I'm saying it here first - CP3 is the most important target for us in summer 2013 and we need to lay the ground work (meaning cap room, draft picks, and a new coach) for that to happen or all bets are off.  And I say that with a tear because it would mean - no more Jeff Teague or Horford (I'll enjoy watching your final seasons for the Hawks).

And that's my Bill Simmons-esque thoughts.  Lots to say and we'll try to bring it back in weekly offseason morsels, Truths, and general musings that should signal that my blogging mojo is BACK and it feels so good. Say it with me now: Summer of 2013 is all that matters (hey, I think I found a new disclaimer).