Oh, you fandom. Fix it now. Make us champions — preferably before the weekend. Sign this guy, trade for that guy, and maybe the other guy. And for the love of anything that is right and just, please get rid of those two geraniums on our payroll.
In Los Angeles they’re clamoring to keep Dwight Howard. Putting up billboards, tweeting with #StayD12 hashtags, groveling like iconic organizations never do. In Dallas, a fast-food chain is offering free chicken fingers for life, as if a guy with an $88 million contract can’t afford chicken fingers. In Houston, a rapper named Slim Thug had this unique recruiting pitch: “LA ain’t got strippers like we do.”
First, on behalf of Atlanta, let me just throw down the gauntlet: We can match any city when it comes to chicken fingers and strip clubs.
Probably also groveling, which unfortunately has become universal among sports fans and organizations and some agent-drunk media these days when a star athlete (actual or perceived) hits the open market.
But with regard to the Hawks, everybody just needs to take a breath.
In Danny Ferry’s first season as Hawks general manager and Larry Drew’s last one as their coach, the team won 44 games. There is a standing belief that when a team is in the second offseason of a building/rebuilding project it will get better in Year 2.
That might not be the case here. In fact, whatever your expectations are for the Hawks next season, a downward adjustment might be order. I write this knowing that the organization has pitched to Howard to come back home, and in that sense, yes, all together now, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance …”
The Hawks don’t have a lot right now. They have one starter (Al Horford) under contract. They’ve extended an official tender to another starter (Jeff Teague). That’s it. Josh Smith likely will not be back.
They just completed a draft that may result in no immediate impact. Their top two picks are European and may remain overseas for development. That’s OK because for everybody who believes Ferry botched the draft by not taking the “great” Shane Larkin, a question: If he’s so great, why did 15 other teams pass on him?
There is still a chance for Ferry to significantly improve the outlook and put together a playoff team with trades and second-tier free agents. But it’s just as possible this team will fairly stink next season and be a lottery team.
Granted, projections are premature, but consider the backdrop. The Hawks have roster and salary-cap space, but Ferry is determined not to bring in another payroll anchor, such as Joe Johnson. Howard is the only player on the market remotely worth committing max money to, and even he is debatable. (My view: It’s a huge four-year, $88 million risk. Immaturity and the absence of leadership and good health in the past two years, as well as pretty much quitting in the playoffs, takes the shine off of a once great player.)
Other players on the market could help the Hawks: Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Monta Ellis, Tyreke Evans (restricted) and Jarrett Jack, among them. Ferry also is in a good position to get some decent players on the cheap from teams that will need to cut payroll.
But the difficult thing for a Hawks fan to swallow is that Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer are not building for the 2013-14 season. This is a long-term project. The marketing department may struggle for faces to put on billboards — “Come watch our cap space against the Miami Heat!” — but it would be foolish for Ferry to go all in if the needed players simply aren’t available now.
Fans don’t want to think in terms of “the next draft” when the team hasn’t even played a game yet. But a serious question: If you’re Ferry, do you invest in players that can get you 45 wins and a likely first-round playoff exit, or is it better to build slowly, take your lumps, miss the playoffs and possibly score a high lottery pick?
Seeing how the next few weeks play out will be interesting. But at least one popular blog site, The Big Lead, followed the draft by listing the Hawks among five teams that “appeared” to be “tanking” for next year’s potential No. 1 pick, Kansas small forward Andrew Wiggins.
Tanking is a serious accusation. It’s also a silly one before rosters are even set.
But the matter of how good the Hawks can realistically expect to be next season is a legitimate question. Free-agent hysteria notwithstanding, Ferry has to think about that, especially if next year’s draft and free-agent class are potentially that much better.
When looking at potential moves, Ferry said recently, it means considering “both short term and the long-term success.”
Except short-term success doesn’t seem likely to happen — unless something significant and unexpected occurs.