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.)
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.