Category Archives: Atlanta Hawks

Look Homeward, ATLien

The folks over at Elite Daily took the LeBron James coming home-meme a few steps further and offered up what each NBA team would look like if its starting lineup were made up of all locally grown products. (They skipped Denver, San Antonio, and Utah, which have not produced enough players to make a starting five.)

The hometown Hawks have one proven All-NBA player (Dwight Howard), one perpetually raw veteran (Josh Smith), a promising big (Derrick Favors), a raw combo guard (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope), and a journeyman role player (Jodie Meeks). All told, I’m not sure I’d go to battle with this lineup over Teague, Sefolosha, Korver, Millsap, and Horford. I think the cunning and high NBA IQ of the true Hawks lineup is probably an advantage of an all-area squad. (The idea of JSmoove being a Hawk again alone might be an immediate dealbreaker for my ability to enjoy this thought experiment.)

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But it got me thinking: Do players whose roots go back to Atlanta want to come home? In 2012, as Dwight Howard readied to actually leave Orlando once and for all, Atlanta seemed to be in the running. Josh Smith, his old AAU teammate on the Atlanta Celtics, was a Hawk. D12 had been the best man at Smoove’s wedding in 2010. But he couldn’t resist the pull of L.A., and the Hawks struck out. Even Smith eventually left for Detroit in the summer of 2013—though many fans were ready to see him and his quizzical shot selection skip town (as was the new front office).

Then comes this from Grantland’s Zach Lowe, who pronounced the Hawks one of the 2014 free agency season’s losers last week:

No one will take Atlanta’s money, despite a good core of players, a very good coaching staff, and an innovative style of play Mike Budenholzer has only just begun installing. Some stars won’t even meet with them. I almost wanted to hug Budenholzer when I saw him in Vegas. The most common theory among insiders for Atlanta’s lack of appeal is that players see the Hawks as a dull franchise with a dead crowd and a limited postseason history that almost always involves NBA TV.

That will turn around at some point, but just about everyone Atlanta has approached so far rebuffed the Hawks’ invitation to get in on the ground floor.

It’s not surprising that a team that has never even been to the Eastern Conference Finals is having trouble luring top tier, or even second tier free agents like Luol Deng, who spurned them for the suddenly rebuilding Heat. But what makes it at least a little shocking is that, like L.A. and New York, Atlanta is a playground-type city for a lot of the NBA’s premier personalities. NBA veteran (and former Fab 5er) Jalen Rose placed Atlanta atop his favorite cities in America list, saying that even in the off-season players will still kick it in the A.

But the A and the Hawks are two different things. According to a recent post on the Houston Chronicle‘s Ultimate Rockets blog, Dwight Howard loves the city, but “he would rather stay away” from playing for the team he cheered for growing up.

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Hawks Come Up Small: Preseason Edition

Coach Bud, after a few too many Buds?

Coach Bud, after a few too many Buds?

With more than a full two months to go before the start of the 2013-2014 NBA season, one would figure the Atlanta Hawks had a good shot at not appearing on this site. After all, they’d pulled off another remodel this summer, headlined by shipping out flashy but challenging power forward Josh Smith and replacing him with the more workman-like and dependable Paul Milsap. Solid move, as judged by most basketball pundits.

They also hired Mike Budenholzer as their new coach. The top assistant and presumptive coach-in-waiting behind the legendary Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, he was hired to imbue the Hawks with some of the special powers of the Spurs. He joined Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, who had previously been VP of basketball operations for the Spurs. True to Pop philosophy, in this year’s draft, the team eschewed American college stars in favor of two youngsters who had been plying their trade in the professional leagues of Europe, Brazilian Lucas Nogueira, who played in Spain, and German Dennis Schröder. Schröder, in particular, was impressive in summer league this year.

Last night, Budenholzer was arrested and charged with driving under the influence after being pulled over by the cops in Midtown Atlanta—in a particularly nightlife-rich bit of Midtown. He refused the breathalyzer, but the cop wrote in his report that, “I noticed that he had bloodshot and watery eyes and a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his breath.”

No word on what the Hawks plan to do about this situation, but Ferry has informed the media that he’s up-to-speed on the situation. But, really, this likely doesn’t bode well for a franchise that’s been in Atlanta for nearly 50 years and hasn’t made it past the second round of the playoffs. We still don’t really know what kind of leader of men Coach Bud is, but he isn’t doing himself any favors in the setting a good example department.

