Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Honesty Corner's 5 Truths - Season 2, Vol. 4

Hawks Fans,

Back again with more Truths as we move toward the 2nd half of the season, the All Star Break, and yes…the anticipated trade deadline.  In two weeks time, a lot of things have changed (or have they?), which means it’s time to drop the hammer of knowledge.  The Anti-FIF! (Chappelle Show watchers, stand up) starts now…

  • Lou Williams’ Injury Means… – Nothing for the Atlanta Hawks outlook on this season.  We knew that these Hawks were going to make the playoffs.  We knew these Hawks were not going to make a sustained run in the playoffs.  We knew that Lou was as locked into a role (6th man) now and in the future for this team as anyone, SOOOO – yes, it sucks that he’s injured and you never know what an injury can do to a career, but as I said when Al went down last year – this really changes our trajectory very little.  In fact, I’m almost at a point of saying – blessing in disguise might be a more apt response for this organization if it results in more minutes for John Jenkins.  Any investment in his development this season that results in a starting position for Jenkins OR some revelation that a better long term solution at the shooting guard position should be found, then Lou’s time with the rehab team will not be in vain.   So, for those people looking for a scapegoat for why the Hawks aren’t (fill in the blank), look elsewhere.  The Hawks are a better team with Lou Williams, but the ceiling for this season (and the floor for that matter) didn’t change as a result. 
  • The Hawks Didn’t Deserve An All Star – This probably isn’t a popular opinion, but the Hawks have always been fortunate to even be able to call Al Horford an All-Star.  He was never one of the best 12 players in our conference (certainly not more so than Josh Smith) and I’ve been on record that only in 2009 was it really that close that Josh Smith was one of the 12 best players in the conference.  Those points lead me to this - the Hawks have gotten proper All Star consideration over the past 6 years.  I know we want more respect, but when those players aren’t SNIFFING All-NBA consideration (a much truer expression of quality of the year a player has since it's more apt to be devoid of coaching and fan biases) – do we really need to debate whether Hawks are getting robbed of trips to the All Star exhibition?  I don’t think so and this year, the timing of our worst stretch coupled with the fact that our two best players are having OK years on an OK team means you get OK consideration.  So, we didn’t deserve an All Star and we all should be OK with that.  What we shouldn’t be OK with is NOT seeing Kyle Korver in the 3pt contest.  Now, that’s worthy of some rabble rousing. 
  • The Hometown Discount Don’t Lie - Obviously, Josh Smith has and will be a topic of trade discussion for the next 3 weeks.  I will weigh in on this in more detail in a future column, but it’s probably important to say what I said in the last Truths – everyone is tradeable.  I love Kyle Korver, but if he’s worth a future #1 – adios! I love Ivan Johnson, but if he must be packaged for a building block for future Hawks titles, then c’est la vie!  I know we all like to pontificate about who is and isn’t untradeable, but for all of the love I have for this team – there’s still not one player that has established themselves for this team as indispensable to the goal of winning a title.  Which brings me to Josh Smith.  It took me 4 years, but I’m now firmly in the Josh can be traded camp.  Hate to say it, but I’m not one for mincing words. Josh Smith, for all of his talents, is just a Joe Johnson clone if you fete him with a max contract.  Which means you can’t give him a max contract. Which means if we want to keep him in Atlanta and still harbor championship dreams - he’s gotta give a hometown discount. Spare me the ‘someone will give him a max contract’ spiel.  I know some desperate team will be willing to give him more than hie’s worth.  We’ve been down this road before and failed the test.  Until I learn that the Atlanta Spirit is willing to pay into the luxury tax to acquire players, it’s impossible for the Hawks to pay the max to Josh Smith and field a contender, so let Josh prove that he wants to win here and that means – give up the hometown discount.  Period.  Not only that – Josh Smith, robbery or not, is barely an All Star, not a good captain, and makes questionable decisions on and off the court. If anyone else in the NBA had those credentials, you’d laugh at the notion that we never need to consider anything over $15M a hometown discount.  In fact, we’ve already BEEN that organization (see Johnson, Joe).  Al Horford is a wondrous player for any contender….if you consider him your third best player. Jeff Teague is a wonderfully talented young guard IF he gets a coach to motivate him AND allow him to actually run the team (and even then, he still needs to be your 4th best player or worst).  The point I’m making here is we have a bunch of almosts, potentials, and solids – we need a player a step above that and should be willing to pay top freight for it.  Josh Smith isn’t that.  When we’re talking about family (and I consider Josh family) – sometimes, you have to speak truth to it.   The hard truth is that if you are paying Josh Smith max money – you aren't and won’t be a contender.   With this CBA and our collection of talent and coaching, some truths are self-evident and painful, but it’s time…if we want to win a title.  We either get Josh for the hometown discount ($13-$15M) or we should usher him out the door. 
  • Larry Drew’s Everchanging Starting 5 & Rotation Must StopI presume that Larry Drew wants to win as many games in the regular season and postseason as possible to bolster his bid to be the coach of the Hawks in 2013-2014.  If so, the lineups and rotations have to begin to firm up, so that players can begin to completely buy into their roles.  Is John Jenkins capable of logging starter minutes?  Is Ivan in or out of the doghouse?  Is Kyle going to remain our small forward?  Will Anthony Morrow enter the rotation?  All Star Weekend seems like the appropriate time to start locking this stuff down.  (And yes, I realize we've had injuries that have impacted this, but the herky jerk nature of the rotation far precedes any of those issues.