It’ll be interesting to see what he does to right the ship. If he doesn’t, Coach Bud won’t just be a clever way of truncating a long surname.


Happy Independence Day!

Na na na na. Na na na na. Hey, hey, hey. Goodbye! Later sk8ters.

It’s July 4th, the day that each year our nation celebrates its independence from British rule. This year, I’m dedicating this holiday to the newly minted general manager of the National Basketball Association team from my hometown. This one’s for you, Danny Ferry—for authoring a declaration of independence from toxic contracts that threatened to mire the Atlanta Hawks in mediocrity for the foreseeable future. I’ve decided to give you a pass on your Duke bona fides and anoint you the title of “possible savior,” which I reserve the right to either shorten to “savior” or pull from you entirely at any time.

Ferry worked not one, but two miracles on July 2nd—at the tail end of his first week on the job. He traded the inflated contract of team star Joe Johnson to the New Jersey Brooklyn Nets, who were desperate for star power, for a fleet “who gives a shit?” that will all be off the books in a year’s time. That positions the Hawks to make a run at some simply delectable possible free agents, including Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Andrew Bynum. It also just offers the Hawks some flexibility and allows them to build around a younger nucleus starring Josh Smith and/or Al Horford.

It’s not that Johnson was bad. He was the team’s best player and a regular All-Star. But, he tended to disappear in the playoffs and didn’t endear himself to the fanbase (or whatever was left of it since its peak in the early-1990s). But, he had the richest contract in the game and was, at best, a third tier star. The math didn’t work, and with him on board, the Hawks were destined to be the fourth or fifth seed in the playoffs yearly, crashing out in the first or second round.

That’s not it, though. He also evicted another albatross who was unjustly flying with the Hawks: Marvin Williams. It wasn’t so much that Marvin Williams was terrible. Were he a mid-first round pick who materialized into a reliable rotation player, he’d have been much appreciated. But, he was picked 2nd overall, ahead of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Andrew Bynum, and Danny Granger. This, despite the fact that he never started a game during his only year at UNC. He was dealt to the Utah Jazz straight up for Devin Harris, who is also entering a contract year.

Look, the result of these moves is the Hawks grab one of the last tickets to the playoffs and crash out in Round 1, probably getting swept by the Heat. But, the future—beyond next year—is looking bright.


Oh My God, the Hawks (Still) Blow!

I suppose the Hawks loss last night could be explained if the players were standing around checking the elastic in their waistbands (rather than playing, you know, basketball).

I should send a couple of my friends a fruit basket for scheduling a rock show last night. A trip to the Mercury Lounge precluded me from watching whatever the Hawks were doing last night when they should have been playing basketball.

There’s something about Atlanta sports teams and the playoffs—be it three straight no-shows by the Falcons upon reaching the promised land, the Braves epic redistribution of their virtually assured trip last year, or the Hawks seemingly perennial first round nail-biter followed by prompt second round exit (if the nail-biting doesn’t get them initially). I’d say it’s like Lebron’s fear of the clutch or the Buffalo’s fear of the Vince Lombardi trophy, but I think you can make a case that Atlanta’s anxiety come playoff-time is unparalleled.

This year, the tenants of The Highlight Factory, a team that’s so obviously flawed but remarkably competent at times, have pushed themselves to the precipice of defeat where just a week ago they sat in what any casual basketball viewer would call The Catbird Seat.

Having attempted to surrender a 19-point lead in Game 1, the Hawks caught a lucky break when a questionable call caused Celtics point guard/best player/dicey piece to build around Rajon Rondo to chest bump an unsuspecting ref. Game to Hawks. Game 2 would be Rondo-less. No matter, let’s exhume Paul Pierce in his prime and let the spectre snatch a Hawks defeat from the jaws of victory. Following a reasonable loss in OT without the services of the mercurial (but recently consistent) Josh Smith, the Hawks seemed poised to have a shot at evening the series at 2s with the return of arguably their best player, Al Horford, after a four-month absence necessitated by a torn pectoral muscle.

Shame on you, Larry Drew, for having poor, out of playing shape Horford contribute to the odious display of Washington Generals-style basketball last night. The Hawks trailed by almost 40 points at certain moments of last night’s “contest”—which I gather, thankfully, from others’ eyewitness accounts of the goings-on. (Lowlights below.)

This team wins, when it does, in spite of itself. It needs to be blown up. Keep Horford. Everyone else is expendable. Well, except for Joe Johnson. We’re stuck with that third tier All Star for the remainder of the contract Lebron should have signed with the Cavs. Do you think JJ texts Rashard Lewis and Eddie Curry weekly to thank them for keeping him from being an NBA punchline? Maybe he just keeps Marvin Williams close, since the former Tar Heel is an even better of example of a “what the hell was your GM thinking?”-type move.

Basketball, I hate you for giving me this sad sack of also-rans to root for. This is a franchise that in the last decade has one claim to fame: Tumbling into the 2008 playoffs as an 8 seed with a .451 winning percentage and then taking the 1 seed and eventual champion Celtics to seven games. Interestingly, every game the Hawks lost in that series was by 19 or more points. The Hawks specialize in laying playoff eggs.

Can Chipper ball?


ATLiens Love ATL, Hate Hawks

Josh Smith (left, who I hope realizes he's repping Anaheim in this photo) and Dwight Howard love the ATL, but not the hometown bball squad.

Remember that video of Charles Barkley talking up his gig as a Weight Watchers spokesperson? The one where he also slammed the Hawks as “a bunch of nice guys”? There was a little more to that conversation:

Barkley: If I were the Hawks, they’re the team to me, I’d try to do anything to get Dwight Howard. Say, “You could have anybody on our team.”

Reggie Miller: Who, them? He doesn’t want to come here.

Barkley: [Shrugs and makes a face like he’s eating something sour.]

There were some rumblings that the Hawks were interested in ponying up some big names for the NBA’s premier big, with the names Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford all thrown around. There were even some rumors that among the enticements to lure Superman were the opportunity to come home and play with his childhood buddy J-Smoove.

Seems like you’d sooner see Jerry Sandusky in a Penn State facility than Howard in a Hawks uni—and to make matters worse, Smith is dying to trade his in for that of another team. Word is, Smith wants to leave the nest. And that’s despite the fact that, at the moment, he’s the Hawks’ best player.

His gripes: When things go badly, he’s the most popular scapegoat. (Though, regardless of what happens, by salary means alone, the scapegoat should always be the lavishly overpaid Joe Johnson.) He’s been the most “consistent” player on the team this year—as much as a Hawks player can be consistent—and should have been an All-Star. (He was definitely more deserving than Joe Yawnson.) But, the Hawks didn’t appear to put any muscle behind promoting his candidacy. I figured the season was up in flames when Horford tore his titty. But, it was Smitty who shouldered most of the load in keeping the Hawks from crashing into the draft lottery.

Writes Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports columnist Jeff Schultz: “Neither Smith nor Howard have a problem with Atlanta itself. It’s more about perceptions of the franchise and the ownership. As players move on in their career, winning titles becomes more important. Smith wants to play for a franchise more committed to winning a championship — or at least one that leaves the impression it knows what it takes to get there.”

The Hawks, thanks to years of hapless ownership (and, as much as I hate to admit it, ‘Nique’s proto-‘Mello ballhoggery), have never advanced past the second round of the playoffs. And with Johnson’s albatross of a contract and a current ownership team that regards getting to the second round of the playoffs as highly as Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger regards having to play-in to the Champions League, things aren’t going to change anytime soon.

So, Josh, take flight. Leave home. This is not the place to get your ring.


Has the Hawks Tailspin Begun?

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Have J-Smoove and the Horford-less Hawks hit their ceiling?

In journalism, there’s a rule for writing stories about emerging patterns: 1, 2, trend. If that holds in basketball, then the Atlanta Hawks are well on their way turning their playoff-caliber record into an invite to the draft lottery. Hate to say I told you so.

The Hawks have dropped three games in a row. It gets worse: All three games were at home. And none of them occurred on consecutive nights. They were down 20-plus points in all three games. None of the teams that defeated the Hawks (the Grizzlies, Sixers, nor Suns) had a better record coming into the games.