  • We Need To Re-Hire Mark Price – And it’s not for 3pt shooting help.  I’m not sure why this isn’t discussed more, but the Hawks as a team are shooting 70% from the charity stripe, which is 28th in the league.  Do I need to express how horrendous this is?  Here's how bad it is - I can make 6 out of 10 FT every day of the week and I don't play basketball regularly any longer.  I’ve yet to hear this as a point of emphasis during the Larry ‘We need more energy’ Drew post game comments and yet, it’s easy to point to the lost points we have EVERY game.  It’s great that we are 3rd in 3pt %, but one of these things is sustainable during the playoffs (free throw shooting) and one of these things isn't (3pt shooting).  So, I’m not sure what is in the water, but our inability to get to the line and then CONVERT at an NBA quality level (the best teams are shooting 10 points better) can be the difference between first and second round of the playoffs.

With that, that’s my time and there goes the truth, Ruth.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Honesty Corner's 5 Truths - Season 2, Vol. 3

It’s been a long time – 2 months to be exact, but life happens, but we press forward in a time where the Hawks have had a wing clipped or two.  And when that happens, you need answers and so, I provide you the TRUTHS!!! 5 of 'em and a suggestion for our lineup change...
  • Everyone should be on the block – Let’s just get to it. No one on this team is untouchable.  No vet, impending free agent, or rookie should be feeling safe right now.  Not Josh, not Al, not Teague… of course, there’s a practical matter of having Lou or Ivan or Jeff or our rookies on very cap friendly contracts, so the deal needs to be right, but at this juncture there are flaws in all of our players that say – for the right price, we should do what we can to make this team closer to the whole that can compete for championships.  I’m not sure there’s anyone on the roster at this point that I see as a foundational piece.  NOT ONE PERSON.  Since I’ll address Josh next – I’ll go to Al. I’ve said it before and I say this with respect and love for him as what he represents for our organization, but I’ll repeat – he’s a rich man’s Chuck Hayes. Meaning he does all the little things and (for the rich man part) does some big things too, but it’s nothing that elevates this team when elevation is completely necessary. For that, he’s a great #3 on a championship team.  Not sure we can afford to wait to get a #1 or #2 to utilize him in that role though.
  • Josh Smith cannot be your captain – Remember, my blog and stance is always about winning titles.  If you want to win a title, I don’t care how much you love Josh (and I’ve been one of his biggest supporters from day one), then you can’t support Josh Smith as a title winning captain.  Your captain should be an extension of the coach on the court and in the locker room.  Well, on the court, his shot selection and inability to control himself with the officials sends a message that you don’t want a team to emulate.  In the locker room, we’ve seen on numerous occasions where the coach’s view of what should be happening is contrary to Josh’s view. This is as it was with Woodson and is the same with Drew.  No doubt about Josh’s many talents, but they aren’t any closer to converging than they have been over the past 3 years.  You can’t have a captain whose talents diverge as starkly in terms of when to take shots, effort, free throw shooting, and outright leadership.  I love Josh and I certainly would love to continue to have him represent the Hawks, but he can’t be your captain.  Period.
  • The Real Larry Drew has arrived – Like many of you, I must admit that I was beginning to slowly get to the point where I believed that maybe Larry Drew was learning on the job enough to do things like not sit people with 2 fouls unnecessarily, like riding the hot hand, like calling TOs and making personnel changes as it was dictated.  I saw the integration of John Jenkins, an understanding that Ivan Johnson must play nightly, and so on and so forth.  Then, the last month happened.  And everything I’ve always believed reared its head.  Sporadic rotation decisions, random DNPs (Ivan with DNPs next to his name still defy understanding), player indifference, tardy TO decisions, an inability to work the officials (which leads the players to try to do it for him) and the most important one – a lack of response by the team when the Coach calls you out.  