The wheels are coming off of the clown car full of dwarves (at least when judged by NBA standards). Horford is out. His understudy, Jason Collins, who basically hacks other teams’ centers for his dinner, is out, as well. Things don’t look good.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jeff Schultz says not to panic just yet. Too late. I’m panicking, realizing that the Hawks will not be able to once again properly illustrate the dictionary definition of mediocrity for another year. Instead, they’re speeding toward just shit.

Says Schultz: “The Hawks are a fragile team even when they’re at full strength. Now they’re fragile and teetering on the edge of the top shelf.”

Allow me to be the first to say, “Look out below!!”


The Cleveland-Duke Conundrum

Championship ring from the last major title of any kind in the city of Cleveland--1964. Dammit. At least it's classier than the newer bling-era Liberace rings.

Before we discuss loser-on-loser violence in response to atlswami’s last post, I must note that it is just after halftime of the Ravens-Pats game for a trip to the Super Bowl. Dear Ravens: Lose please. I hate you. Naturally I’m bitter about that team’s ongoing success, hard-nosed running and defensive identity, even the rivalry with the stupid Steelers (these two teams of remorseless, jackbooted headhunters deserve each other—it blows that they have to constitute one-quarter of the Browns’ schedule every damn year—and it makes the battle for third with Cincinnati our only real rivalry, which is just sad), and, especially, their Super Bowl victory four years after leaving Cleveland. That falls into the expanding category of unique, innovative ways that fortune stabs Cleveland fans in the neck. I certainly can’t think of another beloved franchise stolen from one town that won a chronically elusive title (Browns one of four teams with no Super Bowl appearances) within five years. As big a middle finger at a town I can imagine, worse than The Decision, especially since the WoA is still without a title as yet. Compound this with the fact that my favorite player when I was a child, Ozzie Newsome, is their goddam awesome GM. Another Coming Up Small city, Seattle, is starting to understand what this feels like, but OKC needs to win a title first. Side note: Simmons and his ilk recently discussed somewhere how poetic it would be if Baltimore won a title in Indianapolis (site of this year’s Super Bowl, and I must confess that I freaking love that stadium’s design), the city that stole its Colts franchise in 1983. Blech, who cares. Indianapolis more or less sucked donkey balls until Peyton arrived. Baltimore got its justice. I’m just waiting for the wheel to turn and “hapless Ravens” to enter the SportsCenter lexicon. I wish them ill.

Yes, I did evince a little hope for the Cavs future–there’s a ton of young players on that team, likable guys who are starting to distinguish themselves. Irving, Thompson, Casspi, I like these guys. A couple of pieces and some experience away from being interesting. Play hard, good coach, fun to watch, what’s not to like at the moment? At least we’re not Washington Wiz (the major omission in the Coming Up Small lineup of sports towns at the moment). They’re a cavalcade of awfulness because their young promising players are like torture to watch, hot dogging when they’re getting blown out and ball-hogging all the time. Yech. Concern with the Cavs now is maybe winning too many games and fouling up their lottery ticket in a strong draft. So thanks Hawks for setting us straight. I’m happier with the Cavs situation than I think atlswami is the with the Hawks. Sure, the Hawks make the playoffs every year, but they’re stuck in the ghetto of mediocrity, and it’s costing them an arm and a leg. Sparing Dwight Howard, they’re not getting any further until they blow it up and start over again, I figure. So Cavs, step one in rebuilding the right way under way. Kudos, fellas. We could look like Oklahoma City, Denver, or the Sixers in a few years, and maybe take Miami out of the playoffs once. That’d taste like truffles, man. That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.

Finally, the Duke-bag issue requires some explanation. I came by Duke fandom honestly–I went there for college, and it’s impossible not to absorb some of that culture. If pain is the engine of solidarity in Cleveland, persecution does it for Duke fans. The vitriol that goes their way, delightfully saucy stuff. But yeah, it’s awful weird for a Cleveland fan to also have the Yankees of college basketball in his personal stable (and the two have several connections–Danny Ferry, Trajan Langdon, Carlos Boozer, and now Irving). I actually do know what it’s like to have one of my teams win a title–two, actually, since I matriculated in 1993. Begrudge me that? Meh. Your prerogative, Bobby. I’m not gonna fight you. As much as I enjoyed those Duke titles, that fandom really doesn’t measure up to being a Cleveland fan. Not in the slightest. Being a Duke fan is easy. Being a Cleveland fan is hard.