To be clear, there is no need to panic about this losing streak.  These things happen to all teams (see Heat, Miami right now), but when your coach calls you SOFT and you proceed to lose 2 of 3 MORE games by double digit amounts and where you continually find yourself down by almost 10-20 nightly during that stretch – there is something wrong.  You can’t let your boss tell you that you are soft and you then go and prove him RIGHT.  That’s just a sign of – hey, we have tuned you out or are ready to force the firing of said coach.  And that’s where this is – you can’t fire the players, so we are 1-2 more weeks away from the Danny Ferry decision point.  He’s already shown that the trigger has no heart.  I love that Coach Drew has decided to make changes – it’s warranted, but it might be too little too late. That’s why the Coach of the Month and early COY praise was as much fool’s gold as a Josh Smith 1st Quarter 3pt jumper.  It may sound good at the time, but it’ll end up biting you in the ass in the end.
  • Déjà Vu Anyone or Not – For the past 4 years – the Hawks have done this thing called having a fast start.  By midseason, they level off as other teams begin to find their footing and improve and then, it’s a race to the playoffs.  Well, we’re in the midst of the same pattern.  My guess at it is that we pretty much play the season as a year-long quest to collect as many Ws as possible without regard to building a team that is peaking by season’s end.  The latter method means you will win games, but that losing games early at the expense of growing a team, finding the best roles, and gaining trust in your best team come May and June is ok.  It’s why San Antonio will sit starters.  It’s why you see rookies playing in roles that teams need them to fill by season’s end for contenders and mid-range teams alike.  The Hawks have always settled on a team and then just played out the string.  This season is different rotation wise, but the veterans have kept the Hawks afloat and the result has been the same.  The difference is that it’s possible that the very sporadic nature of our lineups could be the very thing that’s shaking the chemistry and confidence of this team.  Don’t have a hard answer on this, but it’s one that bears watching.  Teams should peak by playoff time.  For the most part, the Hawks never do.  
  • HawkStr8Talk Don’t Lie – Almost all of the points made in the last two Truths (that’s a hint that says – read this and this) still hold up to scrutiny fairly well, but I think it’s important two months later to point out 2 points that I made about this team that had the most derision.  First up – Off Court Chemistry is not the same as On Court Chemistry.  The first month or so almost had me fooled, but as Robby and I debated – I don’t need to be at practice to determine whether the product on the court will be affected by trade talk, future free agency, and lack of trust.  People discount human nature too often in determining why things go south. The recipe for disaster is up in bright lights for this team.  Too many people need contracts to expect awesome chemistry. Why you ask?  People gotta sacrifice. It’s easy not to have that show up early, but when your future gets closer to being at at stake - at the whims and wishes of a lame duck coach, mind you – it’s not hard to see it fracture rather easily and quickly.  That’s our last 2-3 weeks and it’s led to the roller coaster the Hawks are on right now.  It’ll pick up as the schedule dictates because as we should all know – the Hawks beat bad teams. Which leads us to this question – if we don’t get back to our 3rd seed like ways – do you want to be the 6th seed as I predicted or a lottery team?  (Hint: I like Mega Millions!) 

Final Note: Larry Drew, you want to shake up the lineup. I’ll just remind people of what one sage young writer said at the start of the season – START JOHN JENKINS.  If you’re not starting Lou, then your next best shooting guard is John Jenkins.  If you’re going to lose, lose with the future. The benefit to the team (growth with the starters) and Coach Drew (ability to blame this fallout on playing youth) is obvious.

And that's the quintuple truth, Ruth.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section.